JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s CabinetÂ agreed to reduce the presence of the country’s military in the West Bank and limit its incursions into Palestinian areas 12 days after the kidnapping of three Israeli teens.
The operation to locate and return the teens, called Operation Brother’s Keeper, now will focus more on intelligence gathering, Haaretz reported.
“A large part of the operation against Hamas has been exhausted,” Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said.
The operation also was scaled back in advance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins later this week.
“We are making progress all the time,” Yaalon said. “We are not working in the dark. It is only a matter of time till we get to the hostages and the kidnappers, but we need patience.”
More than 300 Palestinians have been arrested during the 12 days of military operations. Five Palestinians have been killed in the operations.
The Times of Israel quoted IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz as saying that the military is working under the assumption that the teens are still alive, “but with the passing of time, fears grow.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for condemning the kidnapping.
“I appreciate what President Abbas said a few days ago in Saudi Arabia, rejecting the kidnapping,” Netanyahu said at a meeting with Romanian Prime Minister Victor Pont. “I think these were important words. 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.
“There can be no alliance with the kidnappers of children,” he added.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in an interview with Al-Jazeera late Monday praised the kidnapping of the teens, but would neither confirm nor deny that Hamas was responsible.