HEBRON: Israeli soldiers killed a 14-year-old Palestinian in the occupied West Bank yesterday as they pressed a crackdown on the Islamist movement Hamas in the search for three missing teenagers.
Troops also wounded two Palestinians in a refugee camp just outside Jerusalem, medical sources said, as clashes flared during the massive military operation in which 330 Palestinians have been detained over the past week.
Israel accuses Hamas of kidnapping two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old who went missing at a hitch-hiking stop in the West Bank, an allegation the Islamist group has dismissed.
But Israel seized on the opportunity to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian leadership, who formed a merged administration for the West Bank and Gaza Strip just this month for the first time in seven years.
Palestinian security and medical sources said 14-year-old Mohammed Dudin was shot in the chest in a clash after Israeli soldiers arrived to make arrests in the village of Dura, south of the West Bank city of Hebron.
Dudin was taken to the Alia hospital in Hebron, where he was pronounced dead.
The army said villagers had thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at troops in Dura, and that soldiers responded with live fire.
A spokeswoman said the army was examining the reports of Dudin’s death.
In Qalandia refugee camp just north of Jerusalem, troops shot and wounded two young Palestinians, medics said.
Mustafa Aslan, 20, was in critical condition at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem while Mohammed Shehada, 21, was being treated in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah — head of the new unity government — attended weekly prayers in Hebron later Friday, but the army prevented him from attending Dudin’s burial in Dura.
Hamas has lashed out at the Palestinian leadership for maintaining security coordination with Israel despite the wave of searches and arrests.
An Israeli commentator said Israel has shown little gratitude for the Palestinian Authority’s cooperation.
“The PA... is doing its utmost to help, both openly and covertly. In response, the Israeli prime minister has condemned the PA from every podium,” columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in daily Yediot Aharonot.
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a member of the security cabinet, in a television interview congratulated Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for his “courageous” stance on security cooperation.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al Malki accused Israel of an “exaggerated” response, and questioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that Hamas was behind the abduction. “He cannot keep blaming one side without showing evidence,” Malki said.
“Three kids have disappeared, but in exchange for that the Israeli army has taken 300 Palestinians,” he said. “Their reaction went beyond logic.”
Malki added, however, that “if it comes to be known that Hamas is behind it (the kidnapping), then of course the unity government will be at risk”.
Hamas dismissed the allegation it abducted the teens as “stupid”.
Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said, meanwhile, that Israel’s “working assumption” was that “the abductees are alive, until proven otherwise”.
Netanyahu told the families of the three missing teens at a meeting in Jerusalem that the operation’s “chief objective is to find the boys”, a statement from his office said.
UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry in a statement called for the three to be released immediately, urging Israeli restraint and “respect for the lives, dignity and livelihoods of Palestinians”.
Israeli troops also carried out search and arrest operations overnight in the Dheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem, and in Arura, north of Ramallah, “detaining some 25 suspects and searching approximately 200 locations”, the army said.
Troops were faced with “sporadic confrontations” in the form of “rocks, explosives and flammable devices” and responded to “the life-endangering threat with live fire”, it said.
Since the operation began last week, troops have “scanned about 1,150 locations in search for the abducted boys and for terror elements”.
“Approximately 330 suspects were detained, out of which 240 (are) terrorists associated with Hamas,” the army said.
Overnight, the military also launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket fire at southern Israel late Thursday, wounding six people, four of them children, Palestinian medics said.