JERUSALEM—As the search for three kidnapped Israeli youths enters its sixth day, Israeli security forces are cracking down on Hamas in an effort to break the back of the militant organization.
Some 300 Palestinians have been detained thus far, the bulk of them Hamas operatives and parliamentarians according to Israeli spokesmen. Among them are more than 50 former security prisoners who were among the 1,027 released three years ago in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been held for five years in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials said that other Palestinians released in the exchange might also be picked up again for violating the terms of their parole by not checking in periodically with the authorities.
Israeli troops have been deployed on the West Bank to lay siege to villages and urban neighborhoods, where house-to-house searches are being carried out. The search, initially confined to Hebron, has been extended to other parts of the West Bank.
The failure of the kidnappers thus far to issue a ransom demand has raised fear that the youths—two aged 16 and one 19—may have been killed.
Although the abduction enjoys widespread support among Palestinians, who believe it could garner a massive release of Palestinian prisoners similar to what resulted in the Gilad Shalit exchange, the head of the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, sharply condemned the action and warned that it could boomerang against Palestinian interests.
"Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us (the Palestinians)," he said during a visit to Saudi Arabia. "The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families."
Abbas said that American officials had informed him that one of the three abducted youths, Naftali Frankel, 16, is an American citizen. "We told them," said Abbas, "that whether Israeli or American he is a human being."
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that security forces had also operated against charitable Palestinian organizations seen by Israel as fronts for funding of terror activity.
The crackdown is aimed at gathering intelligence about Hamas and other militant groups and inflicting punishment that would deter militant groups from attempting similar abductions in the future. Under consideration, said officials, is limitations on visits to security prisoners by their families and an end to force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes.