Israeli forces move on Palestine

Tensions between Israel and Palestine rise as Israel deploys around 2,000 troops in southern West Bank on 14 June. Israeli military command has announced its plan to step up its military operations in the region in order to locate three abducted Israeli teens. Troops have sealed of most entrances to the city of Hebron on 15 June and increased its military presence to 2,500 troops. In the city of Ramallah a Palestinian protester was killed as Israeli troops expand their pressure on the Palestinians.

The three Israeli boys, Eyal Yifrah (19), Gil-ad Shaer (16) and Naftali Frenkel (16) disappeared on Thursday 12 June as they were heading home from a West Bank religious school. One of the boys was able to call the police, saying “We’ve been kidnapped”. Israeli officials accused Hamas of orchestrating the abduction and started a widespread manhunt in southern West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “Hamas terrorist carried out Thursday’s kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. We know that for a fact”, he added “Instead of abiding by his international obligation to disarm Hamas, President Abbas [of Palestine] has chosen to make Hamas his partner […] I believe the dangers of that pact now should be abundantly clear”. 

On 23 April the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and the Palestinian central-left movement Fatah agreed to form a national government under the umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The agreement ended the political division of Palestine between the Fatah governed West Bank and the Hamas led Gaza Strip. Israel responded nervously in the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, Nethanyahu said “Does he [Abbas] want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace, so far he hasn’t done so”. Israel calls Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to negotiate with them. The recent incursions by Israel into the West Bank marks the worst crisis in Israel-Palestine relations since the Palestinian unity government took office on 2 June. 

Political destabilization

Nethahanya presented no evidence to support his accusations against Hamas. Palestinian officials denied all involvement in the matter but could not stop some Hamas spokesmen praising the abduction. Palestinian militants have repeatedly threatened to kidnap Israelis, hoping to use them as bargaining chips to get Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons free. Israeli military officials stated that the nature of the abduction points towards Hamas, they added that only the “most institutionalized cells promote bomber attacks and kidnapping”. According to Peter Lerner, spokesman of the Israeli Military Intelligence, Hamas was the only organization to be able to pull this off.
Critics claim that Israel uses the abduction of the three boys as a pretext to frustrate the cooperation between Fatah and Hamas. On 16 June the Israeli military announced that it had detained 40 Palestinians overnight, bringing up the number of arrests since the operation began to 150. Among the detainees are several prominent Palestinian lawmakers and Hamas members such as parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik, witnesses said. The Palestinian government, controlling about 38 percent of the West Bank, stresses it is not blame, saying the three boys were abducted in territory fully under Israeli control.  

As Israeli troops widened their search for the missing boys, they swept trough the Palestinian de facto capital Ramallah, sparking fierce protests. As Israeli soldiers conducted a search in the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah clashes broke out. Palestinian youth started throwing stones and Israeli troops responded with gunfire, killing one. The Palestinian protester that got killed was the twenty-year-old Ahmed Arafat Sabareen, who got hit in the chest. Two other boys were transferred to the hospital, but their condition had been described as moderate. 

International response

United States Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the kidnapping of the boys. He stated “We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’s involvement”. He added “As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past.”

The attempts by Netanyahu to use the fate of the missing teens to score wider political gains in his struggle against Hamas has not gone unnoticed in Israel as well and has been received with criticism. Barak Ravid, journalist of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, stated “Netanyahu increased the intensity of his attacks, saying kidnapping was the result of the new unity government and holding Abbas responsible. Netanyahu knows full well that no one is quite buying that.”  

The director of the Palestinian rights movement Ahrar, Fuad al-Khufash, said “These revenge tactics are tantamount to collective punishment under international law […] they are unjustified and merely serve to alleviate the fears of the Israeli people.” According to Al-Khufash five members of parliament and two former government ministers have been arrested by Israeli forces.

Sources: Al Arabyia, Al Jazeera I, Al Jazeera II, European Forum, Jerusalem online, Palestinian News Network, Reuters, The Guardian.
Author Koen Migchelbrink

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