The fate of three teenagers aged between 16 and 19 abducted by terrorists near Efrat in the West Bank last Thursday is moving Israel.
Since then, the military has conducted a massive search and arrested more than 150 Palestinians, including ten Hamas lawmakers.
One of the three abducted teens is an American citzen. Naftali Frenkel was captured along with Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, according to reports citing officials. One of them was able to alert police via his cell phone straight after the kidnapping.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Hamas of abducting the teenagers. "This morning I can say what I was unable to say yesterday before the extensive wave of arrests of Hamas members in Judea and Samaria," he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. "Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas - the same Hamas that Mahmoud Abbas made a unity government with. This has severe repercussions."
Netanyahu said he had asked Abbas "to do everything to help bring them back in peace." He has also given security forces orders to locate the teenagers and prevent them from being moved to Gaza or any other place.
The Palestinians have rejected blame, saying the teens went missing in territory under full Israeli control.
President Shimon Peres reached out to the families of the missing teens. "We are one nation, we are one family and I want you to know that all of Israel is with you during these difficult times," Peres told them on Saturday. The Israeli head of state also said that all branches of Israel's security forces were "doing everything to bring our boys home."
Since Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) arrested most Hamas leaders in the West Bank, including the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Dweik. Over 150 Palestinian suspects have been arrested in the wake of the kidnapping, the IDF said in a statement.
Hamas applauds kidnappers
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 marks the first time three civilians have been taken at the same time.
A Hamas website claimed more than 60 of those arrested were members of the movement, including senior figures such as the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly. The Israeli military also detained supporters of Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian terror group.
"Palestinian terrorists will not feel safe, will not be able to hide and will feel the heavy arm of the Israeli military capabilities," IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers 38 percent of the West Bank, has insisted it was not to blame, saying the teens went missing in territory under full Israeli control. However, media reports say that Palestinian security services are cooperating with Israel to find the three teenagers.
In its first statement on the issue, Hamas - which now forms a government together with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - praised the kidnapping but did not claim responsibility. In a message sent to journalists, Hamas referred to "the success of the kidnapping" and said that "the movement pays tribute to the heroes who are behind the kidnapping."