“The third intifada” of violence in the West Bank against Israel has begun, Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared on Monday.
The remark comes as thousands of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops and intelligence operatives comb the Hebron region, and elsewhere in the West Bank, searching for a trio of Israeli teens kidnapped on June 12.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel holds the Islamist terror group responsible for the kidnapping of students Gilad Shaar, 19, Eyal Yifrach, 16, and Naftali Frankel, 16.
The three were last seen and heard from as they headed home from their school in the Gush Etzion bloc of communities, south of Bethlehem.
The IDF has rounded up several hundred suspected Hamas members in ongoing mass sweeps of towns and open areas in Judea and Samaria as part of Operation Brother’s Keeper, and used the manhunt as a tool to expose and decimate Hamas’ local infiltration.
However, “Israel’s actions don’t suppress the will of the Palestinian people,” Haniyeh said of the massive manhunt.
“All of what Israel does now in the West Bank doesn’t cause Hamas to surrender; This will only increase our willingness to resist,” he declared.
The disputed leader of the Islamist group made the comments in an interview with al-Jazeera, Israel’s Channel Two reported.
Meanwhile, Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, on Monday noted the kidnappings, but denied his group being behind them.
While Mashaal offered no details other than to say that “something happened in the occupied West Bank,” he lauded the abductions, noting, “If it turns out the kidnapping really happened, I welcome it.”
Netanyahu excoriated Mashaal’s remarksÂ at a meeting with visiting Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Tuesday.
“Last night we heard Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas, praise and defend the brutal kidnapping of the three innocent Israeli teenagers who were making their way home from school,” the PM said.
“Mashal once again made clear that Hamas remains committed to its war against Israel and its war against every Israeli citizen, and coincidentally, against every Jew around the world,” Netanyahu said.
Saying that “there can be no alliance with the kidnappers of children,” Netanyahu praised recent remarks by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas made in Saudi Arabia, and called on the PA chief to abrogate a recent unity pact between his Fatah and Hamas.
“Now, if he really means what he said about the kidnapping, and if he is truly committed to peace and to fighting terrorism, then logic and common sense mandate that he break his pact with Hamas. This is the only way that we can move forward.
“I think this is something that is shared by many in Europe who understand that the quest for peace and stability and tranquility means that we have to fight the forces of terror, intolerance and darkness,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.