Israeli troops detained 37 Palestinians in the West Bank during the night as its arrest campaign entered its 11th day on Monday, with no sign of three settlers thought kidnapped, and amidst clashes in the occupied territories branded by Hamas’s former premier a third ‘intifada’.
Since the settlers disappeared from a hitchhiking stop in the southern West Bank on 12 June, Israel has been rounding up hundreds of Palestinians in a bid to find them, while also dealing a crushing blow to the Hamas’s West Bank network.
But with tensions rising among Palestinians over the crackdown which has seen four Palestinians killed by troops in the past week, the campaign is expected to shift focus to intelligence gathering rather than mass arrests.
“Overnight, the forces detained 37 suspects and searched 80 locations, specifically in the area north west of Hebron, Beit Awwa (southwest of Hebron) and also in (the northern city of) Jenin,” an army spokeswoman said.
So far, troops have arrested 361 people, among them 250 Hamas members and 57 who were freed during a 2011 prisoner swap deal to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held in Gaza for five years by Hamas, the army said.
A security official who spoke to Haaretz newspaper on condition of anonymity asserts that most of the 57 detainees are Hamas members. Since the 2011 prisoner swap, Israel has re-arrested 131 of the 824 Palestinians released to the West Bank.
Despite the operation, there has been no claim of responsibility and no sign of the missing Israeli settlers, although military spokesman General Motti Almoz said on Sunday that all information indicated they “are alive”.
Press reports said Operation Brother’s Keeper was nearing its end in the present format and would be refocused ahead of the start next week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“The defence establishment is troubled by the increase in the number of Palestinian casualties and the possibility that the confrontations will spill over into the month of Ramadan, which starts in less than a week,” wrote Haaretz defence correspondent Amos Harel.
“The IDF (army) would likely prefer to significantly reduce the size of its deployment and return to more focused intelligence gathering,” he said, indicating the military was likely to encounter problems in mustering enough evidence to put many of the detainees on trial.
Yediot Aharonot newspaper ran a similar story saying that within days the focus would be on more searches and fewer arrests.
“The IDF will focus on looking for the kidnapped teenagers in the Hebron sector and the Etzion (settlement) bloc, but arrests will be cut back significantly,” the paper said.
There was no immediate comment on the reports by the army.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has denounced the abductions and defended his security forces’ ongoing cooperation with their Israeli counterparts to try to locate the missing boys.
But there are growing signs of Palestinian frustration with their own security forces, with angry protesters hurling rocks at a Ramallah police station on Sunday, smashing the windows of two police cars.
Former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya described the clashes in the West Bank as another “intifada,” or uprising.
“We’re not saying the intifada will start; we’re saying it has started already in the West Bank, and no one can stop it,” Haniya told journalists in Gaza.
“The enemy (Israel) cannot put a stop to the escalation of the resistance.”
In West Bank clashes earlier in the week, troops shot dead two young Palestinians and a third was left fighting for his life.
On Monday, troops in Jalazun camp near Ramallah shot dead 19-year-old Ahmad Arafat Sabarin, and on Friday, Mohammed Dudin, 14, was killed in Dura near Hebron.
Another 20-year-old Palestinian who was shot during clashes at Qalandiya near Ramallah is fighting for his life in Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital.
(Middle East Eye – www.middleeasteye.net)