The crisis escalated already heightened tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian government, which is headed by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas but backed by Hamas.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned Abbas’ agreement with the militant group, and said he would hold him responsible for the safety of the youths, who disappeared apparently while hitchhiking in the West Bank late on Thursday. The three, one of whom holds American citizenship, have not been heard from since.
Palestinian officials condemned the overnight crackdown and rejected Netanyahu’s contention that they are responsible.
Hamas, meanwhile, praised the apparent kidnapping but stopped short of accepting responsibility.
Speaking to his cabinet, Netanyahu said there was no doubt who was responsible. “Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas, the same Hamas that Abu Mazen (Abbas) made a unity government with. This has severe repercussions,” he said.
Netanyahu did not say how Israel determined Hamas was responsible.
Palestinian militants have repeatedly threatened to kidnap Israelis, hoping to use them as bargaining chips to win the release of prisoners held by Israel. This would be the first time three civilians have been taken at the same time.
Deputy defence minister Danny Danon said Israel “will extract a heavy price from the Palestinian leadership” and will “do everything necessary to return the boys to their families. We are not ruling out any options when it comes to possible actions against the Palestinian government in both Gaza and Ramallah,” he said.
The overnight raid was concentrated in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, in the area where the youths disappeared.
A Hamas website said more than 60 of those arrested were members, including senior figures in the movement. The Israeli military also detained supporters of smaller Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.
The Palestinians’ self- rule government, which administers 38% of the West Bank, has insisted it is not to blame.