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Teens Disappear In The West Bank, And Israel Blames Hamas


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. There is still no sign of three Israeli teenagers who went missing last Thursday night in the West Bank. One is a dual U.S. Israeli citizen. Israel says the three were kidnapped by the militant Islamist group, Hamas. Since the teens disappeared, Israeli troops have conducted sweeping searches. They've arrested more than 150 Palestinians and killed one. Today, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, spoke by phone about the issue. It was the first time they'd spoken with each other in about a year. For more, we're joined now by NPR's Emily Harris, who's in Jerusalem. And, Emily, tell us exactly what happened Thursday night.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Well, full details have not been publicly released, Robert, but here's what's new. The three were heading home from a religious school that's in the West Bank, near Hebron. Apparently, they were looking for a ride, which is a common practice. Trying to pick up a ride from a big intersection. They didn't show up at home, and early the next morning, one of the boy's parents called the Israeli authorities. One boy did manage, apparently, to call the Israeli police much earlier Thursday night, around 10:30, to say they've been kidnapped. But that message apparently didn't get pushed up the chain to the military, so the search didn't start till Friday morning.

SIEGEL: The school that you mentioned is in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. It's under military protection. And the boys were traveling on a road used by Palestinians, too. Why were they hitchhiking?

HARRIS: You know, it's actually a very common practice for settlers to hitchhike around the West Bank. Is often quicker than the bus service there. And also, a lot of Israelis, particularly settlers who live in the West Bank - one of these boy's family lived in the West Bank and all go to school there - many people feel like this is part of their claim to the land, to not be afraid to travel on the roads, whether there's Palestinians there or not. Also, just to get a perspective, Isreali settlements and Palestinian villages are really close to each other. And Palestinians are often waiting at the same intersections, although they take different buses.

SIEGEL: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, Hamas is responsible for kidnapping the teenagers. Do we know if that's true?

HARRIS: We don't know if that's true. Hamas hasn't confirmed it or denied it. A former head of the research for Israel's internal security service told me that he didn't think the Prime Minister would say that unless they had some really good intelligence on it, and most of the arrests have been focused on Hamas members. But there are a few things to keep in mind here. One, Israel says that it's thwarted a couple of dozen kidnapping attempts against Israelis over the past year or so, and frequently say that the goal of these kidnappings would be to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli custody. There's been a big campaign among Palestinians right now to draw attention to a certain type of detention going on in Israeli prisons. And a number of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, so this is a very potent issue among the Palestinian population right now. And another thing to keep in mind as we look at Israel's claim of Hamas' responsibility is that Israel and Hamas are enemies. And this comes at a time - a particular political time when Hamas has been regaining it's position in Palestinian politics. This is something Israel opposes. And Prime Minister Netanyehu has said several times since the teens disappeared that this proves that Hamas should not be considered a legitimate political player.

SIEGEL: Yes. What you're referring to is the reunification pact between Hamas and the mainstream FATA party of President Abbas. This is not the first attempt to do this, but this is an attempt after a seven-year split between the two movements.

HARRIS: That's right. They split seven years ago very violently. They did have reunification talks over this period of time, but they actually, a month or so ago, decided to patch up. Two weeks ago, they announced at government that both parties backed. It's an interim government. The U.S. and Europe announced, against Israel's wishes, that they would be working with this government. But since this time of the kidnapping incident, Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for the U.S. and the international community to condemn the kidnapping and reiterated several times that this proves that Hamas should not be part of a deal with FATA. The U.S. has condemned the kidnapping, but hasn't made any further statements on whether they are changing their position of working with the Palestinian - the current Palestinian government.

SIEGEL: OK, Emily. Thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jerusalem correspondent, Emily Harris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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