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Massive police operation centres on Hebron

In this post: report from Ma’an news and the live blog which Haaretz updated during the day, Sunday June 15th. Read this from the bottom upwards. All photos by Mamoun Wazwaz / Maan images.

checkpoint hebron 15.6.14
One of the many checkpoints being erected around Hebron.

Israel tightens noose around Hebron as home raids continue

Ma’an news
June 15, 2014

HEBRON — For the second consecutive day, Israeli forces on Sunday continued a major military operation in Hebron in the southern West Bank in search of three Israeli teenagers who disappeared Thursday evening near the Gush Etzion settlement.

Although Israeli forces bombarded the Gaza Strip and detained 80 Palestinians across the West Bank overnight, Hebron has taken the brunt of the Israeli response.

Israeli forces have erected checkpoints throughout the city and nearby villages, and since Friday morning have engaged in dozens of raids on private homes around the clock.

A Ma’an reporter on the scene said on Sunday that Israeli forces closed Hebron’s northern entrance with a steel gate and large concrete blocks preventing Palestinian pedestrians and vehicles from moving in and out.

Checking all cars going into Hebron.

Israeli troops also erected checkpoints at the main roads in the Nabi Younis and Hawawir neighborhoods north of Hebron, inspecting all Palestinians traveling in and out of Hebron.

Israeli forces have detained 43 people from Hebron area since the beginning of the crisis on Friday morning, according to Hebron branch of the Palestinian Prisoners’ society.

Despite the Israeli military operation, the residents of Hebron have continued trying to continue daily life as normal. Shops and stores have remained open, but few people were seen in the streets.

Public transportation operated normally, but the movement of private vehicles was less than usual as a result of the heavy military presence.

A shop owner named Muhammad told Ma’an that residents of Hebron have avoided going to the markets out of fear that the ongoing house-to-house Israeli incursions would continue.

People are afraid that Israelis will break into their homes while they are out, so they preferred to remain inside, he added.

Palestinian police officers are operated normally in Hebron, a Ma’an reporter on the scene said.

On Thursday night, three Israeli youths disappeared while attempting to hitchhike from the Jewish-only Gush Etzion settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli authorities have said the Palestinian Authority has responsibility for the settlers’ safety and has accused Hamas members of kidnapping the youths, charges Hamas has called “stupid.”

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, has stressed that they have no responsibility for the settlers’ safety, as they were captured in the 62 percent of the West Bank under Israeli military and civilian control.

The case has attracted widespread attention in Israel and led to a fervent campaign for their return under the banner “Bring Back Our Boys.”

Palestinians, however, have contrasted the attention received by the three settler youth with the lack of concern for the fate of around 200 Palestinians who are currently being held indefinitely without charge or trial in Israeli prisons, including 125 who have been on hunger strike for more than 50 days.

Below: One of many raids on homes in Hebron

LIVE BLOG: Kidnapped teens believed still in West Bank

IDF arrests 80 Palestinians in sweeping West Bank raid; IDF begins limited enlistment of reservists. Netanyahu: Hamas behind kidnapping. PLO blasts ‘racist campaign’ against Palestinian people.

By Yair Ettinger, Chaim Levinson, Barak Ravid, Gili Cohen, Haaretz
June 15, 2014

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 called up a limited number of reserves.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that a “terror organization” was behind the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad, Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, from Talmon and Naftali Frenkel, 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 Ramallsh. 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. Police chief Yohanan Danino was asked by reporters 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 condemned the kidnapping, and called for the immediate release of the three teens. In his statement Kerry said the U.S. is still looking for information as to who is behind the incident, but added that “many indications point to Hamas’ involvement.”

Kerry said 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 said. “We understand that cooperation is ongoing.”

Kerry added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with their (the teens’) families. We hope for their quick and safe return home.”

Over the weekend Israeli ambassador 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 that Hamas is involved in the kidnapping the Israeli demand for condemnation intensified.

[Jerusalem time is two hours earlier than London time]

7:57 P.M. IDF Spokesperson Moti Almoz told reporters that the IDF, the Shin Bet and the police are working together to locate the kidnapped teens. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in Jerusalem that “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.”

7:38 P.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the kidnapping is a “despicable terrorist act” and called for the teens’ release.

7:36 P.M. Police Chief Yohanan Danino returned 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 told 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. and say: “We’ve been kidnapped.”

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

3:48 P.M.A high-ranking officer with Central Command said the three teens are believed to still be in West Bank, though other possibilities of a lower likelihood are also considered. The officer said security forces are concentrating their efforts against Hamas infrastructure, mainly in the southern West Bank. The officer said 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 added the IDF is preparing for possible “price tag” attacks, 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 said.

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 Frenkel 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 has said Netanyahu’s claim that Hamas is responsible for the kidnapping serves an intelligence agenda. He asserted 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 observation 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 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 said. “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 added.

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 erected 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 has visited the family of one of the abducted teens, Naftali Frenkel, 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 addressed the issue indirectly in an interview with Army Radio. “Palestinian terrorists will not be freed again, as a gesture or otherwise,” he said. “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 said. “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 released 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 urged 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.”

Sunday, June 15
12:13 A.M. The Prime Minister’s Office asked 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.”

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