More than 50 Palestinians released in 2011 as part a high-profile deal to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit are back in custody after they were arrested during Israeli military operations to locate three missing teenagers.
The overnight arrests – 65 in total – bring the number of Palestinians detained during the military campaign to locate the teenagers to 240, the Israeli defence forces (IDF) confirmed on Wednesday. Many of those arrested were seized in raids on houses in Hebron and Nablus.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the re-arrest of the prisoners freed in the Gilad Shalit exchange “sent an important message” that the purpose of Israel’s military campaign was both to return the teenagers and damage Hamas’s infrastructure in the West Bank.
Gilad Shalit was an Israeli soldier captured in Gaza by Hamas in 2006 and held for five years before being traded for the release of 1,027 Palestinians.
As well as the arrests, the IDF said on Wednesday that it had carried out about 800 searches since Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gil-ad Sha’er and Naftali Frankel, both 16, went missing on Thursday. These included raids on Hamas’s charity arm, Dawa, which Israel claims is used to recruit operatives, disseminate information and raise funds.
Israel has been candid over the past week about its intention to damage Hamas, which ended its seven-year feud with rival Fatah in June and gave its backing to a unity governent ahead of elections in the West Bank and Gaza. The move was welcomed by Palestinians, as well as the EU and the US, but widely condemned in Israel.
Both politicians and officials have blamed the Islamist group for the kidnapping, but neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian militant group has taken responsibility.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said that the kidnappers “were seeking the destruction of the [Palestinian] Authority”.
Speaking on Israeli radio on Wednesday, the home front minister, Gilad Erdan – who is a member of the prime minister’s security cabinet – said Israel knew that a Hamas cell was behind the kidnapping.
“The Shin Bet and intelligence officials are interested in investigating as many Hamas operatives as possible to find any leads on the whereabouts of the boys,” he said. “The end result of any military operation should be the eradication of the Hamas movement.”
As the search for the three teenagers enters its sixth day, Israeli military has maintained a blockade of Hebron, with roads in and out of the city heavily policed in what critics argue consititutes collective punishment of Palestinians in the city.
On Monday night, 1,000 Israeli soldiers raided houses in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, arresting dozens of Hamas members and seizing weapons.
source: Guardian UK