ISRAELI state forces raided Bethlehem on Tuesday night, detaining Hamas members and Palestinian lawmakers, locals said on Wednesday.
Witnesses said that Israeli forces arrested Khalid Tafish and Anwar Zaboun, Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Israeli troops also detained Hamas leaders Ghassan Hirmas and Hasan al-Wirdyan after ransacking their homes, locals said.
Additionally, Palestinian security sources said that Israeli forces detained a youth from the city of Tulkarem in the northern West Bank early on Wednesday morning.
Soldiers also raided and searched the house of a Palestinian security officer, Azzam Khalil Abu Hmeidan, the sources said.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said that, ‘17 Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank overnight and 13 were Hamas operatives,’ including three from Bethlehem.
The arrests came as Israel continued a military campaign to find three missing teenagers and fracture Hamas’ infrastructure in the West Bank.
Israeli forces have arrested over 500 Palestinians throughout the course of the campaign, according to figures from the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society. Soldiers have also killed five Palestinians and injured dozens in the operation.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday for condemning the alleged kidnapping of three teenagers, but criticised the Unity government.
Netanyahu spoke as Israel began to wind down a huge crackdown on the Islamist movement, having arrested hundreds in an operation to find the youngsters who went missing in the southern West Bank nearly two weeks ago.
Israel was coming under increasing international pressure to use restraint in its manhunt, after Israeli raids across the West Bank killed four Palestinians.
Netanyahu told his Romanian counterpart Victor Ponta at a meeting in Jerusalem: ‘I appreciate what president Abbas said a few days ago in Saudi Arabia, rejecting the kidnapping. I think these were important words.’
Abbas condemned the alleged kidnapping, telling a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that ‘those who kidnapped the three teenagers want to destroy us.’
‘We will hold them accountable,’ he said, but did not blame Hamas.
US Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Abbas for his ‘courageous stand in support of efforts to find the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers’ in telephone talks, a senior State Department official said.
Kerry also ‘emphasised the need for restraint from all sides during this difficult time,’ the official added.
Israel immediately accused its Islamist foe of kidnapping the youngsters, who went missing on June 12 at a hitchhiking spot near the city of Hebron.
Hamas has denied that it kidnapped the teens, and Israel has provided no evidence for its involvement.
Israel has used that as a pretext to uproot the Islamist movement’s West Bank network, arresting 354 Palestinians, 269 of them Hamas members, according to the army.
But the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society puts the number of detained at over 500.
Israeli forces have also killed five Palestinians and injured dozens throughout their West Bank operation, largely considered the most extensive deployment since the Second Intifada.
Abbas, meanwhile, has pledged to continue security coordination with Israel, which he said was in Palestinians’ ‘best interest’ since it would ‘help protect us’.
Israel seized on the opportunity presented by the operation to try to rupture a reconciliation agreement between Abbas and Hamas, under which the two sides formed a merged administration for the West Bank and Gaza earlier this month for the first time in seven years.
In a speech on Tuesday, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said: ‘We do not have information about what happened,’ but stressed his support for ‘every resistance attack against the Israeli occupation’.
Afterwards, Netanyahu reiterated that if ‘Abbas really means what he said about the kidnapping, and if he is truly committed to peace and to fighting terrorism, then logic and common sense mandate that he break his pact with Hamas.’
‘There can be no alliance with the kidnappers of children,’ he said.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel was beginning to wind down its arrest operation, which has cost the lives of four Palestinians and sparked public anger in the West Bank.
He said: ‘The operation by the Israeli army against Hamas has been mostly completed,’ he told public radio, adding that the number of wanted Palestinians still at large had greatly diminished as ‘dozens and dozens’ were now in custody.
Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair said on Tuesday: ‘Israel must act with restraint when operating in populated Palestinian areas – including Gaza – and ensure that civilians are not harmed.’
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned the alleged kidnappings, but implored Israel to ‘respect international law … and use proportional force’ in its arrests.
Palestinian lawyer Hiba Masalha slammed Israel’s ultimatum against the alleged kidnapping as hypocritical on Tuesday, noting that the number of Palestinian children in Israeli jails had surpassed 250 in the wake of the arrest campaign.
Masalha said: ‘Detaining Palestinian children from their houses in the middle of the night without informing their parents and families of the reasons for their detention is kidnapping.’
Tensions have risen among Palestinians over the death toll from the Israeli operation.
Israeli forces have withdrawn from the centre of Hebron, where they had been concentrating their operation, but are still blocking off roads around the city and are stationed in large numbers a short distance outside, security sources said.
• President Mahmoud Abbas says Israel wants the ‘Palestinian Authority without authority or power, which is unacceptable,’ in remarks published on Tuesday.
‘We’re living a real crisis in Hebron and all over the West Bank. Kidnapping could happen anywhere; we completely reject it and are sorry it happened.
‘We hope to bring them back but we also hope that Israel would think of us as humans too. When three Palestinians are killed we do not hear any reactions from the Israeli government that they are sorry, yet we are working to bring those kids back to their families,’ Abbas said.
When asked if Israel was attempting to bring down the PA and obstruct the new government’s job, Abbas’ responded: ‘Israel’s acts in the West Bank are unjustified, their ways of searching the houses, assaulting locals and killing innocent people are rejected.
‘Israel has taken away all authority from the Palestinian Authority.
‘We are well aware of that and that is why we demanded that occupation would end immediately, and that is why we went to international organisations … We want to have our rights and an independent Palestinian state next to the Israeli state; we refuse a one-state solution.’