Israeli troops kill 2 Palestinians during search for Israeli students in occupied West Bank


Israeli soldiers search for three missing Israeli teens in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 20. The three Jewish seminary students disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking in the West Bank. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians, including a teenager, in clashes Friday that accompanied Israel’s search for three students who have been missing for more than a week in the occupied West Bank.

Early Friday, Israeli soldiers shot a Palestinian youth during a clash in the town of Dura in the southern West Bank.

As they were mounting pre-dawn raids and house searches, Israeli soldiers fired live rounds that hit Mahmoud Jihad Muhammad Dudeen. News agencies have given his age as 14 or 15. Thousands attended his funeral.

Later Friday, an Israeli round struck Mustafa Hosni Aslan, 22, in the head during a clash near the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah. Palestinian medical officials initially reported that Aslan had survived his wounds, but the Palestinian Maan News Agency said he later died.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said that “both incidents occurred during riots in which IEDs were directly hurled at Israeli soldiers who felt their lives were threatened and returned live fire.”

Lerner said the improvised explosive devices were handmade grenades. He said both incidents took place after Israeli troops were confronted by Palestinian crowds as they made their way to arrest members of the Islamist militant movement Hamas. Two other Palestinians were seriously wounded in the confrontations.

On the night of June 12, three Israeli teenagers, ages 16 to 19, disappeared while hitchhiking home from religious schools they attended in a West Bank settlement on the outskirts of Hebron.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said members of Hamas are responsible for the disappearances. Israel, however, has not released evidence linking Hamas to the alleged abductions; military officials say an investigation is ongoing.

Riyad al-Maliki, foreign minister for the Palestinian Authority, told Agence France-Presse in Paris on Friday that “if Netanyahu has any evidence, he has to put it on the table.” He said the Israeli military actions and mass arrests “went beyond logic, and what infuriates me the most is the lack of reaction from the international community.”

There have been no ransom demands, offers to swap the teens for Palestinian prisoners or any proof of life, said a senior Israeli military commander who spoke with foreign journalists on the condition of anonymity.

In addition to the two Palestinians killed Friday, another was shot by Israeli forces in the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah on Monday.

Robert Serry, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, urged Israel to show “restraint” and “respect for the lives, dignity and livelihoods of Palestinians.”

Serry said Friday that he was “deeply concerned by reports that Israeli security operations in the West Bank since the abduction of three Israeli students have resulted in over 300 Palestinians arrested, many injured, and three Palestinians killed, including one minor this morning.”

Since the search for the missing teenagers began a week ago, in an operation called “Brother’s Keeper,” Israeli forces have arrested more than 350 Palestinians, most of them members of Hamas, the political and military movement that Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization. In addition to the detentions, generally carried out without formal criminal charges, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces said the troops have searched 1,150 homes and businesses.

Israeli military officials said the mass arrests were not only intended to seek leads in the case of the missing teens but also to apply pressure and weaken Hamas in the West Bank.

The Associated Press reported Friday that in Hebron, families of Palestinians detained by Israel staged a protest during which they made a kind of three-fingered salute, a gesture intended to show support for the abduction of the three Israeli teens.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has denounced both the abductions of the Israeli teens and the aggressive military sweep that has followed in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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