JERUSALEM: Israeli troops detained 37 Palestinians in the West Bank during the night as its arrest campaign entered its 11th day yesterday, with no sign of three teenagers thought kidnapped by Hamas.
Since the youths disappeared from a hitchhiking stop in the southern West Bank on June 12, Israel has been rounding up hundreds of Palestinians in a bid to find them, while also dealing a crushing blow to the Islamist movement’s West Bank network.
But with tensions rising among Palestinians over the crackdown which has seen four Palestinians killed by troops in the past week, the campaign is expected to shift focus to intelligence gathering rather than mass arrests.
“Overnight, the forces detained 37 suspects and searched 80 locations, specifically in the area north west of Hebron, Beit Awwa (southwest of Hebron) and also in (the northern city of) Jenin,” an army spokeswoman said.
So far, troops have arrested 361 people, among them 250 Hamas members and 57 who were freed during a 2011 prisoner swap deal to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held in Gaza for five years by Hamas, the army said. Despite the operation, there has been no claim of responsibility and no sign of the missing youngsters, although military spokesman General Motti Almoz said on Sunday that all information indicated they “are alive”.
Press reports said Operation Brother’s Keeper was nearing its end in the present format and would be refocused ahead of the start next week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“The defence establishment is troubled by the increase in the number of Palestinian casualties and the possibility that the confrontations will spill over into the month of Ramadan, which starts in less than a week,” wrote Haaretz defence correspondent Amos Harel.
“The IDF (army) would likely prefer to significantly reduce the size of its deployment and return to more focused intelligence gathering,” he said, indicating the military was likely to encounter problems in mustering enough evidence to put many of the detainees on trial.
Yediot Aharonot newspaper ran a similar story saying that within days the focus would be on more searches and fewer arrests.
“The IDF will focus on looking for the kidnapped teenagers in the Hebron sector and the Etzion (settlement) bloc, but arrests will be cut back significantly,” the paper said. There was no immediate comment on the reports by the army. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has denounced the abductions and defended his security forces’ ongoing cooperation with their Israeli counterparts to try to locate the missing boys. But there are growing signs of Palestinian frustration with their own security forces, with angry protesters hurling rocks a Ramallah police station on Sunday, smashing the windows of two police cars.
Former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyah described the clashes in the West Bank as another “intifada,” or uprising.
“We’re not saying the intifada will start; we’re saying it has started already in the West Bank, and no one can stop it,” Haniyah told journalists in Gaza. “The enemy (Israel) cannot put a stop to the escalation of the resistance.”
The UN voiced concern yesterday over the deaths of four Palestinians as Israeli security forces have pressed a campaign to find three teenagers who went missing in the West Bank.
Since the youths disappeared from a hitchhiking stop in the southern West Bank on June 12, Israel has rounded up hundreds of Palestinians in a bid to find them, while also crushing the West Bank network of Islamist movement Hamas, which it accuses of abducting the teens. Troops have also killed four Palestinians in the crackdown in the past week, and on Monday the United Nations called the deaths in the security sweep “alarming”.
“The rising death toll as a result of Israeli security operations in the West Bank is alarming,” Jeffrey Feltman, UN under secretary for political affairs, was quoted as saying in a statement.
“As the search for the missing youth continues, we call for restraint in carrying out the security operations in strict compliance with international law, and avoiding punishing individuals for offences they have not personally committed.”AFP