JERUSALEM—Soldiers searching for three Israeli students kidnapped on the West Bank 10 days ago have uncovered 10 workshops for manufacturing explosive devices and scores of hidden tunnels, according to army spokesmen, but there is still no sign of the kidnap victims.
Officials hinted today for the first time that the intensive army search, which has been concentrated in Hebron near the site of the abduction, may be significantly reduced in the coming days, leaving the search largely to the intelligence network of the Shin Bet Security Services.
The Palestinian population had been relatively passive when the house-to-house searches began but in the last few days there has been increasing resistance and at least two Palestinians have been shot dead.
Several Israeli infantry brigades have been pulled off regular training in order to carry out the search. Most of the tunnels they uncovered were in the basements of civilian houses, their entrances hidden by washing machines or heavy furniture. The troops have scoured wells, caves, and pits in the countryside surrounding the city. “There’s no point in doing these raids again and coming up with nothing,” said an officer. More than 300 persons have been detained, almost all of them Hamas activists.
Senior army officers say that the general population may rise up if the search goes on too long. Officials have suggested that it would be wise to pull the troops back before the onset of the month-long Muslim holiday, Ramadan, next week.
Israeli officials are also concerned about the growing antagonism from West Bank residents towards Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who denounced the kidnapping last week and called for the release of the three victims, two aged 16 and one 19.
Abbas has ordered his own security forces, including police, to aid in the search. A mob attacked a Palestinian police station this week, indicating popular resentment. Israel would not want to see him toppled, for fear of chaos on the West Bank.