Israel’s Shin Bet security agency yesterday announced that Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, two longstanding Hamas activists from the Hebron region, are the prime suspects wanted in connection with the abduction of three Israeli teenagers.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, were kidnapped two weeks ago while hitchhiking in the West Bank. Since then, Israel has conducted a large-scale military operation to locate the missing teenagers especially targeting Hamas activists, with arrests made across the West Bank, particularly in the Hebron area. The homes of Kawasme and Abu Aysha, who both disappeared hours before the kidnapping, have been among those searched repeatedly.
Kawasme, 29, has been arrested several times for Hamas-related activity and spent 10 months in an Israeli prison. When questioned in 2010, he reportedly confessed to having undergone Hamas military training. Abu Aysha, 32, was first arrested in November 2005 and has been detained on several occasions since then by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). His brother was killed in November 2005 while trying to throw an explosive at Israeli soldiers and his uncle commanded the Hamas military wing in Hebron.
The Shin Bet said that although it and the IDF “have been carrying out a wide-scale search aimed at capturing the wanted suspects … The first aim is to track down the location of the abducted youths.” Speaking yesterday at a graduation ceremony for new pilots, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that with the names of the Hamas suspects having been released, “I now expect President Abbas, who said important things” in condemning the kidnapping, “to stand by those words and to break his pact with the Hamas terrorist organisation.”
As for the operation itself, Israel Radio news this morning reports that nine further arrests were made last night and that around 40 properties were searched in the Hebron area. In addition, IDF soldiers in Beituna uncovered two handguns while troops in Aidana found and confiscated an explosive device.