Thousands of IDF soldiers in west Hebron area searching for abducted teens

New evaluation has led army to focus infantry soldiers in region; 'We're searching every valley, cave, and spring' says security source.

IDF soldier on patrol in Hebron, June 18, 2014. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
IDF soldier on patrol in Hebron, June 18, 2014.
The IDF has focused its search for the three abducted teenagers in the west Hebron area over the past two days, a senior army source said on Saturday evening.

Large numbers of infantry soldiers scanned the area on Saturday from early morning, following orders to search “every meter, every valley, and every spring,” the source said. “We have an evaluation - this is not the golden [intelligence] information - but an evaluation that has led us to deploy thousands of soldiers there,” the source said.“Every pool in the area is being sucked dry. Locals are being questioned - anyone who can help, who might have local intelligence. This will continue in the coming days. We are turning over every stone,” he said. Soldiers have been moved from other areas in the West Bank to west Hebron to facilitate the large-scale search.The troops are walking over “very difficult, hilly terrain. They aren’t stopping for a moment,” the source said.He spoke after the IDF launched overnight raids in Palestinian villages and on university campuses early on Saturday, with most of the activity focused on searches rather than arrests. Nevertheless, ten suspects were taken into custody, bringing the total number of arrests to 320 since the start of the operation.Of those, 240 are Hamas members, and 55 are former prisoners released in the 2011 Gilad Schalit deal.During early morning security raids launched on Friday, the IDF dispersed riots in Dura, near Hebron. Palestinian sources said a 14-year-old was killed in the village.Clashes also broke out in Beitunya and Jenin on Friday.During the incidents, Palestinians hurled Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, an improvised grenade, and rocks at soldiers, the army said. One soldier was lightly injured in an improvised grenade attack in Kalandiya.The IDF said in response, “During operational activities, launched as part of the operation to retrieve the abducted teenagers, a military force encountered a violent disturbance in the Palestinian village of Dura. Attackers hurled rocks, firebombs, and burning tires at soldiers, who acted to disperse the riot.”The IDF said it is looking into claims of a Palestinian teenage casualty. “We will continue to work throughout Judea and Samaria to locate the kidnapped youths and bring them safe and sound to their families,” it said.The IDF source added that in light of the thousands of soldiers taking part in daily raids, the army is encountering “minimal resistance” in the West Bank. “We were not surprised by the incidents in Jenin, Dura, and Kalandiya.These are places we know well from past experience. Units go in there with evaluations informing them of the likelihood of rioting and the potential for escalation.”A senior security source told The Jerusalem Post that the search for the kidnappers is “improving by the day,” but stressed that the “bottom line - getting them back - hasn’t been reached yet.” He added, “We are not holding back on anything in our attempt to get more. We’re not saving on any operational or intelligence effort.”The source acknowledged the fact that as the operation gets deeper, the potential for violent clashes rises. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority and its security forces work better in coordinating with Israel, and the Palestinian population has not exhibited a desire to take part in a full-out intifada, due to the high price it would end up paying, he said.The IDF arrested 25 wanted Palestinians in the West Bank early on Friday, and searched 200 homes on Thursday night.Nine raids were launched against Da’wa outreach centers, used by Hamas to entrench itself in Palestinian civilian society.During a meeting with the Counter-Terrorism Unit and the elite Sayeret Matkal unit on Friday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the series of security raids on Hamas in the West Bank is more painful to the terror organization than air raids.“We’ve begun extracting a heavy price from Hamas in the West Bank,” Ya’alon said. The price is “much more painful than air strikes. We are severely harming Hamas’s civilian infrastructure, and this is a very heavy price for the organization. It’s funds, charity institutions, and civilian and terrorist infrastructure.There’s a reason we’re hearing their cries and threats. We won’t stop this activity against Hamas infrastructure, until we feel it is exhausted. We have no intention to ignite the territory, and we’re acting responsibly, with sound judgment. The ring around the kidnappers has to continue to get tighter.”“You and the other forces have in recent days been carrying out important operational activity.We are confident in your professionalism, determination, and the ability you are exhibiting.This is a wide-scale intelligence and operational effort, and we need to complete it when we place our hands on the kidnappers and reach the [abducted] teenagers.”“We are focusing our efforts here, and all other dealings have been set aside. This is the supreme mission. Our working assumption is that the kidnapped teenagers are alive, until proven otherwise.You too need to take this into consideration, for if you come into contact with those responsible for the kidnapping, you must assume that the abducted are alive,” Ya’alon said.Paratrooper Brigade Commander Col. Eliezer Toledano said three full battalions are in the West Bank searching for the abducted youths, their kidnappers, and raiding Hamas targets.“We are in emergency mode. We are trying to turn over every rock, and carrying out arrests of Hamas members,” Toledano said. “My soldiers feel a special connection to this mission, despite the field conditions in the Palestinian villages and fields, or the staging areas. They have lightning in their eyes, and are highly motivated to bring back the boys,” the commander added.“We are looking for any kind of hint. We are looking for places the boys might be hidden, but also, any hint that can later be used to get a clearer direction.” he said.On Thursday night, the Iron Dome anti-rocket battery shot down an incoming projectile over the skies of Ashkelon. In Gaza, Palestinian terrorists affiliated with smaller jihadi organizations fired several projectiles into southern Israel over the weekend, including on Saturday, when a rocket slammed into open territory in the Hof Ashkelon area.The IAF struck five targets in Gaza early on Friday in response to a Palestinian rocket attack on Ashkelon that occurred on Thursday evening. The targets included three underground rocket launchers in northern Gaza, one terrorist center in central Gaza, and a weapons storage facility in south Gaza.On Saturday evening two rockets fell in open areas of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council causing no injuries or damage.