17 June 2014, 17:56

Israel toughens pressure on Hamas in hunt for missing teens

Israel toughens pressure on Hamas in hunt for missing teens

Israel's security cabinet decided on Tuesday to widen a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank after troops detained more than 40 members of the Palestinian Islamist group in sweeps conducted in tandem with a search for three missing teenagers, Reuters reports. 

Israel accuses Hamas of kidnapping the three youths after they left their religious school in a Jewish settlement on Thursday. Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, has neither claimed nor denied responsibility for their disappearance.

The Israeli army has launched house-to-house searches, round-ups of suspects and interrogations in Hebron, a Hamas stronghold, and then in other parts of the occupied West Bank, in a mobilisation on a scale not seen in years.

"We are turning Hamas membership into a ticket to hell," Naftali Bennett, a far-right member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, told Israel's Army Radio on Tuesday.

The Palestinian Information Ministry accused Israel of inflicting collective punishment - a charge echoed by several international human rights groups.

"An entire population is being held hostage to the whims of the Israeli occupation," the Palestinian ministry said.

Israel has said it does not know if Gil-Ad Shaer and US-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, are alive or what their captors' demands might be.

At its meeting on Tuesday, Netanyahu's security cabinet agreed to make more arrests, put up roadblocks and turn Palestinian houses into military observation posts to increase pressure onHamas, a political source said.

An Israeli official said ministers had also debated a proposal to deport West Bank Hamas leaders to Gaza.

Earlier, the army said it had detained 41 Hamas militants in overnight raids, raising to more than 200 the number arrested since Friday. Israel officials acknowledged the operation was two-fold - recovering the missing teenagers and weakening Hamas.

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