Israeli authorities on Monday expanded their search for three teenagers thought to have been abducted by terrorists last week, as Israeli and U.S. officials converged on the assessment that elements from the Palestinian Hamas faction – which recently came together with its long-time rivals in the Fatah faction to agree to a single unity government – were behind the crime.
The unity pact had been defended by Fatah leaders and by swaths of the international community as a necessary prerequisite to establishing a robust peace deal with Jerusalem, and had been blasted by Israeli leaders for among other things emboldening Hamas and providing it with a lifeline.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had in the aftermath of the kidnappings linked the act to a reinvigorated Hamas:
Speaking to his Cabinet Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said there was no doubt who was responsible.
“Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas, the same Hamas that Abu Mazen made a unity government with. This has severe repercussions,” he said. Mr Abbas is also known as Abu Mazen.
Secretary of State John Kerry had over the weekend joined Netanyahu in emphasizing that there were “many indications point[ing] to Hamas’ involvement,” a stance echoed Monday by State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.
Meanwhile both The New York Times and the Times of Israel quoted multiple top Fatah and PA figures seeking to assure the Israelis and the international community that in fact they were engaged in trying to repair the situation, opposite a range of indicators suggesting that mid-level Fatah officials supported the kidnappings.
Fatah leaders who spoke to the Times of Israel went so far as to assure veteran Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff that they would abrogate the unity pact guiding the sitting cabinet if it turned out that Hamas was responsible for the abductions:
“We discussed with them in great detail that the Palestinians are proceeding solely with ‘popular resistance’ and not with armed resistance,” the official went on. “If it becomes clear that Hamas is responsible for the kidnapping and breached the agreement, that would mark the crossing of a red line from our point of view, and we could not maintain the reconciliation status quo.”
By Monday night Reuters reported that Netanyahu was “prepar[ing] Israel for a long drawn-out operation to find three missing teenagers as troops expanded the search into a crackdown on” Hamas.
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