JERUSALEM: Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank yesterday in separate clashes that erupted as they made more arrests in the hunt for three missing teenagers.
Their deaths raised to four the number of Palestinians killed since the army began a massive search for the Israeli students who disappeared on June 12 while hitchhiking in the southern West Bank. Israel accuses Hamas of kidnapping them, and has said the objective of “Operation Brother’s Keeper” is to bring them home safe while dealing a crushing blow to the group’s West Bank infrastructure. So far, the army has arrested more than 340 Palestinians, around two thirds of them Hamas members.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has denounced the abductions, but yesterday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should condemn the bloodshed triggered by the manhunt.
“I said the kidnapping was a crime, but does that justify the killing of... Palestinian teens in cold blood?” Abbas told Haaretz newspaper, referring to two young Palestinians who died this week.
“What does Netanyahu have to say about the killings? Does he condemn it?”
Abbas added: “I have no credible information that Hamas was behind the kidnapping.”
Netanyahu, who insists Hamas abducted the youths, told a meeting of his cabinet that Israel has “unequivocal proof” and “soon this information will be made public”. Army spokesman General Motti Almoz said, meanwhile, that all information indicates the teens “are alive”.
Netanyahu also said Abbas must show his good intentions by finding the youths and returning them home, and “by his willingness to dissolve the unity government with Hamas”.
Israel has seized on the opportunity presented by the operation to try to rupture a reconciliation agreement between Abbas and Hamas, which saw the two sides recently agree on an interim government of independents, infuriating the Jewish state. Also yesterday, Netanyahu said Israel has “no intention of harming anyone”, even if some Palestinians are being killed.
“But our forces are acting as necessary for self-defence, and from time to time, there are victims or casualties on the Palestinian side as a result.”
President Shimon Peres, who recently prayed for peace alongside Abbas at the Vatican, praised the Palestinian for his “courage in condemning several times the abduction”. Abbas “is the best peace partner Israel ever had and we should not miss the opportunity of making peace with him,” said Peres. Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said the Palestinian leadership had begun efforts to call for “an urgent session of the UN Security Council to put an end to the ongoing brutal Israeli aggression”.
He said that they are appealing to international organisations to “protect” Palestinians from Israel’s actions.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, spoke to Netanyahu on Saturday voicing “deep solidarity” with the family of the missing Israeli boys, a UN statement said.
But he also “expressed concern over the increase violence, mass arrests and restriction of movement in the West Bank.”
No decision on threat to expel UN envoy
Israel’s foreign minister said yesterday a final decision has yet to be made on his threat to expel the UN’s peace envoy for offering to help transfer Qatari funds to Gaza. Avigdor Lieberman was reported to have said by Channel Two television that he wants to declare Robert Serry persona non grata and expel him from Israel over the alleged offer.
But his ministry’s spokesman Yigal Palmor said later that “no decision was taken at the meeting”. The television report had quoted Lieberman as saying that Serry, the UN’s special envoy on the Middle East peace process, had first tried to convince the Palestinian Authority to transfer $20m (¤14.7m) from Qatar to resolve a pay crisis for Hamas employees in Gaza. But after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to do so, the rightwing ultra-nationalist Lieberman accused Serry of offering the UN’s help in making the transfer. Serry rejected the allegations, saying in a statement that the Palestinian Authority had approached him “informally” on the matter.
“In considering any UN role on the issue of payments of salaries in Gaza that has potentially destabilising effects on security in Gaza, I made it clear that we would only be able to be of assistance if acceptable to all stakeholders, including Israel,” he added.