Israel has closed the Hebron region and partially sealed Gaza Strip crossing points as it searches for three Israeli teenagers, in a move condemned by a Palestinian rights group as “collective punishment”.
Israeli forces have also arrested at least 80 Palestinians, including a high-level Hamas official, in an operation on Saturday and early Sunday morning. The teenagers went missing three days ago and are believed to have been abducted in the West Bank.
“These revenge tactics are tantamount to collective punishment under international law,” said Fuad al-Khufash, the director of Ahrar, a Palestinian rights group. “They are unjustified and merely serve to alleviate the fears of the Israeli people.”
Among those arrested is Hassan Yousef, a Ramallah-based Hamas founder and legislator, four other members of parliament and two former government ministers, according to Ahrar.
Arrests took place in Hebron, Ramallah, Tubas, Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus, al-Khufash said. He expected more arrests to take place in the next few days.
|Israel’s allegations against Hamas questioned|
At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Hamas was responsible for the abduction of the Israeli teenagers.
“Whoever carried out this kidnapping were members of Hamas,” he said. “The same Hamas that entered into a unity government with President Abbas.”
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, later on Sunday said “many indications point to Hamas’ involvement”, but provided no further detail.
Hamas denied any involvement in the kidnapping. Claims of responsibility by two obscure groups did not appear to be credible.
Earlier, Israel also held the Palestinian Authority responsible. Mohammad al-Madani, a Fatah Central Committee member, said the disappearance occurred in the so-called “Area C” of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control.
“Netanyahu is taking advantage of this situation to incite against the PA in a bid to score PR points and political gains,” al-Madani said in a statement.
The Israeli military closed most parts of the Hebron region, and banned all local men under the age of 50 from travelling through Allenby Bridge, which connects Jordan with the West Bank.
Palestinian government spokesperson Ehab Bssesio said the measures were part of an “Israeli escalation that amounts to acts of collective punishment”, and called on the international community to intervene.
Workers from the southern West Bank city with valid permits were prevented from entering Israel and settlements, while a ban was placed on all family visits to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, said the former minister of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe.
Last night, and as concerns of increased Israeli attacks mounted, settlers hurled stones at Palestinians’ houses in Susya, south of Hebron. Settlers also attacked cars near Kiryat Arba, Gush Etzion, and the junction between Yatta and the southern entrance to the Hebron area.
In Gaza, at least six Israeli air raids were carried out overnight, leaving two Palestinians injured.
Ashraf al-Qedra, a Gaza health ministry spokesman, said a 27-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl were injured by shrapnel when an Israeli jet attacked a site near a residential area of the southern town of Rafah.
The air raids, which started late on Saturday and continued into Sunday, targeted open areas and alleged training sites for Palestinian groups.
The Israeli army said the assault was in response to three rockets Palestinian groups had fired from Gaza on June 14. The rockets caused no injuries or damage, and no Palestinian group said it fired them.
Meanwhile, Israel closed the only commercial crossing point into Gaza, allowing only fuel shipments. The Erez crossing in northern Gaza was operating for foreigners and patients seeking medical attention in Israel only.
Also, Palestinians with Israeli-issued permits were forbidden from crossing into Israel on Sunday, according to Gaza’s interior ministry.
Source: Al Jazeera