Israel on Thursday named two members of Hamas as leading suspects in the June 12 kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers. It was the most concrete report of results yet, after weeks of searches in the occupied West Bank.
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed reports that troops were seeking two men, both in their 30s, from the West Bank’s Hebron area. Both have reportedly served time in Israeli prisons.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency issued a statement saying that both men have been wanted and at large since the kidnappings, and that several other Palestinians suspected of involvement in the abductions were being questioned.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the suspects were only part of the group behind the kidnappings, and reiterated his call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to abrogate a unity pact with Hamas — an armed Palestinian resistance group that holds power in the Gaza Strip.
"I now expect President Abbas, who said important things in Saudi Arabia, to stand by those words [and] to break his pact with the Hamas terrorist organization that kidnaps children and calls for the destruction of Israel," he said.
While Abbas has refused Israeli calls to break up his alliance with Hamas, he has instructed his security forces to continue a controversial policy of security coordination with the Israelis.
Israeli authorities have been searching for two weeks for the youths, one of whom is a dual U.S.-Israeli national. The three, ages 16 and 19, disappeared near a Jewish seminary at an illegal Israeli settlement as they were hitchhiking home in the West Bank. Israel has accused Hamas of kidnapping them, but has provided no solid evidence to support the claim.
A senior Palestinian intelligence official told The Associated Press that the two suspects are believed to be hiding, and that Palestinian security forces were also searching for them. He said the fact that the two men have been missing since the kidnapping is "clear evidence they have links with the abduction."
Israel scaled back its searches for the youths on Tuesday after arresting several hundred Palestinians in aggressive house-to-house raids throughout the West Bank, which at times turned deadly and led Palestinians and some rights groups to accuse Israel of imposing collective punishment on civilians.