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30 new arrests as Israel presses West Bank hunt for teens

Israeli troops have arrested some 30 Palestinians in the West Bank as they ramped up a search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by Hamas, the army said on Thursday.

JERUSALEM: Israeli troops have arrested some 30 Palestinians in the West Bank as they ramped up a search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by Hamas, the army said on Thursday.

The arrests overnight raised the number of Palestinians detained since the youths went missing a week ago to 280, around three-quarters of them members of the Islamist Hamas movement, a statement said.

The teenagers, two of them minors, disappeared from a popular hitch-hiking spot in the sprawling southern West Bank Gush Etzion settlement bloc late on June 12.

Israel accuses Hamas of the abductions and has launched a wide-ranging military operation aimed at finding the teenagers and crushing the movement's infrastructure in the West Bank.

"They were kidnapped by Hamas, we had no doubt of that. It's absolutely certain," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Thursday briefing at a West Bank army base near Hebron.

Netanyahu did not offer evidence, but said "we know more today that we did a few days ago".

"I expect (Palestinian) president (Mahmud) Abbas to dissolve the union with this murderous terror organisation. I think that's important for our common future," he added.

On June 2, Abbas appointed a Palestinian unity government made up of independents, which is committed to renouncing violence, but is backed by Hamas which is sworn to the Jewish state's destruction.

Soldiers searched around 100 locations overnight and stormed 10 Hamas organisations, which the army said were used "to recruit, disseminate information and enable cash flow".

Hamas vowed revenge, with spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri telling a Gaza news conference Netanyahu would "regret all the actions he took against Hamas and our people".

- Cutting off the cashflow -

At a meeting with the families of the missing youths, President Shimon Peres said Israel should pursue its crackdown on Hamas.

"We must continue to pressure the terrorists, to remove their sources of funding," he told them in remarks relayed by his office.

"Just as there were sanctions against Iran, we must raise the sanctions against any source of terror."

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon issued an order outlawing activities of a Britain-based Muslim charity over what he said were its ties with Hamas.

"The IRW (Islamic Relief Worldwide) is one of the sources of Hamas's funding," his office said, indicating that some of its West Bank and Gaza offices were "managed by Hamas members".

The group will also be prohibited from transferring money to the West Bank.

Yaalon said the pressure on Hamas was aimed at its "leaders and activists, as well as its civilian infrastructure".

In annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police announced on Thursday night they had shut down two Hamas institutions.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP one was a social centre operating from a mosque in Beit Safafa village, while the other was a charity office in the Sur Baher district.

The widespread West Bank operations sparked clashes overnight in the northern cities of Jenin and Nablus, with Palestinians throwing petrol bombs and firing at the soldiers, the army said.

The Palestinian presidency warned on Thursday of "ongoing collective punishment measures by Israel in all Palestinian territories, especially besieged Hebron", affecting "hundreds of thousands of innocent residents".

Late on Thursday, two rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, the military said. One hit open ground in the south, causing neither casualties nor damage, and the other was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.

The Israeli army retaliated hours later with a series of air strikes targeting "three concealed rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip, a terror site in the central Gaza strip and a weapon storage facility in the southern Gaza Strip."

A spokesman for Gaza's health services, Ashraf al-Qudra, said the strikes targeted Islamic Jihad and Hamas military sites in Khan Younis, Rafah and Gaza city, where four children and two adults were injured, all of them lightly to moderately.

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