Qatar-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal hinted that Hamas would seek to kidnap Israelis in a speech on May 20, about three weeks before three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank.
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In his address, Meshal mentioned Hassan Salameh, a Hamas official serving a life sentence for sending suicide bombers into Israel in the 1990s.
“Your letter has arrived. I am aware of your difficulties. The reply will be provided by Iz al-Din al-Qassam,” Meshal said, referring to Hamas’ military wing. Defense officials interpret the speech as Hamas’ return to kidnapping Israelis for bargaining purposes, despite the reconciliation agreement it signed this spring with the Palestinian Authority.
The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service are continuing their search for the kidnappers, believed to be Hamas militants from the Hebron area. It is not yet clear how closely linked the cell might be to Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip or abroad.
It is considered likely, however, that the decision to kidnap the teens was made in Hamas’ Hebron branch without advance permission or specific orders from elsewhere. The kidnapping appears to be the result of detailed intelligence, funding and logistics.
Meanwhile, Israel will bring the dozens of Hamas operatives arrested Tuesday night before a special committee of the State Prosecutor’s Office and military prosecution in the West Bank. Many of these men were released by Israel in the 2011 deal to free abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel may send former militants back to prison if it has proof they broke their promise to renounce terrorism forever.
A senior military official said Wednesday the security coordination between Israel and the PA was continuing as usual; the IDF did not seek a confrontation with the PA security forces.
He confirmed that the PA forces had been told by the Israelis to steer clear during the IDF’s nighttime operations in Palestinian cities in the West Bank. He said there had been no problems between the two sides.