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Israel steps up West Bank search for missing teens

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[June 21, 2014]  By Ali Sawafta
 
 RAMALLAH West Bank (Reuters) - Israel sent more troops to the occupied West Bank on Saturday to search for three missing teenagers it says were abducted by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

The army said it had also arrested another 10 Palestinians during its hunt - the latest in a series of detentions and raids that have raised tensions and triggered street clashes in the West Bank.

Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel's existence, has neither claimed nor denied responsibility for the disappearance of the youths, who went missing near an Israeli settlement on June 13.

Hundreds of troops arrived around the city of Hebron on Saturday, a day after the army declared the area a closed military zone, and appeared to be carrying out searches, a Reuters witness said.

The army says it has searched more than 1,150 sites in the West Bank and arrested more than 330 Palestinians, including 10 more on Saturday.


Campaign group The Palestinian Prisoners Club said the army had arrested 37 people on Saturday.

Overnight in Ramallah, troops raided the offices of a media broadcast and production company that provides services to a number of outlets, including the Hamas-affiliated al-Quds channel, witnesses said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the soldiers found "electronic devices and magnetic media used for terrorism" that she said belonged to Hamas, without going into further detail.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the kidnapping of Gil-Ad Shaer and U.S.-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19.

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But the Western-backed leader has also criticised the extent of Israel's recent raids, saying they amount to collective punishment.

The crisis has put pressure on a unity pact between Abbas's Fatah party and Hamas. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki told Reuters on Friday the deal would be threatened if Hamas was responsible for abducting the three youths.

Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, an area that, along with East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinians want for a future state. The group rejects peace talks with the Israel, which Abbas has held in the past.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza on Thursday that "regardless of who was responsible (for the teenagers' disappearance) ... we stress on the right of our people to react to the agonies of our prisoners in the occupation jails".

(Additional reporting by Baz Ratner in Hebron; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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