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Eyal Toueg
Iron Dome intercepting rocket launches. Photo by Eyal Toueg
Reuters
Israeli soldiers near Hebron. Photo by Reuters

Israeli security forces continued to search for the three teenage yeshiva students who went missing while hitchhiking in the West Bank on Thursday. On Saturday, a closure was imposed on the Hebron region and three border crossings into Gaza were shut. Some 80 Palestinians, including senior Hamas operatives, were arrested overnight in an extensive operation. The IDF calls up a limited number of reserves.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a "terror organization" was behind the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad, Gilad Shaar, 16, from Talmon and Naftali Fraenkel, from Nof Ayalon. Netanyahu asserted that he holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the teens' fate.

11:40 P.M. Some 50 Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers in Beitunia near Ramallah. Soldiers fire tear gas canisters and stun grenades. 

11:19 P.M. IDF arrests two Hamas operatives in Hebron-area home, military source says.

10:44 P.M. Palestinians report an Israeli army force is surrounding a house in the Hebron-area. Explosions were heard in the area. According to a Palestinian report, an anti-tank rocket was fired toward the house. Palestinian eyewitnesses told Haaretz that three people, including a seven-year-old child, were wounded by the rocket explosion.

10:17 P.M. Rockets fired toward southern city of Ashkelon. Iron Dome battery intercepts two of them, rest land in open terrain. None wounded, no damage caused. Siren sounded in Regional Council Hof Ashkelon as well.

9:58 P.M. Security cabinet will convene again on Monday noon to discuss efforts to find kidnapped teens.

The IDF says shots were fired Sunday evening from a vehicle moving on Route 60 in the West Bank, near Gilo. The gunfire targeted a roadblock and a nearby army outpost. None were wounded and no damage caused. Security services are combing the area for the shooter. 

9:50 P.M. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett tells Channel 2 that "the systems are at work to reach the boys and apprehend the kidnappers. Over the last 30 years the fact we've released tens of thousands of terrorists – it's not right."

Asked if the policy of not releasing terrorists may not endanger the kidnapped teens, Bennett answered that "the series of actions by the Israeli government, responsibly lead by the prime minister, is making it difficult on the kidnappers, making them understand it's not worth it. This is a test for the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel is strong. Life is sacred to us, and they (the Palestinians) give out candy. We'll show them a hand of steel."

Bennett adds that "from the dawn of Zionism, the Arabs and Islam are out to kill Jews. We shouldn't be confused or beat ourselves up." Asked what the government plans to do ahead, the minister answers: "We're preparing an array of things… The Shin Bet and the IDF are working extraordinarily to peel the onion and reach the center."

8:49 P.M. Reporters ask Police chief Yohanan Danino why the police only informed the IDF of the teen's phone call hours after the fact, and said: "I think at this time the main task in front of all of us is to focus on finding the boys. We'll not ignore anything that demands investigation, but it should be done at the right time."

8:23 P.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemns the kidnapping, and calls for the immediate release of the three teens. In his statement, Kerry says the U.S. is still looking for information as to who is behind the incident, but adds that "many indications point to Hamas’ involvement."

Kerry says the U.S. fully supports Israel's attempts to find the teens. "We have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services," he says. "We understand that cooperation is ongoing."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with their (the teens') families. We hope for their quick and safe return home."

Over the weekend Israeli ambassadors worldwide have been instructed to turn to the highest position holders where they serve and demand a condemnation for the kidnapping. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated early Sunday morning that Hamas is involved in the kidnapping, the Israeli demand for condemnation intensified. 

7:57 P.M. IDF Spokesperson Moti Almoz tells reporters that the military, the Shin Bet security service and the police are working together to locate the kidnapped teens. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon says in Jerusalem: "we'll exact a heavy price from Hamas leaders anywhere whenever we find necessary, and from anyone who thinks of hurting Israeli citizens and disturbing the lives."

7:36 P.M. Police Chief Yohanan Danino returns to Israel due to the kidnapping. Danino was in New York since Thursday for an international conference scheduled for this week. Danino was widely panned by high-ranking officers in the police force and in the defense establishment for failing to return to Israel promptly after news of the kidnapping. Sources tell Haaretz Danino should have realized the magnitude of the incident and cut his visit short.

6:21 P.M. Cleared for publication: One of the teens managed to call the police emergency line immediately after he was kidnapped at 10:25 P.M. on Thursday and said: "We've been kidnapped." 

4:01 P.M. The Palestinian Liberation Organization condemns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "ruthless racist campaign" against the Palestinian people and its leadership. The PLO also warns against Israel using the kidnapping and the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation as an excuse for continued settlement construction. It calls on the international community and especially on the U.S. to intervene.

3:48 P.M. A high-ranking officer with Central Command says the three teens are believed to still be in West Bank, though other possibilities of a lower likelihood are also considered. The officer says security forces are concentrating their efforts against Hamas infrastructure, mainly in the southern West Bank. The officer adds he doesn't see a connection between the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the kidnapping, and that he also doubts a connection to the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

The officer also notes that the IDF is preparing for hate crime attacks against Palestinians, whose probability may increase if no updates as to the teens' condition arrive. "This incident has the potential for escalation, but my job is to make sure the situation doesn't escalate," he says.

3:11 P.M. Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino has been criticized by some in defense establishment for not returning from New York when notified of the kidnapping. The police spokesperson claimed over the weekend that Danino was in a conference, but a Haaretz investigation revealed the conference would only start this week. The police spokesperson claimed Danino was receiving constant updates.

2:19 P.M. Parents of kidnapped teen Naftali Fraenkel thank security forces for "leaving no stone unturned" in search for the missing boys, say they are in constant contact with the army, police, Shin Bet and political echelon.

12:50 P.M. Hamas spokesman in Gaza Sami Abu-Zuhri says Netanyahu's claim that Hamas is responsible for the kidnapping serves an intelligence agenda. He asserts that Israel will bear the consequences of attacks against the Palestinian people and its leaders in the West Bank. "The arrests of senior Hamas members in the West Bank indicates hysteria and indecision in Israel," he said in a Facebook post, calling on the international community to "intervene and stop these crimes."

12:19 P.M. IDF begins limited enlistment of a few hundred reservist soldiers.

12:00 P.M. IDF sends extra forces to West Bank, and deploys reconnaissance balloon over West Bank.

11:10 A.M. Two Iron Dome batteries are deployed in the central Israeli cities of Ashdod and Rehovot.

11:44 A.M. Two known Hamas operatives from the Hebron area have been missing since Thursday, Israeli news website Walla News reports. According to Palestinian sources, the IDF and Shin Bet arrived at the suspects' homes and arrested their wives when the two couldn't be found.

11:08 A.M. The police only informed the IDF and Shin Bet of the kidnapping five hours after receiving notice, a senior police source says.

10:54 A.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says at a government meeting that Hamas is behind the kidnapping of the three teens.

"Today I can say what I refrained from saying yesterday ahead of the wave of arrests that captured Hamas operatives in Judea and Samaria," he says. "Hamas men carried out the kidnapping. This is the same Hamas with which Abbas entered a unity government. This has grave consequences.

"At this point our focus is on returning the abductees home," he adds.

10:45 A.M. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch says the IDF, Shin Bet and police are doing everything they can to bring the three teens home.

10:27 A.M. The IDF and the Border Police have erect random checkpoints on the edges of villages around Hebron as well as major roads in the area. The forces are armed with means of crowd dispersal.

10:10 A.M. Economy Minister Bennett visits the family of one of the abducted teens, Naftali Fraenkel, from Nof Ayalon. "The kidnapping of kids in the 11th grade is the height of moral depravity reached by a terror group. It won't pay off for anyone involved. We will leave no stone unturned to bring the kids home."

Despite Netanyahu's order that ministers keep mum on the kidnapping, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addresses the issue indirectly in an interview with Army Radio. "Palestinian terrorists will not be freed again, as a gesture or otherwise," he says. "Ever since the Shalit deal I allowed [Yisrael Beiteinu] ministers the freedom to vote as they pleased on the release of prisoners. They will not have this freedom any longer. All Yisrael Beiteinu Ministers will staunchly oppose future prisoners' release."

9:30 A.M. Qadura Fares, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, says that the kidnapping is detrimental to the prisoners' cause. "Anyone who thinks that this will result in a deal or negotiations is deluded," he says. "Unfortunately, the prisoners' strike has reached a critical point, making headlines. Now everyone is dealing with the kidnapping. Both sides, Netanyahu, and Hamas, are trying to make political gains. Netanyahu is attacking Abbas, and Hamas, as a resistance movement, is boasting without taking responsibility for the incident."

9:09 A.M. Palestinian sources report that senior Hamas operative Fathi al Karawi and Palestinian parliament member Husni Al-Burini of Nablus were among those arrested in the IDF sweep on Saturday night, as well as the two former ministers Wasfi Kabha of Jenin and Khaled Arafa of Ramallah. Earlier it was reported that senior Hamas operative Sheikh Hassan Yousef was captured as well. Yousef's son, Awis, said that the security force had taken his father in for questioning without providing a reason. He added that his father was released from administrative detention two months ago.

Also among those captured are known Hamas operatives, Islamic Jihad operatives who were released from Israeli prisons, imams and university lecturers. Family members said that Israeli forces arrived at their homes with a list of names and ID numbers of their targets.

7:00 A.M. While the security establishment hasn't said so officially, Saturday night's measures indicate the investigation into the kidnapping is focusing on Hamas. The operation that resulted in the arrests of 80 Palestinians overnight was unusually extensive in scale. Most of those captured are Hamas affiliates, including Hassan Yousef, a senior operative. A few members of the Palestinian Legislative Council were arrested as well.

Meanwhile, a closure has been imposed on the West Bank's south, from Bethlehem to the Hebron region. The Israel Air Force continued to strike Gaza, hitting eight targets overnight. Officially, Israel has defined the IAF operations as a response to Saturday's rocket fire on the Negev, but it appears the force of the attack is meant to send a message to Hamas.

6:45 A.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon releases a statement condemning the kidnapping, and calling for the teens' immediate release.

In the statement, Ban expressed "deep concern on the trend toward violence on the ground and attendant loss of life, including today of a child in Gaza as a result of a recent Israeli airstrike."

Ban urges all parties to "exercise restraint and lend urgent support for the release and safe return of the three youths."

6:22 A.M. The IDF carried out extensive overnight operations in the West Bank. 80 were arrested, all of them Hamas affiliates.

2:48 A.M. Economy Minister Naftali Bennet spoke with the families of the three missing teens late Saturday night. "The government will leave no stone unturned in bringing your children home," Bennet told the families.

"Child abduction will not occur in silence. We will not pay off any party involved: Not the terrorists, not those who send them and not those who support them."

12:13 A.M. The Prime Minister's Office asks cabinet ministers this weekend to refrain from making public statements about the abductions or giving interviews to the media.

Most cabinet members have indeed been keeping a low profile on the issue. Economy Minister Naftali Bennet, for example, posted to his Facebook page only Psalms 18:36: "I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them; neither did I turn back till they were consumed." Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz wrote on his own Facebook page, "It is infuriating to hear the cries of joy on the Palestinian side and to see [Abbas] remaining silent. We shall so everything to insure [the abductees'] safe return home."

Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) publicly criticized Abbas, saying responsibility lay with him and the PA's "terror government," and that the abduction was the "inevitable result of giving legitimacy to the terror organizations. The international community must withdraw the blessing it gave to [the Palestinian unity] government and remember that a terrorist is a terrorist, even if he is a cabinet minister."

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog said he was "praying like the rest of the nation of Israel for the welfare and return home of the three teens. As head of the opposition I support the political leadership and the security forces, and we shall give whatever assistance is necessary."

Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) publicly criticized Abbas, saying responsibility lay with him and the PA's "terror government," and that the abduction was the "inevitable result of giving legitimacy to the terror organizations. The international community must withdraw the blessing it gave to [the Palestinian unity] government and remember that a terrorist is a terrorist, even if he is a cabinet minister."

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog said he was "praying like the rest of the nation of Israel for the welfare and return home of the three teens. As head of the opposition I support the political leadership and the security forces, and we shall give whatever assistance is necessary."

MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) criticized what he called Netanyahu's "cynical use of a difficult event for political reasons," saying his remarks were "an attempt to justify his claims regarding the implications of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which is irrelevant to this event, and in doing so he did harm to efforts to achieve [the abductees'] release. Our goal is to bring the boys home, and one of the main means to achieve this is the security coordination and transfer of information from the Palestinian security agencies. Therefore, we must take action to increase the common interest of returning the boys home in peace and not create a disconnect and one-upsmanship vis-a-vis the PA."