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Tensions rise in West Bank

June 20, 2014

Israeli soldiers and Palestinians have exchange gunfire in the West Bank city of Jenin. Palestinians have accused Israel of using collective punishment in its dragnet search for three missing teenagers.

Israel soldiers, West Bank
Image: Reuters

The Israeli military said that Palestinians "hurled explosives and opened fire" on its soldiers on Thursday, as they searched the city of Jenin for three missing teenagers.

A crowd of 300 Palestinians confronted the Israeli forces, according to the military. Hospital officials said that three Palestinians suffered gunshot wounds during the overnight clashes.

The Israelis said that they detained 30 Palestinians, referring to them as "terror suspects." At least 280 Palestinians have been detained by Israel, since three teenagers went missing at a popular hitchhiking spot in the southern West Bank city of Gush Etzion on June 12.

Israeli forces have conducted house-to-house searches across the West Bank, covering some 900 locations so far, according to the military. The Palestinian Authority has condemned Israel's tactics as unjustified.

"The policy of collective punishment conducted by the occupation government against our people and our land requires condemnation by the whole world," the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a news release.

Israel points finger at Hamas

Israel claims that the Islamist militant group Hamas kidnapped the three teenagers. The missing teenagers include Gil-Ad Shaer and Israeli-American Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, as well as 19 year-old Eyal Yifrah.

"They were kidnapped by Hamas; we had no doubt about that. It's absolutely certain," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday during a briefing at a West Bank army base near Hebron.

But Hamas has neither claimed responsibility for the disappearances nor denied involvement.

"Regardless of who was responsible for the operation…the Palestinian people have the right to use all forms of resistance in order to liberate land and people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a news conference in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has called on Palestinian President Abbas - the leader of the more moderate and secular Fatah party - to dissolve his unity government with Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction.

slk/jm (AFP, Reuters)