The manhunt for three Israeli teens abducted from a West Bank intersection in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc three days ago continued over the weekend with the Israeli army sealing Hebron and arresting 80, including members of the Palestinian parliament, in the largest operation in the Palestinian territory in years. This afternoon the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) searched homes door-to-door in the south West Bank declaring, “Hamas is responsible.”
Hebron is the West Bank’s most populated city, with some 800,000 effectively under curfew. “The streets are almost empty. Many people are afraid of what will happen,” said Issa Amro a spokesperson with Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron based organization with offices inside of the Israeli controlled section of the city. “Now they are in the village of Tafah and the western part of Hebron searching door-to-door.”
I spoke to Amro Sunday afternoon while the sweep in Hebron was underway. He said since Thursday, when the teens went missing, eight checkpoints have been erected in and outside of the city entrances, with locked steel gates. Palestinians can’t leave. The Israeli human rights group B’tselem said that West Bank Palestinians are being turned away from checkpoints that lead to Israel and to the Allenby terminal to Jordan, the only international crossing for West Bankers. As to the physical condition of those arrested last night and the charges levied against them, nothing is known, as they have not been in contact with any of the Palestinian legal rights groups. It’s unknown if the Israelis have charged a suspect or are holding alleged witnesses. Ma’an News Agency reported 125 have been detained since Saturday.
The youths were apparently abducted on Thursday, but news of their taking didn’t surface until Friday due to a gag order. By Saturday, Hebron was on the brink of a retaliation attack. Settlers threw stones at Palestinians who walked on Shuhada Street, the former center of Palestinian commerce in Hebron and today a sleepy street paraded by soldiers and tourists where Palestinians are forbidden to open their shops.
While the Israeli Defense Forces and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that they have evidence Hamas is responsible for the abduction, the Palestinian Authority has indicated that Hamas did not carry out the kidnapping. A representative from the Palestinian Government Media Center (PGMC) said it has no knowledge of Hamas’s involvement, but suggests that naming the Gaza-based party was an “escalation” tactic. “There is nothing that can let us know who kidnapped them, or it is just an Israeli escalation [to state Hamas is responsible],” said the PGMC.
The Palestinian Authority also is claiming that it was not responsible for the security of the teens, as they were taken from Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli security control. However, Israeli authorities are holding the Palestinian Authority accountable, and blaming the new unity government with Hamas.