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Palestinian leader condemns abduction of Israelis


RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the abduction of three Israeli teens in his first public comments since they went missing in the West Bank four days ago.

Israel has alleged the abductions were carried out by the Islamic militant group Hamas, but has also held Abbas and his self-rule government in the West Bank responsible for the fate of the three Jewish seminary students.

Earlier this month, Abbas formed a unity government that has the backing of Hamas.

In a statement Monday, his office condemned both the kidnappings and the subsequent Israeli crackdown.

The statement says “the Palestinian leadership condemns the series of events … beginning with the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens and ending with a series of Israeli violations.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Israeli troops on Monday rounded up dozens more Hamas activists, including senior figures, as part of a feverish search for three missing Israeli teenagers who Israel says were kidnapped by the Islamic militant group in the West Bank.

Israeli officials have vowed to crack down on Hamas and media said the government is considering possible deportations of Hamas leaders from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

The three teens were abducted late Thursday, while hitchhiking in the West Bank.

Since then, the military has conducted a massive search and arrested more than 150 Palestinians, including 10 Hamas legislators.

Among those rounded up early Monday was Abdel Aziz Dweik, speaker of the long-defunct Palestinian parliament and a senior Hamas figure.

In the northern West Bank, meanwhile, a 20-year-old Palestinian was killed by army fire in a clash between Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank refugee camp of Jalazoun, said Palestinian hospital official Samir Saliba.

Israel says the three teenagers were kidnapped by Hamas. The incident has escalated already heightened tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian government, headed by Western-supported President Mahmoud Abbas and backed by Hamas.

Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist group, has condemned the alliance and said it holds Abbas responsible for the teens’ safety.

Hamas has praised the kidnappings, but has stopped short of claiming responsibility. Abbas aides have said the Palestinian Authority cannot be held responsible because Israel retains full control over the West Bank, despite limited Palestinian self-rule.

Israel’s Justice Ministry said it held a meeting Sunday to examine a number of possible punitive steps against Hamas. The Justice Ministry would not elaborate on the actions being considered.

Israeli media reported that the government was considering deporting Hamas figures from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, demolishing homes of Hamas members and taking sanctions against Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israeli intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli Channel 10 on Monday that Israel would punish both Hamas and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority government.

“If we don’t exact a harsh price, we encourage these things. A harsh price has an effect of deterrence,” said Steinitz, referring to the suspected kidnapping.

The three youths, Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, disappeared Thursday night as they were heading home from a West Bank religious school. Frenkel also holds American citizenship.

The case has riveted the nation’s attention, receiving around-the-clock coverage in local media.

Also on Monday, Israel’s military said it carried out airstrikes on five weapons and militant sites in Gaza, following overnight rocket fire from the coastal strip into Israel. Two rockets were intercepted and a third fell in an open area in Israel, causing no injuries, the military said.

On the Gaza side, four Palestinians were lightly hurt, including a toddler, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Associated Press writer Nasser Shiyoukhi contributed to this story from Hebron, West Bank.