As concerns grow, efforts to rescue the three Israeli teens kidnapped on Thursday from the West Bank have entered their fifth day: About 200 Palestinians have been arrested in the West Bank since the operation began, and the security establishment believes the chase after the kidnappers is progressing.
Israeli ministers decided on Tuesday to increase the military pressure on Hamas and to worsen the conditions of Hamas members held in Israeli prisons. In addition, the government is examining the option of expelling Hamas leaders from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping and called on Israel and the Palestinians to avoid violence.
10:27 P.M. A high-ranking officer in the Central Command says Hamas had an opportunity to save itself via the Palestinian reconciliation deal, but that it shot itself in the leg. "What Hamas is considering a brilliant operation will turn Pyrrhic," says the officer. The security establishment believes the kidnapping could lead to a rift between Hamas and the West Bank, since "the Palestinians understand terror and civilians are separate."
Central Command noted on Tuesday that IDF deployment of this magnitude has not been seen in the West Bank in years. The focus of activities is on the Hebron area, and they're mostly directed against Hamas, though other groups are also targeted. "This is no silver bullet. Part of our power is the ability to engage in a prolonged campaign and hit the infrastructure – financially and organizationally, alongside other components vital for Hamas' operations, like the Dawa (Hamas' socio-economic infrastructure)," the officer said. According to him, activities so far, which included confiscating computers and documents from charities, have been effective in exerting pressure on locals, especially in the Hebron area.
9:30 P.M. A Fatah delegation arrives in Egypt to discuss the opening of the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, part of the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, a minister in the new Palestinian cabinet says. The delegation is led by a member of the Fatah leadership, Azzam al-Ahmed, and he is accompanied by PLO leadership members.
Palestinian Housing Minister Muhammad al-Hasania told the news agency Maan the cabinet discussed the salaries for the outgoing Hamas government's clerks on Tuesday, and added the cabinet intends to pay them before Ramadan starts in two weeks. The statement contradicts reports that negotiations between the factions ceased. Palestinian sources noted that no official decision was made on the issue. (Jack Khoury)
8:46 P.M. The fact that five days have gone by since the kidnapping without any sign of life and without any contact made by the kidnappers with the Israeli security system is raising concerns.
In previous abductions in the West Bank, there were almost no cases in which those kidnapped were kept alive. Palestinian cells assume the Shin Bet and the Palestinian security services' high-level of intelligence gathering in the West Bank prevents kidnappers from keeping the victims alive without getting caught themselves. However, there is no certain evidence as to the fate of the three. (Amos Harel)
7:50 P.M. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon says the main effort is directed toward reaching the kidnapped and their kidnappers. "Hamas in the West Bank will pay a very heavy price for the kidnapping," Ya'alon says. (Gili Cohen)
7:29 P.M. Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon says in a statement that "the campaign against Hamas is complicated and prolonged. It didn't start today and it will not end soon. We're hitting Hamas in every dimension.
"The heads of Hamas are feeling the heat and getting the message. Hamas will leave the fray and this prolonged campaign weakened both operationally and strategically. We'll continue and deepen the hit as long as necessary."
To the families of the kidnapped, Alon says: "I promise you we'll do everything in our power to bring your sons home safe." (Gili Cohen)
6:55 P.M. Leaders of the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, held a press conference in which they addressed the kidnapping in the West Bank, and threatened that "the resistance movements will not remain idle in the face of Israel's conduct."
"Israel has done everything to distance the West Bank from the struggle," they said. (Jack Khoury)
6:48 P.M. Israel's Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor slams the Palestinian unity government in a press conference in the UN headquarters in New York. Prosor says it has been only 10 days since the new Fatah-Hamas government has been formed, and that everyone who congratulated this "marriage" should now look in the eyes of the kidnapped teens' parents.
The world bought this bad deal, and Israel must pay the price, Prosor says, and accuses the Palestinians of using terrorism. He notes that though the Palestinians recently signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, they apparently haven't read through it. (Chemi Shalev)
5:49 P.M. A high-ranking officer in the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division says three battalion were deployed in the Nablus area overnight, mainly in the Balata refugee camp. According to the officer, soldiers confiscated a "considerable amount" of firearms, including three M-16 assault rifles, a case of grenades and additional ammunition. The soldiers also found two lathes for the production of firearms. "I think this is continued damage to Hamas, but it's only been going on for a few days," he said.
Regarding the puncturing of the tires of a military vehicle which was hauling equipment to the settlement of Yitzhar on Monday, the officer said it was "outrageously ungrateful."
"We'll finish dealing with this (the military operation) and we'll not ignore this incident," he said. (Gili Cohen)
5:39 P.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Mideast Quartet representative Tony Blair in Tel Aviv. At the beginning of the meeting, Netanyahu says that the kidnapping of the three teens "exposes the real face of Hamas. It is not only committed to murdering Israelis, it is committed to kidnapping children as well."
Blair says at the meeting that he is shocked at the kidnapping and offers his sympathies to the families of the teens. Hamas, he says, "faced one option: They cannot choose the political path on one hand and violence on the other, and he only way for this to work is if all violence stops – the terrorism, the kidnappings and murder."
Netanyahu urges the international community to condemn Hamas for its terrorist actions, "to support Israel's right to self-defense and also to call on President Abbas to end his alliance with Hamas." (Barak Ravid)
4:45 P.M. Police chief Yohanan Danino will establish Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning a committee to probe the failure of the Judea and Samaria police emergency line in dealing with a phone call from one the kidnapped teens, minutes after the three were abducted.
Until now, top police officers and the public security minister said an investigation of the failure will only start after the operation to recover the teens is over. But as the operation entered its fifth day, and facing public criticism, Danino decided to appoint the committee now. (Amir Oren)
4:15 P.M. A high-ranking military officer tells reporters the pressure on the West Bank will continue and will even intensify. According to him, protest was heard on the Palestinian side against the kidnapping, which occurred two weeks before the month of Ramadan. "I think Ramadan will be spoiled for them. Even now they're feeling the steps and are complaining about the road closures. They know that if today it takes 40 minutes to get from Nablus to Jenin, next week it might take seven hours," he said.
"This incident will have long-term repercussions. The Palestinians understand that this type of incident develops in a manner known in advance, and that the army goes all in in such cases," he said. Concerning actions against Hamas, the officer said the operation targets "everything green."
"They're cleansing the stables in all ranks in the Hamas," he said. According to him, the IDF will present the cabinet with the possibility of expelling Hamas top members.
According to him, at this stage there is no way to know whether the kidnapping was perpetrated by a local cell, or if it was directed by an outsider. Since the military operation began about 200 Palestinians were arrested, over 80% of which are Hamas members. According to the officer, the cooperation with the Palestinian security forces is very businesslike. He also stressed that the IDF's working premise is that the three teens are alive.
He also said that the security establishment is also looking south, in case an attempt will be made to escalate the situation along the Gaza border. (Jack Khoury)
2:50 P.M. At the end of the three-hour security cabinet meeting Tuesday, the Israeli ministers decided to increase the military pressure on Hamas and to worsen the conditions of Hamas members held in Israeli prisons. What these new sanctions on prisoners will entail, however, remains unclear.
A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that the mission of utmost importance right now was to return the abducted teens and increase the pressure on Hamas.
"The public security minister was authorized to worsen the conditions of Hamas members held in Israeli prisons," the senior official said. "An additional cabinet meeting will be held in coming days to discuss further steps against Hamas."
The senior official noted that alongside military pressure on Hamas – expressed, for instance, by stepping up the arrests of movement members and thereby hampering Hamas' civilian infrastructure – Israel will also make a diplomatic effort to delegitimize the alliance between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
According to the official, Israel will stress the need to put an end to incitement against Israel on official Palestinian media and in the Authority's education system, where support for the abduction of Israelis is voiced.
"We consider the Palestinian Authority as responsible for any terrorist attack originating in its territory," the senior official said. "We're preparing for a long-term operation and patience is required. The prime minister will continue to consult with the security establishment all day." (Barak Ravid)
2:30 P.M. Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan called on Israel to increase the severity of actions taken against terrorists, and put a price tag on the actions of Hamas. Ben-Dahan added that the cabinet should approve actions that would make the lives of the terrorist's families miserable as a method to pressure the terrorists. (Jonathan Lis)
2:20 P.M. "I condemn the kidnapping of the three young Israelis Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar," says French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave, "and would like to express, on behalf of my government, my deepest sympathy and most profound solidarity with the young men and their families. France demands the immediate liberation and the arrest and trial of those responsible for this cowardly and unacceptable act." (Haaretz)
2:00 P.M. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issues a statement concerning the kidnapping: "We condemn in the strongest terms the abduction of three Israeli students in the West Bank and call for their immediate release and safe return to their families. Such acts can only undermine international efforts to encourage a resumption of peace negotiations. The EU encourages continued close cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services to ensure the swift release of the abductees." (Barak Ravid)
1:20 P.M. The families of the kidnapped teenagers say, in a statement to the press, "We are praying that all the soldiers and our children return home unharmed and we are grateful for all those who are involved [in the search operation]. We feel the enormous hug from all the people of Israel and it constantly accompanies us. We ask that people continue praying and doing all the good works that they have been doing for the past few days. We just want to hug our children." (Ilan Lior)
12:00 P.M. Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat says she intends to contact the attorney general and ask him to look into whether MK Zoabi's comments constitute a violation of Israeli law against hate speech and incitement to violence. Also, to see if her parliamentary immunity can be revoked so as to bring her up on charges. (Jonathan Lis)
11:30 A.M. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responds to MK Zoabi's remarks, saying, "Not only are the kidnappers terrorists, Zoabi herself is a terrorist, too." The foreign minister adds: "The destiny of the terrorist and that of the inciter of kidnappings, Zoabi, should be identical." (Jonathan Lis)
11:00 A.M. MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) tells Tel Aviv Radio she doesn't believe the kidnappers of the Israeli teens are terrorists. "They aren't terrorists. Even if I don't agree with them, they are people that cannot see any way to change their reality, and they are forced to use these means until Israeli society wises up a bit and sees and feels the suffering of the other." (Haaretz)
10:30 A.M. Israeli cabinet commences meeting on kidnapping, military operation. (Barak Ravid)
10:20 A.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells families of abducted teens Israel is doing all it can to rescue them. (Barak Ravid)
2:15 A.M. The Israeli Air Force attacked what it described as a "terrorism center" and an arms depot in the southern Gaza Strip early Tuesday morning, the IDF spokesman announces. Also hit were a weapons depot in the center of Gaza and an arms manufacturing facility in the north of the strip, the spokesman says. The strike was in retaliation for the firing of a rocket into Israel on Monday night. The rocket landed in an open field and no injuries were reported. (Haaretz)
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