In a statement to the media on Tuesday evening, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that the IDF had the ability to target Hamas leaders, “anywhere and anytime.”
Ya’alon reassured the public that, in spite of the IDF’s general campaign against Hamas, its main mission was to find the teens.
“We won’t cease or rest until we have done this,” he said, while cautioning that the mission could take time. He urged the public to be patient.
The IDF is waging a stiff and protracted military campaign to weaken Hamas, Maj. Gen Nitzan Alon said as soldiers expanded their battle with the terrorist group beyond Hebron and into Jenin on Tuesday.
“We are fighting Hamas, a cruel terror organization. The operation against it is complicated and protracted. It didn't start today and it's not going to end anytime soon," said Alon who heads the IDF’s Central Command.
He spoke on the fifth day of Operation Brothers' Keeper to rescue three teens kidnapped by Hamas.
Early that morning, a thousand soldiers launched raids in Nablus's Balata and Awarta areas. A total of 200 suspects have been arrested since the start of the operation.
The IDF is targeting all aspects of Hamas’ organization, he told reporters who met briefly with him outside the Alon Shvut settlement.
"The heads of Hamas are feeling the hits and understand the message," Alon said. When the IDF’s military operation is over, Hamas will be a much weaker organization, Alon said.
Hamas abducted three teenagers from a hitchhiking post in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank. One of them teens called the police almost immediately to say, “I’ve been kidnapped.”
Since then there has been no sign of life from the teens. Israel on Sunday said it has information showing that Hamas took the teens.
Hamas made a strategic error in carrying out the kidnapping just as it carried out strategic mistakes in Gaza and Egypt, a senior security source said. It failed to use the reconciliation with Fatah, he argued, adding that Hamas will now be harmed strategically "because it will be isolated. There were those who wished to make concessions to Hamas. Now it placed a sign on itself saying, 'I'm terror.'"
"Part of our power is based on our ability to wage this battle continuously. We are hurting the [Hamas] organizational infrastructure politically, financially, and in other ways. Even if this does not influence the next terrorist attack, it will have a long-term influence," the source said.
No fewer than ten army divisions are operating in the West Bank against Hamas, the source stated, adding that such number haven't been seen in years. "We're not passing over the other organizations, but Hamas is the main focus," he explained.
Institutions that transfer money to the families of terrorists are also being targeted, and Israel is preparing operational and legal systems to target more such bodies, he warned. The overall goal, the source said, is to secure "long-term security stability." The operations could extend into the Muslim Ramadan holiday which begin in a few weeks, he added.
The Palestinian population understands the IDF's actions are aimed at Hamas and not at it, he said.
"I don't see the leadership of the Palestinian Authority identifying with this act of terrorism [kidnapping]," he stated.
Late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, the IDF arrested some 40 Palestinian suspects, most of them Hamas members, in Nablus overnight Tuesday, expanding its operation to retrieve three abducted Israelis northwards from its epicenter Hebron.
On the fifth day of Operation Brothers's Keeper, a thousand soldiers launched raids in Nablus's Balata and Awarta areas. A total of 200 suspects have been arrested since the start of the operation.
In addition to the arrests, soldiers in Nablus on Tuesday seized guns, explosives, and grenades. A security source said a large quantity of weapons was recovered during the arrests, describing the raids as a large-scale counter-terrorism clean-up operation.
"Everything linked to Hamas is being targeted," the source stated, adding that this includes civilian organizations linked to the terrorist organizations, municipal figures, and the organization's military wing.
A senior military source from the Judea and Samaria Division said the raid on Balata caught the area's armed terrorists by surprise, adding that future raids may not pass off as peacefully.
The source said three Nahal battalions and additional support units entered the Balata refugee camp, home to 23,000 people, and operated in a "very challenging environment" to carry out a larger than normal, complex series of raids.
As a result, Hamas in Samaria sustained a blow in the area, he added.
"If we go to another area [in Samaria], it might look different," the source said. "These are highly skilled IDF units. The company commanders on the ground are fully able to deal with all manner of challenges, including gun attacks," he added. "These operations can be expanded significantly," the source said.
During the raid, members of Hamas and other terror groups were taken into custody, and soldiers seized three M-16 rifles, grenades, long-barreled firearms, and shut down a machine used to produce weapons. Cash was also seized in the raids.
"Hamas is sustaining a series of blows. They understand the price," he added. "There's a difference between what Hamas says internally and externally," the source continued.
"I hope everyone can make the calculation of what will occur if things escalate further. I'd say this type of operation represents a calculated risk," the source said.
Meanwhile, the IDF is maintaining its partial closure on the South Mount Hebron region. Palestinians in that area have not faced a military closure for seven years, and army sources said the measure is increasing the pressure on the local population to assist the IDF’s effort to recover the abducted Israeli youths.
There have been few significant clashes during the raids, a reflection of the fact that Palestinian areas have grown accustomed to nightly
IDF raids launched on a regular basis in recent years, according to the source. This contrasts with the situation ten years ago, when many raids in villages would turn turn into violent clashes.
Meanwhile, the air force bombed four targets in Gaza early on Tuesday, in response to Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel the previous day. Targets included a terrorism base and a weapons storage site in southern Gaza, a weapons storage site in central Gaza, and an arms production facility in the north of the Strip.
"We are alert to developments in the southern [Gazan] arena at all times," the security source said. "We understand that these arenas are linked, and that one can set off the other."
The source spoke of an ongoing two-pronged effort in the West Bank. The first consisted of an investigation to track down the three missing youths, while the second targets Hamas throughout the whole of the West Bank, including Hamas members whose activity is designed to "portray Hamas as a government.”
The Palestinian government charged Tuesday that Israel was taking advantage of the abduction to step up its security crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank.
It urged the international community, Security Council and United Nations General Assembly to intervene quickly to protect the Palestinians “and prevent the Israeli government from plunging the region into a cycle of violence and instability.
“Israel’s ongoing ugly crimes against our people proves to the world that the Israeli government continues to adhere to occupation, killings and settlements instead of peace,” the government said in a statement it issued after a Ramallah meeting.
The Palestinian government also called on Congress to ignore the Israeli government’s “incitement and false claims against our people and their leaders and government.”
The appeal came in response to calls by Congress members to US President Barack Obama to suspend American aid to the PA following the establishment of the unity government.
Masked gunmen belonging to ten Palestinian groups in the Gaza Stripe said Tuesday that they would welcome any effort to release Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
However, none of the groups claimed responsibility for the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers.
The gunmen were speaking at a joint press conference in the Gaza Strip. They included members of Hamas, Fatah and the Popular Resistance Committees.
The gunmen said that Israeli threats against Hamas and the Gaza Strip don't scare them. They also said they were prepared to confront any Israeli "aggression."