Israel rearrests 50 Hamas activists in wake of kidnappings

Men were part of prisoner release in exchange for Gilad Shalit

Palestinian Abed al-Qawasmeh inspects the damage caused by the Israeli soldiers after a raid to his house in the West Bank city of Hebron. Photograph: EPA/Abed al Hashlamoun

Palestinian Abed al-Qawasmeh inspects the damage caused by the Israeli soldiers after a raid to his house in the West Bank city of Hebron. Photograph: EPA/Abed al Hashlamoun

 

As part of a massive security crackdown across the West Bank following last week’s kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, Israel has re-arrested 50 Hamas activists released three years ago as part of an earlier prisoner release.

Israeli security sources said the 50 men, who were part of more than 1,000 prisoners released in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by militants in Gaza, had violated the terms of their release, which included a commitment to refrain from militant activity.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has blamed Hamas for the kidnapping, said Israel will do everything necessary to find the missing boys.

“This is all part of a series of many operations that will continue, and their goal is to retrieve the kidnapped youngsters and strike a blow to Hamas in Judea and Samaria [West Bank].”

Two hundred and forty Palestinians have been taken into custody since Friday and 800 West Bank homes have been searched. Routes into and out of the city of Hebron, close to where the three seminary students were seized while hitching a lift, have been blocked. Hebron-area males have been prevented from leaving the West Bank.

Restrictions have also been tightened for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, with family visits suspended.

Ramadan looms

Human rights groups have urged Israel not to impose collective punishments against the civilian population, particularly as families are busy preparing for the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan which begins next weekend.

The kidnapping has increased tension between Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, which only last month agreed to support a new unity government comprised of technocrats.

“Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians],” Mr Abbas said yesterday, during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families.”

Hamas responded by criticising the security co-operation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel after reports that Mr Abbas’s forces were helping efforts to locate the kidnapped boys.

“President Abbas’s statements on security co-ordination with Israel are unjustified, harmful to Palestinian reconciliation and a psychological blow to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners suffering a slow death in the occupation’s jails,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza.

Hamas controls Gaza and residents of the coastal strip are bracing for the possibility of large Israeli military strikes in the coming days.