Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday declined to condemn or apologize for the recent deaths of young Palestinians at the hands of Israeli security forces, in response to criticism levelled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
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Abbas' criticism of Netanyahu was expressed during an interview with Haaretz on the weekend.
"We are in the middle of an ongoing and focused effort to return our boys home," Netanyahu said, at the start of Sunday's government meeting. "That effort involves a certain degree of friction with the civilian population of Judea and Samaria, but we have no intention of maliciously harming anyone."
The Israeli forces are acting in a manner consistent with the requirements of self-defense, the prime minister said, "and occasionally there are victims or injuries on the Palestinian side as a result of the self-defense activities of our forces."
Netanyahu also referred to Abbas' statement that there was no categorical proof of the involvement of Hamas in the abduction of three youths over a week ago.
"We have unequivocal evidence of Hamas' involvement," the prime minister said. "We are transferring that evidence and other information to several countries. Soon it will be in the public domain. At that point, Abu Mazen's (Abbas') words will be assessed in Saudi Arabia in a practical way.
"[Abbas'] words will be evaluated not only in the light of the actions to return the boys home, but also as regards our determination to dismantle the unity government with Hamas, which abducted the youths and calls for the destruction of Israel."
Talking to Haaretz on Saturday, in the run-up to the Israeli Peace Conference in Tel Aviv on July 8, Abbas insisted that Netanyahu condemn the killing of two Palestinian youths and the critical wounding of another by IDF fire in recent days – precisely as Abbas himself had condemned the abduction of the three Israeli youths in Gush Etzion.
"I said that the abduction was a crime," Abbas said angrily, "but does it justify the cold-blooded filling of Palestinian youths? "What does Netanyahu have to say about the killings? Does he condemn it? Look at what’s happened all over the West Bank over the past days, the violence and the destruction of homes. Is that justified?”
The Palestinian president also said that there was "no definite proof that Hamas was behind the abductions." He added that he was not prepared to punish anyone "on the basis of suspicions or because Netanyahu says something. When Netanyahu has information he should inform me and we will deal with it according to our laws."
In a telephone conversation on Sunday with MK Zehava Gal-On, head of the Meretz party, Abbas said that a continuation of the current operation in the West Bank was likely to "incite the territory and plunge it out of control."
The Palestinian president stressed his deep commitment to finding the missing teens and returning them safely home, but he condemned the Israeli operation as "heavy-handed, particularly the shooting of innocent Palestinians in cold blood," and warned that, with Ramadan approaching, the Palestinian street was highly combustible.
Gal-On said that Abbas had assured her his people were not involved in the abduction and were totally committed to the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel for the return of the abductees.
The fact that Netanyahu held the Authority responsible for the current situation was "outrageous," Abbas said.
The Meretz leader called on Netanyahu to abstain from actions that were not directly connected to the return of the abductees, but to dismantling the Palestinian unity government.
"Netanyahu needs to strengthen Abu Mazen and leave Israel with a diplomatic horizon for the days following the return of the abductees," she said.