battle erupts as Israeli soldiers search for missing teens
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[June 19, 2014]
By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli
forces traded gunfire with Palestinians on Thursday, the military said,
in the fiercest street battles in the occupied West Bank since a search
began for three Israeli teenagers missing for a week.
Hospital officials said three Palestinians suffered bullet wounds
in the overnight clashes in Jenin, a militant stronghold and the
scene of deadly fighting during a Palestinian uprising a decade ago.
There were no reported Israeli casualties.
In a statement, the military said about 300 Palestinians, including
some who "hurled explosives and opened fire", confronted soldiers
who entered Jenin looking for the three seminary students.
Israel says the Hamas Islamist group abducted them last Thursday as
they were hitchhiking near a Jewish settlement.
"The soldiers responded with live fire, identifying hits," the
statement said, adding that 30 "terror suspects" were detained in
West Bank, bringing to 280 the number of Palestinians taken into
custody over the past week.
Reuters photographers in Jenin heard heavy gunfire during the night
but were kept away from the scene of the clashes by the Israeli
Israel has said its West Bank operation is two-fold: to find Gil-Ad
Shaer and U.S.-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and
Eyal Yifrah, 19, and to deal a substantial blow to Hamas, a group
dedicated to its destruction.
Israeli raids have spread from house-to-house searches in Hebron, a
flashpoint town in the area where the three went missing, to raids
across the West Bank of institutions believed to provide funding and
other support for Hamas.
At Bir Zeit University, near the Palestinian town of Ramallah,
Israeli soldiers on Thursday seized Hamas posters and flags from a
student group affiliated with Hamas.
The military said that so far, soldiers have searched about 900
locations. There has been no word from the missing teens nor any
public claim of responsibility or ransom demands - including by
Hamas. Hamas however has not issued any denial of involvement.
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Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas roundly condemned
the kidnappers on Wednesday and promised to hold to account those
responsible. His words in turn were denounced by Hamas and other
factions, who accused him of betraying the national cause.
On Tuesday, Hamas and 10 other Palestinian factions issued a joint
communique warning Israel that they would not "stay handcuffed" in
the face of its West Bank dragnet - a threat of armed resistance.
Security experts expect the frustration of ordinary Palestinians at
Israeli restrictions in the West Bank to mount as Ramadan is due to
begin on June 28-29.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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