JERUSALEM: Israel yesterday named two Hamas Islamists as leading suspects in the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, in the most concrete report yet of results after weeks of searches in the occupied West Bank.
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed reports that troops were seeking Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, militants in their 30s from the Hebron area of the occupied West Bank, both of whom have served time in Israeli prisons in the past.
Israel’s Shin Bet Security Agency said in a statement both men had been wanted and at large since the kidnappings, adding that several other Palestinians suspected of involvement in the abductions were being questioned.
Aysha was jailed without trial under so-called administrative detention for six months in 2005, about the time his brother was killed by Israeli forces as he attempted to throw explosives at soldiers, Israeli security officials said.
Kawasme once served a 10-month prison term and trained for military action in the Hebron area, in addition to being involved with Hamas recruitment efforts there, the officials said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the suspects were only part of the group behind the kidnapping.
After the teens disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking in the West Bank, the army launched a vast hunt for them focusing on the Hebron area, detaining hundreds of Palestinians.
There has been no claim of responsibility for their suspected abduction, which Israel has insisted was carried out by Hamas.
In remarks on Tuesday, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said “we do not have information about what happened.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called anew on Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to rescind a reconciliation deal he struck with Hamas in April.
The deal paved the way for the creation of a Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government.
More than 380 Palestinians, two-thirds of them Hamas members, have been arrested by the army in a fortnight of searches.
Troops have also killed five Palestinians and wounded dozens more during what is known as Operation Brother’s Keeper.
GAZA: Some 40,000 public servants hired by Hamas went on strike in Gaza yesterday in a pay dispute that could test the resilience of a Palestinian government formed recently under the Islamist group’s unity pact with President Mahmoud Abbas.
All government offices in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip were closed as a result of the one-day strike, but hospital emergency rooms remained open and police continued to patrol the streets.
The new government, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, infuriated public workers on Hamas’s payroll by saying it would vet them before paying out salaries — a process that could take months.
Earlier this month, Gaza’s public sector union suspended protests that lasted nearly a week, saying it would resume its action if its members were not promptly paid.
Hamas hired the employees after seizing the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to the Western-backed Abbas in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election.
“This strike is a first step and an initial warning to the unity government,” said Mohammed Seyam, the chairman of the Hamas-hired workers’ union in the Gaza Strip.
“We want to be recognised as employees of the Palestinian Authority and merged into the main salary list. If there was no response from the unity government we will escalate our protests,” he said.
Hamas-hired workers on strike are especially resentful because Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has been paying its own 70,000-strong workforce in Gaza.
Hamas itself has struggled to pay its staff in recent months due partly to a continued rigid blockade imposed on Gaza by both Israel and Egypt — one of the reasons why the group decided to sign the accord with Abbas.