Israel takes 150 into custody in search for missing teens

Israel takes 150 into custody in search for missing teens
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Monday, June 16, 2014 - 7:20am

Israeli soldiers have so far detained more than 150 Palestinian suspects in the search for three teenagers who Israel says were kidnapped, the military announced Sunday.

Among those detained were Hamas leaders and operatives, the military said.

"We are determined to bring them home and bring the perpetrators of their abduction to justice," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

The teens went missing in Jewish settlements in the West Bank late last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Monday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and told him to "assist in returning the abducted youths and in apprehending the kidnappers," according to Netanyahu's office.

He blamed Hamas for the kidnapping.

"Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas -- the same Hamas that Abu Mazen made a unity government with," he said Sunday.

Abu Mazen is another name for Abbas, whose government now includes Hamas, which controls Gaza.

"The consequences of the partnership with Hamas must be understood: It is bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians and bad for the region," Netanyahu said.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that in a statement released by his office, Abbas condemned the kidnappings and called on all sides to refrain from violence.

One of the three boys is a dual Israeli-American citizen, according to CNN affiliate Channel 10 Israel, which attributed the information to a source at Netanyahu's office. Israeli and U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed the report.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Sunday for the immediate release of the boys.

"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 written statement that offered support to the Israeli government. "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."

'We'll hug them soon'

Gilad Shaar, 16; Naftali Frenkel, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 19, have been missing since late Thursday or Friday and were last seen around Gush Etzion, according to the IDF.

The three "were just on their way home," Naftali's mother, Racheli Frankel, told reporters Sunday. "We trust" that they "will be with us here, and we'll hug them soon ... and God willing, we'll all be able to celebrate their return safely," she said.

She thanked the security forces for their efforts and the U.S. Embassy for its support. "We feel waves and waves of prayers and support and positive energy in this direction."

Netanyahu has given security forces the OK to use "all measures" at their disposal to find the teenagers.

The Palestinian Ministry of Information said in a written statement that the arrests come under "flimsy pretexts" as a "continuation of the aggression" on Palestinians.

"The ministry also asserts that the Israeli military campaign has been on going for decades, during which (Israel) kidnapped the entire Palestinian people," it said.

Hamas responds

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza told CNN that Netanyahu's comments attributing blame were "stupid and baseless."

"The arrest campaign made by the Israeli occupation in the West Bank is targeted to break the backbone of Hamas and bring it down, but the Israelis will not succeed in achieving their goal," Sami Abu Zuhri said.

But Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said the kidnappings are a reminder of Hamas' tactics. "When the Fatah-Hamas government was formed last month, the international community quickly recognized and welcomed it," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"Suddenly, Hamas' cruel acts of terrorism were forgotten, their never-ending attempts to harm innocent civilians, along with the Hamas Charter, which calls for the total destruction of the state of Israel." Now, he wrote, "the international community has been given a second chance to correct its moral, diplomatic and strategic mistakes. Wall to wall condemnations of the kidnapping are called for, as well as placing responsibility on the Palestinian government, including the threat of taking physical, economic and diplomatic steps against it."

But, he wrote, the international community is "keeping silent, and by doing so, not only are the Palestinians receiving a false, lenient message, but Israel also understands again that she has no one to count on but herself, something that will not encourage further compromises on her part in the near future."

'#BringBackOurBoys'

The abduction of the three teens inspired social media users to use the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys, a reference to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign for more than 200 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped by militants.

The thread quickly became contentious, with pro-Palestinian users alleging many Palestinian children have been kidnapped by Israeli soldiers and imprisoned.

A "Bring Back Our Boys" Facebook page calling for an end to "the terrorism against Israel" had more than 50,000 likes Sunday.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, Steve Almasy, Josh Levs and Deborah Doft contributed to this report 

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