الخميس , يونيو 11 2020

Arrests over missing Israeli teens

Israeli soldiers during a military operation to search for three missing teenagers near the West Bank city of HebronIsraeli soldiers have mounted a military operation to search for the missing teenagers

The Israeli army says it has arrested about 80 Palestinians as part of efforts to find three Israeli teenagers missing from the West Bank.

Israel said on Saturday that the three had been kidnapped by a “terror group”.

The students went missing on Thursday near an Israeli settlement north of Hebron on their way back from lessons.

The disappearance is being seen as the biggest strain on relations between the two sides since a Palestinian unity government was announced in April.

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Israeli soldiers

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Israel has bolstered its army presence, as Quentin Sommerville reports

Analysis: Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Jerusalem

Israel is gripped by the fate of three teenagers, who were returning from lessons at a seminary when they disappeared.

The suspicion is that they were kidnapped. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is certain they were taken by Hamas. The Islamist militant group dismissed the accusation.

Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 and held him for five years. As prime minister then, Mr Netanyahu authorised the freeing of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to secure his release.

The fear here is that if the teenagers aren’t found, the situation could escalate significantly. Israel says its forces are standing by for “any possible scenario”. Palestinians say that would amount to collective punishment.

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Israel says an “intensive operation” is under way to find the two 16-year-olds – Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar – and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach.

They were last seen in the area of Gush Etzion, a bloc of Jewish settlements located between Jerusalem and the predominantly Palestinian city of Hebron.

Their fate has gripped Israel, with rolling coverage on the main TV channels.

Many of those arrested were reportedly members of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

Palestinian officials have said they are co-operating with the search.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after delivering a statement during a news conference in Tel Aviv Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a televised statement on the disappearances on Saturday

Prime Minister Netanyahu has already said he holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the teenagers’ wellbeing.

In response, Palestinian officials pointed out that the three went missing in an area under full Israeli control.

In an earlier statement on the operation, the Israeli army pointed to the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and said the three may have been taken to be traded for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Sgt Shalit was freed in 2011 after Israel and Hamas agreed a deal under which more than 1,000 Palestinians were released.

Israel suspended crisis-hit peace talks with the Palestinians when a Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government was announced.

Israel insists it will not deal with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas.

Also on Sunday, the Israeli army said it had conducted aerial raids on the Gaza Strip overnight in retaliation for rockets fired from the Strip into Israel.

A spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry told the Associated Press news agency that a girl had been slightly hurt. The ministry also said a seven-year-old boy had died from injuries sustained in an Israeli raid earlier this week.

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