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Hamas denies accusations that it kidnapped settler youths

June 15, 2014 11:10 P.M. (Updated: June 15, 2014 11:22 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hamas on Sunday denied accusations that its members were behind the disappearance of three Israeli youth just minutes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused them of being responsible.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the accusations "stupid" and said that they were a bluff intended to acquire information.

Abu Zuhri told Ma'an that the arrests carried out by occupation forces in the West Bank were "designed to break Hamas," but they would not succeed in achieving their goal.

The spokesman also said that Israeli authorities are responsible for "all of the consequences of the arrest campaigns" in the West Bank, adding the Israeli escalation in the West Bank and Gaza reflects their "state of confusion."

The Hamas spokesperson's comments come in response to Netanyahu's declaration earlier Sunday that Hamas was responsible for the abduction of three settler youths on Thursday evening.

"Hamas men committed the kidnapping. There will be severe consequences," Israel news site Ynet reported on Sunday morning.

"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," Netanyahu said later at a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv.

"Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas -- the same Hamas that Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) made a unity government with; this has severe repercussions," he continued.

"We are currently focusing all of our efforts on bringing the abductees back home," he added.

The statements come after the Israeli military engaged in a major campaign of arrests on the third night of the search for the youths, who went missing while hitchhiking in the Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion between Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank on Thursday.

Israel also launched at least seven air strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight, injuring two Palestinian women in their homes.

Netanyahu previously said he held the Palestinian Authority responsible because the alleged kidnappers would have had to come from areas under PA control and returned to it, but a PA security forces spokesperson highlighted that the incident occurred in an area under full Israeli control.

The accusations come less than two weeks after Hamas and Fatah joined together to form a government of national unity for the first time in seven years, re-uniting the largest Palestinian political parties in both the West Bank and Gaza under the Palestinian Authority.

The move angered Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization for its refusal to renounce violence in its fight against the occupation.

The Israeli teens disappeared in the 61 percent of the West Bank that is considered Area C and under full Israeli military and civilian control.

Only about 11 percent of the West Bank falls in Area C, which is theoretically under full Israeli control, while the rest is jointly administered.

Despite these distinctions, the entire region is under effective military occupation and the Israeli military has the last word on any decisions, with frequent nightly raids and attacks on areas under nominal Palestinian control.
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