Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday strongly denounced the kidnappers of three Israeli teenagers who went missing in the West Bank six days ago and said he would hold the perpetrators accountable.
“Those who kidnapped the three teenagers want to destroy us,” he said at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. The speech was carried live on Palestinian television and other Arabic channels.
Mr. Abbas did not say who he thought might be behind the kidnapping. But Israel asserts that the party responsible is Hamas, the Islamic militant group that dominates Gaza and that recently signed a reconciliation pact with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by Mr. Abbas’s mainstream Fatah faction and serves as the authority’s political umbrella.
Mr. Abbas told the conference that the Palestinian Authority was working with Israel to help find the missing teenagers, one of whom also holds United States citizenship.
“They are human beings and we are looking for them and we will hold their kidnappers accountable, whoever they are,” he said. While Hamas has criticized the authority’s security coordination with Israel, Mr. Abbas defended it, saying it is “in our interest and for our protection.”
The Israeli military pressed on Wednesday with its campaign to find the missing youths, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, the dual Israeli-American citizen; his friend Gilad Shaar, 16; and Eyal Yifrach 19. The three, students at West Bank yeshivas, disappeared after hitching a ride home together late Thursday night from a junction in the Gush Etzion settlement block south of Jerusalem.
The search has focused on the Hebron area of the southern West Bank but the Israeli military has broadened the campaign to other areas, carrying out arrests and raiding houses and institutions said to be linked to Hamas with the aim of weakening the infrastructure of the group in the West Bank.
About 240 Palestinians had been arrested as of Wednesday morning, most of them associated with Hamas, and some 800 locations have been searched, according to military officials. Overnight, Israeli forces rearrested 51 former Palestinian prisoners who were released in 2011 in exchange forGilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive for five years by Hamas militants in Gaza.
In a statement earlier this week Mr. Abbas’s office condemned the kidnappings and also the Israeli military campaign that followed it.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman who had earlier called Israel’s accusations against Hamas “stupid,” on Wednesday criticized the Palestinian president for cooperating on security matters with the Israelis.
“Abbas’ statements about the security coordination are unjustifiable and they harm the Palestinian reconciliation and they are against the Palestinian consensus,” he said. “We emphasize our people’s right to defend themselves and counter the occupation’s crimes with all possible means.”
A new Palestinian government was recently formed as a result of the reconciliation deal, made up largely of professionals and nonpartisan figures to prepare for elections. The United States and most major nations agreed to continue working with the government as long as it remained committed to nonviolence and previous agreements signed with Israel.
But Israel has urged the world to shun the government, on the ground that it is backed by Hamas, and has called on Mr. Abbas to end his pact with the group.
Many Western diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have issued condemnations of the kidnapping, but none has withdrawn support for the reconciliation government.
“There can’t be genuine reconciliation if that reconciliation is not accompanied by a clarity from Hamas around the use of violence,” Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who serves as envoy for the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers, said in an interview on Israel Radio on Wednesday. “If Hamas doesn’t accept this, it’s hard to see how there can be reconciliation.”