Sunday, June 22, 2014 6:47 pm
by Jonah Mandel
JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank on Sunday in separate clashes that erupted as they made more arrests in the hunt for three missing teenagers.
Their deaths raised to four the number of Palestinians killed since the army began a massive search for three Israeli students who disappeared on June 12 while hitchhiking in the southern West Bank.
Israel accuses Hamas of kidnapping them, and has said the objective of “Operation Brother’s Keeper” is to bring them home safe while dealing a crushing blow to the group’s West Bank infrastructure.
So far, the army has arrested more than 340 Palestinians, around two thirds of them Hamas members.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has denounced the abduction of the boys, and on Sunday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should condemn the bloodshed triggered by the manhunt.
“I said the kidnapping was a crime, but does that justify the killing of… Palestinian teens in cold blood?” Abbas told Haaretz newspaper, referring to two young Palestinians who died earlier this week.
“What does Netanyahu have to say about the killings? Does he condemn it?”
Abbas also said he has seen no concrete evidence of the Islamist group’s involvement, saying: “I have no credible information that Hamas was behind the kidnapping.”
– ‘Unequivocal proof’ –
Netanyahu insists Hamas is behind the disappearance of the youths and told a meeting of his cabinet on Sunday that Israel has “unequivocal proof” and “soon this information will be made public”.
Army spokesman General Motti Almoz said, meanwhile, that all information indicates the teens “are alive”.
Netanyahu also said Abbas must show his good intentions towards Israel by finding the youths and returning them home, and “by his willingness to dissolve the unity government with Hamas”.
Israel has seized on the opportunity presented by the operation to try to rupture a reconciliation agreement between Abbas and Hamas, which saw the two sides recently agree on an interim government of independents, infuriating the Jewish state.
Netanyahu also appeared to address Abbas’s remarks on Palestinian casualties, saying Israel has “no intention of harming anyone”.
“But our forces are acting as necessary for self-defence, and from time to time, there are victims or casualties on the Palestinian side as a result.”
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said the Palestinian leadership had begun efforts to call for “an urgent session of the UN Security Council to put an end to the ongoing brutal Israeli aggression”.
Speaking to AFP, Abu Rudeina said they are also appealing to international organisations to “protect” Palestinians from Israel’s actions.
– Shot four times –
With the search in its 10th day, troops in Nablus shot dead Ahmed Fahnawi, 27, as he was on his way to pray, hitting him with four bullets, Palestinian security sources said.
Fahnawi’s family told AFP he was mentally challenged.
The army confirmed firing at a man who approached troops “in a threatening manner”, saying he had failed to respond to warning shots and appeared to be “mentally unstable”.
Israeli troops also shot dead 30-year-old Mohammed Tarifi during clashes in central Ramallah, in an incident which saw another five wounded, Palestinian medics said.
There was no immediate comment from the army.
Shortly after the soldiers left, Palestinians were seen hurling rocks at a police station in the city and smashing the windows of two police cars.
Later on Sunday, Israeli troops shot and wounded four Palestinians near Hebron, medics said.
The Israeli search has sparked growing Palestinian frustration with their own security forces who are cooperating in the hunt for the teenagers, in a move defended by Abbas as necessary.
Israeli rights groups sent a letter to Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon on Sunday, denouncing the crackdown which they branded “collective punishment” and a violation of basic rights.