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Quique Kierszenbaum/MCT, via Getty Images

Israel blames Hamas for kidnapping 3 Israeli teens

Hamas has not denied or confirmed involvement, but Kerry backs assertions; Israeli forces kill Palestinian during search

Israeli forces on Monday touched off street confrontations in which one Palestinian died as they searched for three teens who disappeared late last week and are believed to have been kidnapped.

Palestinians threw rocks at soldiers conducting house-to-house searches in al-Jilazoun refugee camp, outside Ramallah, before dawn. Army gunfire killed a 20-year-old Palestinian and wounded another, hospital officials said.

The incident came hours after Israel said on Sunday that Hamas played a role in the abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank, warning of "serious consequences" as it pressed on with a search and the detention of as many as 100 Palestinians.

Two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old, seminary students in a Jewish settlement bloc, disappeared Thursday, sparking national outrage and prompting Palestinian fear of a crackdown by Israeli security forces.

"These teenagers were kidnapped, and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters, referring to the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

There has been no public claim of responsibility. Asked about Netanyahu's allegations, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, stopped short of a clear denial or confirmation that it was involved.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had mediated peace talks that Netanyahu called off after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party agreed to a power share with Hamas in April, gave qualified backing to the prime minister's allegation.

"We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas' involvement," Kerry said in a statement.

"As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past."

Since the three teenagers vanished, apparently while hitchhiking, the Israeli army has carried out house-to-house searches, round-ups and interrogations in the West Bank city of Hebron and outlying villages.

The army said it detained about 80 suspects overnight and would expand the dragnet in the coming days. Palestinian officials put the number seized by Israel so far at more than 100, including at least seven Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament and several people recently freed from Israeli jails.

Israel identified the seminary students as Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha'er and Naftali Frankel, who also holds U.S. citizenship. In their last communication, one of the three managed to phone police Thursday night to report that they were being kidnapped, according to an Israeli security official.

Gilad Erdan, a minister in Netanyahu's security cabinet, told Israel's Channel 2 television that Abbas' security forces were "willingly" helping search for the teenagers. Palestinian authorities acknowledged the cooperation, drawing Hamas censure.

Erdan played down, however, the role of the Palestinian administration, which Netanyahu wants world powers to pressure to dissolve the Fatah-Hamas pact. Recovering the teenagers and dealing with their captors would be "almost entirely based on the Israeli military and security services," Erdan said.

In Egypt a senior security official said Egyptian National Security was working through a Palestinian party to help resolve the crisis, The Associated Press reported. Egyptian authorities are in contact with Palestinian militant groups through intermediaries, since the Egyptian government does not maintain direct contact with Hamas. The official said the three Israelis were still believed to be in the West Bank, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, thousands of Jews flocked to the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem on Sunday evening to pray for the return of the teens.

Reuters

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