JERUSALEM: Israeli soldiers arrested 41 more Palestinians in the West Bank early on Tuesday, the army said, expanding the already massive search for three missing Jewish seminary students who disappeared last week.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the apparent abductions, without providing proof. The three went missing in the West Bank late Thursday.
Tuesday’s arrests brought the total number of Palestinians detained since the teens disappeared to over 200, most of them Hamas activists, in the biggest West Bank crackdown on the militant group in almost a decade.
The army also arrested several members of the Palestinian security forces from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, their families said, and soldiers searched homes and confiscated weapons from additional security officers.
Those detained were previously active in a militant offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction.
However, the arrests do not appear to signal that Israel is going after Abbas’ security force apparatus, which works closely with the Israeli army on security coordination in the West Bank and is assisting efforts to try to locate the missing teens.
Fatah lawmaker Jamal Tirawi said Israeli soldiers searched his home on Tuesday. The army would not comment on the specifics of the arrests and searches.
The latest arrests took place around the northern West Bank city of Nablus, far from the southern city of Hebron, which has been the focus of the army’s search so far. Israeli forces continued to restrict the movement of Palestinians in the Hebron region.
“As long as our boys remain abducted, Hamas will feel pursued, paralyzed and threatened,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an army spokesman.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has used the abductions to discredit Abbas and the unity government that the Palestinian president formed with Hamas backing earlier this month.
Hamas has praised the kidnapping, but has not taken responsibility. In a statement, the group said the detentions of Hamas members “will not stop it and it will not change its path.”
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli warplanes struck three weapons manufacturing and storage sites and another militant site early Tuesday, in response to a rocket launched from Gaza to Israel late Monday, the army said.
The army also said it shot a Palestinian late Monday who tried, along with others, to set fire to the fence surrounding a West Bank Jewish settlement. The Palestinian was shot in the chest and stomach, and is being treated in a hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said hospital director Ahmad Bitawi.