JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest raid early Thursday in the most violent confrontation so far in the weeklong search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank.
Israel has blamed the Islamic militant group Hamas for the apparent abductions, without providing evidence. Israel has since launched a widespread crackdown on the militant Islamic group, arresting scores of members while conducting a feverish manhunt for the missing youths.
Hamas has praised the abduction of the teenagers, but has not claimed responsibility for it.
The three – Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship – disappeared late Thursday while hitchhiking home from Jewish seminaries in the West Bank.
The military said about 300 Palestinians took to the streets when the soldiers entered Jenin at about 2 a.m. Some opened fire at the troops, others threw explosive devices or rocks at the soldiers. It said soldiers retaliated with live fire.
The military said 30 Palestinians were arrested in the overnight raid.
Nadir Irshaid, director of the Jenin hospital, said seven people are being treated for light injuries that he said were caused by rubber bullets and beatings.
According to several Jenin residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety, three Palestinians were arrested over the Jenin violence, including two members of the Islamic Jihad militant group.
Since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested, the military said, including 200 members of Hamas.
The military also said that troops have searched about 100 locations and raided institutions it said are used by Hamas.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said Hamas is “paying a heavy price for the abduction.”
Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist group due to its long history of attacks aimed at civilians. Hamas has abducted Israelis before.
There has been no sign of life from the missing teens or any ransom or other demands from their purported kidnappers.
U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro met with the Fraenkel family on Thursday and expressed Washington’s “strong support” for Israeli efforts to find the teenagers. The U.S. has “a special responsibility in the case of an American citizen,” Shapiro said.
Prayer vigils and round-the-clock media coverage have followed the teens’ disappearance.