Israel army kills Palestinian youth while hunting snatched teens

Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - Israeli troops killed a Palestinian youth early on Monday, as a widespread West Bank manhunt for three missing Israeli youths believed to be kidnapped entered its fourth day.

Ahmad Arafat, 19, was shot dead near the West Bank city of Ramallah as Israeli soldiers were conducting arrests as part of efforts to locate the three teens, which Israel said were kidnapped near Hebron on Thursday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Islamist Hamas movement of snatching the youths, and placed responsibility for their safe return on the shoulders of Mahmud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority which recently formed a pact with the former Gaza rulers.

Palestinian medical and security sources said Arafat was shot in the chest during clashes with Israeli army forces in the Jelazoun refugee camp.

The Palestinian security sources could not immediately say whether the army had intended on arresting Arafat. They noted he had been released from Israeli prison one week ago.

The Israeli army could not immediately comment on the Jelazoun shooting, but said it was continuing its campaign of detaining dozens of Palestinians throughout the West Bank as part of its efforts to locate the missing youths.

The youths, one of whom also holds a US passport, are students at Jewish seminaries in the West Bank, believed to have been snatched late Thursday from an area between Bethlehem and Hebron while hitchhiking.

They have been identified as Gilad Shaer, 16, from Talmon settlement near Ramallah, Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, and Eyal Ifrach, 19, from Elad, both in central Israel.

Israeli search efforts were focused on the southern West Bank Hebron area but increased military presence was felt throughout the entire territory, with dozens of Palestinians being detained for questioning, many of them Hamas members.

Late Sunday night Israeli forces had blasted through the door of a Hebron house and arrested two of its inhabitants, wounding one person, Palestinian eyewitnesses said.

'VERY SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS'

The disappearance of the three youths came 10 days after the establishment of a new Palestinian government of technocrats pieced together by Mr Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas following a unity agreement between rival leaders in the West Bank and Gaza.

The reconciliation with Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction, enraged Israel, with Mr Netanyahu placing responsibility for the teens' safe return on the shoulders of Mr Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.

"Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people - the same Hamas with whom Abu Mazen has forged a unity government, which has very serious implications," Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday, referring to Mr Abbas.

US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the abduction, saying "many indications point to Hamas' involvement" and noting that the Islamist militant movement "has used kidnapping in the past".

Early Monday, Israeli war planes "targeted a terror activity site and three weapon storage and manufacturing facilities in the northern Gaza Strip, as well as a terror activity site in the southern Gaza Strip," a statement from the army read.

Medical sources in Gaza said two Palestinians were injured in the strikes targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad facilities.

The attack came hours after Palestinians in Gaza had fired two rockets at southern Israel, both which were intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.

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