TIME Israel

Israel Mourns 3 Teenagers Found Dead in West Bank

Israeli leaders have accused the militant group Hamas of their murders

Israel held funeral services Tuesday for three teenagers found dead in the West Bank on Monday. Tens of thousands came together to mourn the boys, who were the focus of a two-week search.

Israeli leaders have accused Hamas of abducting and killing the three teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship.

Blue-and-white Israeli flags covered each of the young men’s bodies. “We are burying a child today, a child who could have been the child of any one of us,” said Yair Lapid, the Israeli Minister of Finance. “Therefore he is indeed the child of each and every one of us.”

 

TIME Israel

Israel Hammers Gaza Strip Over Kidnapped Teens’ Deaths

Launches 34 airstrikes, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows that "Hamas will pay" for killing of abducted teenagers

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Israel launched 34 airstrikes over the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that “Hamas will pay” for the abduction and deaths of three Israeli teenagers.

Israeli officials said the airstrikes were in retaliation for 18 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza, and targeted assets belonging to militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, CNN reports. The exchange of fire comes amid soaring tensions in the region, as Israeli officials held an emergency cabinet meeting to plan a response to the deaths of the teenagers.

Netanyahu said the teenagers were “abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals.” Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frankel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, disappeared 19 days ago while hitchhiking in the southern West Bank. Their bodies were found Monday afternoon beneath a pile of rocks in an open field a short drive from where they were last seen.

“Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,” Netanyahu said. Israeli troops have also raided the West Bank homes of two leading suspects in the case, Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, and Amar Abu-Isa, 32.

Hamas denied any involvement in the teenagers’ disappearance, but has endorsed abductions as a battle tactic against Israel and vowed to open “the gates of hell” should Israeli troops invade Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has called on the international community to restrain Israel’s response.

Further complicating events, a Palestinian news agency reports that a little-known group calling itself Ansar as-Dawla al-Islamiya (Supporters of the Islamic State) has claimed responsibility for the killings and vowed to “slaughter” Palestinian Authority officials, but those reports have not been independently verified, according to CNN.

[CNN]

TIME Israel

Hamas Member Killed After Israeli Teens Found Dead

From left: Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who also holds U.S. citizenship, Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19.
From left: Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who also holds U.S. citizenship, Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19. Reuters

A Palestinian from the militant group Hamas was shot dead when he threw a grenade at forces carrying out an arrest raid in the West Bank hours after the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago, Israel's military said Tuesday

(JERUSALEM) — A Palestinian from the militant group Hamas was shot dead when he threw a grenade at forces carrying out an arrest raid in the West Bank hours after the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago, Israel’s military said Tuesday.

Tensions have soared since the bodies were found, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blaming Hamas and warning it “will pay,” while militants in Hamas-controlled Gaza have stepped up rocket attacks, drawing Israeli retaliatory airstrikes and risking a wider conflict.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking home from the Jewish seminaries where they were studying near the West Bank city of Hebron. The teens’ bodies were found Monday evening after 18 days of intense searches.

A Defense official said based on the investigation that the teens were shot soon after they were abducted. He spoke anonymously in line with protocol as the investigation is still ongoing.

Hamas, which has kidnapped Israelis in the past, has praised the abduction of the teenagers but not taken responsibility for it.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel against any broad offensive against the group, saying it would “open the gates of hell” on Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon issued a statement Tuesday vowing to find those behind the killings. “We see Hamas responsible for the kidnappings and murders. We will continue to pursue the murderers of the teens and will not rest until we lay our hands on them,” he said.

The man killed Tuesday was the first casualty since the bodies were found.

A military spokesman meanwhile said aircraft struck 34 targets across Gaza overnight after more than 20 rockets were fired into Israel since late Sunday from the Palestinian territory.

In an operation codenamed “Brother’s Keeper,” Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area and arrested some 400 Hamas operatives throughout the territory.

There is a national spirit of solidarity in Israel, a small country with an “all for one and one for all” mentality that stems from compulsory military service for Jewish citizens, and news of the teens’ deaths prompted an outpouring of grief.

Large crowds of Israelis went to the homes of the families in the central Israeli towns of Nof Ayalon and Elad, and the West Bank settlement of Talmon, to pay their respects, while supporters lit memorial candles and prayed.

Large gatherings were also held in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square, and at the West Bank junction where the youths were abducted, with Israelis singing hymns and songs, praying and lighting candles shaped in the names of the youths or the Jewish Star of David.

Thousands of Israelis have died in wars and militant attacks over the years, and Israel has grappled with the abduction of soldiers and civilians in the past. But the ages of the victims, and the fact that they were unarmed civilians, struck a raw nerve.

“Today is really a national mourning day in Israel,” said Eitan Schwartz, from the Tel Aviv municipality.

Israel has said two well-known Hamas operatives from Hebron are the primary suspects. The men, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, have not been seen since the teens went missing, and military officials said the search for them would continue.

Israeli soldiers blew up a door of Abu Aisheh’s home in Hebron early Tuesday, said an Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to protocol. AP photos show extensive damage to one side of the house.

Netanyahu met with top security officials late into the night Monday to discuss how to respond, and officials are expected to resume deliberations on Tuesday.

After a two-week crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, few major targets remain there. Hamas had already been weakened by seven years of pressure by Israel and the forces of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel could turn its attention toward the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where it has been battling a surge in rocket fire since the teens went missing.

The intensified rocket attacks have lightly injured several Israelis, damaged houses and destroyed a factory. One rocket fired by the Palestinian militants exploded prematurely in Gaza last week, killing a Palestinian girl.

Israel also might consider stronger political action. The crisis has escalated already heightened tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian government, which is headed by Abbas but backed by Hamas.

Hamas, an offshoot of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, is deeply rooted in Palestinian society. The movement’s political goal is an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including the territory that now makes up Israel.

Israel and its Western allies consider Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, a terrorist group.

Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev called on Abbas “to break his alliance with these killers.”

“This atrocity, this murder of innocent teenagers on their way home from school, is a clear example. It demonstrates that Hamas has not changed. It remains a vicious, vile terrorist organization that targets every Israeli civilian man, woman and as we’ve seen, children as well,” he said.

The slain teens are to be laid to rest Tuesday afternoon.

TIME Foreign Policy

Israeli Official: Kidnapped Teen Murders Show Hamas Is Like ISIS

Developments In Case Of Missing Israeli Teenagers
Israeli settlers hold flags on June 30, 2014, at the entrance to Halhoul, north of Hebron, West Bank Lior Mizrahi—Getty Images

The murder of three teenagers should make the new Palestinian government a pariah, Israel's Intelligence Minister argues

A senior Israeli government official on Monday likened Hamas to the brutal fighters sowing chaos in Iraq and said there could be no dealing with a Palestinian government that includes the group, just hours after three Israeli teenagers believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas were found dead.

“This is just a reminder that Hamas is a cruel terrorist organization that sent 100 suicide bombers, terrorists, into Israel in the past, and has now executed three teenagers, three young boys,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence.

“I don’t see much difference between these Hamas terrorists and the people from ISIS who executed the Iraqi soldiers,” Steinitz told a group of reporters in Washington, D.C., referring to the latter group’s mass execution of hundreds of captured Iraqi security forces during its mid-June blitz into northern Iraq.

The three boys were abducted while hitchhiking on June 12. Their fate consumed Israel as a massive hunt was conducted, but their bodies were discovered in an open field near Hebron Monday.

Steinitz said that the killings reinforce Israel’s position that it could not negotiate with a Palestinian unity government combining the Palestinian Authority, which holds power in the occupied West Bank, and Hamas, which has ruled over Gaza since 2007. Despite Israeli protests, the Obama Administration continues to work with and fund the Palestinian government, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on the grounds that it does not include any cabinet ministers affiliated with Hamas.

U.S. and Israeli officials say Abbas’ June 1 deal forging a unity coalition between the two long-divided Palestinian factions was the final blow to an already faltering Middle East peace process. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the Palestinian deal, insisting that Israel refuses to negotiate with “terrorists.”

Though both ISIS and Hamas are Sunni radical groups, they have very different identities and agendas and ISIS employs violence on a much larger scale. But Steinitz hopes that the killing of the teenagers will “remind the world” of Hamas’ true nature, and insisted Abbas “cannot proceed with this unity government with this terrorist organization.”

U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed that Hamas is behind the abductions and killings. On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki wouldn’t say whether that conclusion would lead the Obama Administration to sever ties with the Palestinian government.

Steinitz also argued that Abbas himself bears responsibility for the killings, noting that the abductions took place near that Palestinian Authority–controlled town of Hebron. “Those Hamas terrorists came from Hebron and are under total control of the Palestinian Authority,” Steinitz said.

Steinitz is in Washington as part of an Israeli delegation of nine, including officials from the Mossad, Israel’s national security council and its atomic energy agency. They met Monday with senior Obama officials who are negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, including the State Department’s Iran lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

The meeting was arranged on short notice, a day before the U.S. delegation leaves for a final round of talks with Iran in Vienna, Steinitz said. He reiterated Israel’s position that Iran should not be allowed to retain domestic uranium-enrichment capability or to operate a “heavy water” nuclear reactor whose fuel can be fashioned into bombs. He cited the removal of chemical weapons from Syria as a model of deal that involves total dismantlement of a weapons capability.

The current interim nuclear deal between Iran and the U.S. expires on July 20. Few observers expect the two sides to reach a comprehensive agreement by then; many expect an extension that could range from a few weeks to several more months, although even an extension will be politically complex proposition for both sides. U.S. officials have given no indication that Iran might be willing to surrender its domestic nuclear program entirely as Israel wants.

Despite all the chaos in the region, including in Iraq and Syria, he said, “we regard the Iranian nuclear issue as the most important in the Middle East — and the world.”

Steinitz was also skeptical about Iran’s potential to play a positive role in stabilizing Iraq. “It doesn’t seem to me that Iran is eager to cooperate with the U.S. or the West as regards Iraq, because Iran’s goals are different,” he said.

TIME Israel

Bodies of Missing Israeli Teens Found in West Bank Field

ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-CONFLICT-KIDNAPPING
Israelis mourns and light candles in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on June 30, 2014, after the announcement that the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers were found Oren Ziv—AFP/Getty Images

After 18 days of searching, Israeli soldiers find the remains of the three kidnapped youths, not far from where they were last seen

The bodies of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped while hitchhiking this month were found on Monday afternoon in a field a few miles south of where they were last seen, the Israeli military said.

The discovery brought to a tragic close the intense search and nationwide vigil for Eyal Yifrach, 19; Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer, both 16, all students at Jewish religious schools located on the occupied West Bank. It also shifted to the foreground the question of how Israel will respond to the deaths, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blames on Hamas, the militant Islamist group. After news that the bodies had been found in an open field north of Hebron, Netanyahu summoned senior ministers to an emergency meeting of the so-called security cabinet.

Netanyahu made some brief remarks at the beginning of the meeting. “They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals,” he said, according to Haaretz. “In the name of the whole of Israel, I ask to tell the dear families — to the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers and the grandfathers, the brothers and sisters — our hearts are bleeding, the whole nation is crying with them. We will bring the boys to be buried according to Jewish rites.”

“Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay,” the Prime Minister added.

Israel already has struck hard at Hamas, tripling the number of troops on the West Bank in what was the largest military operation in the area in a dozen years. Officials said they wanted to wound Hamas as an organization — by arresting scores of its activists and shuttering its social-service outlets on the West Bank, while pounding militant targets in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas has governed since 2007. In recent days, rockets from the Gaza Strip have been flying toward Israel.

Netanyahu made clear he also wanted to coerce the more moderate Fatah party to dissolve a governing partnership that had been put in place only two weeks earlier, in the form of a cabinet of technocrats at the Palestinian Authority (PA). But the effort to influence Palestinian politics was greeted skeptically on the West Bank, where the Israeli military operation was seen more as a bludgeon than an effort to recover the missing teens. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, was criticized for condemning the kidnapping and directing Palestinian security services to assist in the search.

In Israeli security circles, the investigation turned grim early. The discovery of a burned sedan outside Hebron the morning after the teens went missing was received with foreboding: fires can erase evidence, and Hebron would be the likeliest direction abductors would head. Other directions would take them closer to concentrations of Israeli security, and the city is both the largest on the West Bank, and a stronghold of Hamas. Forensic examination of the vehicle produced spent bullets and traces of blood. The amount could not be detected, however, nor the type, let alone DNA. Absent the presence of bodies, the news was initially withheld from the families. But investigators hypothesized that at least one of the youths had been killed within minutes inside the car, and likely all three.

Authorities also zeroed in on suspects soon after the abduction — two young Palestinians who were known to be active in Hamas, and had disappeared the night the teens went missing. Marwan Quasma, 29, and Amar Abu Eisha, 32, are thought to be in hiding separately. Quasma is from a notoriously militant Hebron clan that, in the past, has reportedly been known to operate beyond the control of Hamas leaders.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement on Monday extending his condolences to the three teenagers’ families. “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth,” he said. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation. As the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States.”

— With reporting by Aaron J. Klein / Tel Aviv

TIME Israel

Officials: Israel Finds Bodies of Kidnapped Teens

Israeli army and police by armoured vehicles in the West Bank village of Halhoul, north of Hebron, June 30, 2014, where reportedly the bodies of the three Israelis teenagers, missing and presumed kidnapped since 12 June, were discovered in a cave.
Israeli army and police by armoured vehicles in the West Bank village of Halhoul, north of Hebron, June 30, 2014, where reportedly the bodies of the three Israelis teenagers, missing and presumed kidnapped since 12 June, were discovered in a cave. Jim Hollander—EPA

(JERUSALEM) — Security officials say the Israeli military has discovered the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank earlier this month.

They say the bodies were found Monday near the village of Halhul, near the location where the teens disappeared on June 12.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for releasing the information ahead of a formal announcement.

The search for the teens has become a national obsession, setting off a frantic manhunt and large crackdown on the Hamas militant group.

TIME Israel

Israeli TV Stations Say Bodies of 3 Israeli Teens Kidnapped in West Bank Have Been Found

Israeli army and police by armoured vehicles in the West Bank village of Halhoul, north of Hebron, June 30, 2014, where reportedly the bodies of the three Israelis teenagers, missing and presumed kidnapped since 12 June, were discovered in a cave.
Israeli army and police by armoured vehicles in the West Bank village of Halhoul, north of Hebron, June 30, 2014, where reportedly the bodies of the three Israelis teenagers, missing and presumed kidnapped since 12 June, were discovered in a cave. Jim Hollander—EPA

(JERUSALEM) — Israeli TV stations say bodies of 3 Israeli teens kidnapped in West Bank have been found.

TIME Middle East

Palestinians Warn Israel That Crackdown on Hamas May Backfire

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a search for three missing Israeli teens, feared abducted in the West Bank last week, in the village of Beit Kahil near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 21, 2014.
Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man during a search for three missing Israeli teens, feared abducted in the West Bank last week, in the village of Beit Kahil near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 21, 2014. Majdi Mohammed—AP

Warnings that a search for missing teens could have unintended consequences

Shortly after three Israeli teenagers disappeared in the West Bank late on June 12, the effort to locate them shifted from a search to a broader campaign aimed at punishing Hamas.

Israeli officials say the militant Palestinian faction is responsible for the abductions of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel, but no one pretends the thousands of Israeli soldiers who swarmed the West Bank for the last two weeks as part of “Operation Brothers’ Keeper” were only looking for them. The troops also swept up 371 activists and politicians, shut down 64 social welfare operations maintained by Hamas and, along the way, made every effort to thwart the only weeks-old unity pact bringing together Hamas and the more secular, peace-oriented Fatah faction.

“The mission has developed beyond the primary target of bringing the boys home to striking a substantial blow to Hamas,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said last week. Israeli troops were targeting “all levels of Hamas, from tactical operatives to its institutions all the way up to its strategic leadership,” Lerner said. “They must pay the price for openly declaring their intent to carry out such attacks.”

But Hamas is not the only casualty of the Israeli campaign. Among the approximately 400 Palestinians detained by Israel were 58 earlier released from prison in exchange for another captive, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in 2009 and freed after five years. Most of the 1,027 freed prisoners were exiled overseas or to the Gaza Strip, but 110 were permitted to live on the West Bank. Taking a majority of them into custody on grounds of violating the conditions of their release serves as a drag on the political fortunes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who critics say created incentive for future kidnappings in the bargain that freed Shalit. One of those released for Shalit turned out to be behind the last major unsolved case in the West Bank, the highway shooting of a senior police official on his way to Passover dinner in April, according to Israel’s domestic security agency.

“We have reversed the equation of ‘you kidnap, and we release terrorists,’ to one of a kidnapping followed by terrorists going back to serve out their sentences,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, told the mothers of the missing teens on Wednesday.

Israeli officials say the teens’ abduction gave the country’s military license to scour West Bank with more resources – triple the usual number of troops–than have been deployed there in a dozen years. But the home searches, flying checkpoints and roadblocks are aggravating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, a situation that historically generates support for Hamas at the expense of the moderate Palestinian Authority, which has been helping in the search. On Sunday night, after Israeli troops entered the city for another round post-midnight raids, residents gathered outside a Ramallah base and hurled stones at its shuttered doors, shouting “collaborators.”

“Strikes, deaths and Israeli brutality will only bring out resistance from the people to end the occupation,” said Fairouz Shram, a secretary from the northern West Bank city of Jenin. “The Palestinian Authority is also loosing credibility and support from the people because of the PA’s lack of authority and ability to protect its people within the West Bank as seen during Israelis latest invasions.”

Though Israel moved to ratchet back its West Bank campaign this week in anticipation of the weekend start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians say a good deal of damage is already done. The number of Palestinians killed during Operation Brothers’ Keeper –six, according to the Palestinian Authority–is double the number of missing Israelis. The total includes a young refugee camp resident who has been declared brain dead, and a man who suffered a heart attack during a home search and was prevented by soldiers from being taken to the hospital, according to the PA.

“What will I tell the families of the three Palestinian teens who were killed?” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked Israeli reporters, when the death toll stood at three. “Why were they killed? We’re human beings, just like you. Can the Israeli government demonstrate the same feelings and say they are human beings and deserve to live?”

Common ground—always difficult to find in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian—is growing even scarcer since the abductions. Inside Israel, the search for the teens has unified Jewish society with an almost painful ardency. In the West Bank, however, Palestinians have been pre-occupied by the hardships imposed by the search—which both local and international human rights groups warn may veer into “collective punishment”—and its expansion into a general crackdown on Hamas. Facts that Israelis take as ominous—there’s been no ransom demand or proof of life since the disappearance—are viewed by many Palestinians as absence of evidence a kidnapping even occurred.

“Who knows,” says Muna Zaghiar, 42, of Ramallah, “maybe there was never any kidnapping and this is all part of Israelis tactics to put away Hamas and dissolve it’s support.”

In the search for the missing teens, the alternative explanations are encouraged by Israel’s effort to leverage the incident to alter the makeup of Palestinian leadership. After Abbas publicly condemned the kidnappings at a high-profile meeting in Saudi Arabia last week, Netanyahu pushed him to disavow the unity government with Hamas as well. “If he is truly committed to peace and to fighting terrorism, then logic and common sense mandate that he break his pact with Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

As time passes, security officials warn that the chances of finding the missing teens alive steadily diminishes. But analysts say the net effect of their disappearance—and all that has followed—has been a boost in sympathies toward Hamas, the very organization Israel is trying to diminish. “What we can see is that the Palestinians in general are very sympathetic to the Palestinians who are either in prison or taken to jail or arrested, and that in itself is an indicator that it boosts Hamas’ popularity,” Jamil Rabah, a Ramallah pollster, tells TIME. “And it seems it did.”

—Additional reporting by Rami Nazzal in Ramallah

TIME

Israel Identifies Suspects in Alleged Kidnapping

JERUSALEM — Israel has identified two alleged Hamas operatives in the West Bank as the central suspects in the recent disappearance of three Israeli teenagers in the Palestinian territory.

In a statement late Thursday , the Shin Bet security service identified the men as Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha. It said both men are activists in the Hamas militant group in the West Bank city of Hebron, the area where the youths disappeared two weeks ago.

Israel has accused Hamas of kidnapping the three teens, who disappeared as they were hitchhiking home. The two suspects have been missing since the disappearance.

Israel has launched a massive manhunt across the West Bank and arrested hundreds of Palestinian suspects, but the teens have not been heard from.

TIME

Palestinian Prisoners in Israel End Hunger Strike

JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday ended their 63-day-long hunger strike after reaching a deal with Israeli prison authorities, a Palestinian official said.

The development comes against the backdrop of a broad Israeli ground operation in the West Bank in search of three Israeli teens who went missing in the Palestinian territory nearly two weeks ago. There have also been near-daily rocket attacks from Gaza, prompting Israeli airstrikes in retaliation.

Earlier Wednesday, a rocket fired by Palestinian militants toward Israel exploded in the northern Gaza Strip, killing a 3-year-old Palestinian girl and wounding three other people, a Gaza health official said.

A Gaza security official said the militants’ rocket exploded prematurely inside the coastal strip. Both Palestinian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

Since 2012, Palestinian prisoners have staged a series of hunger strikes, sometimes as individuals and sometimes in larger groups to protest “administrative detention,” a policy that can keep some prisoners in custody for months without charges.

Israel has defended the practice as a necessary tool to stop militant activity, including attacks.

About 5,000 Palestinians are imprisoned in Israel for offenses ranging from rock throwing to deadly militant attacks. Of those, some 190 are administrative detainees, while another 143 Palestinians detained in recent raids have also been held under the policy.

The latest hunger strike was launched April 24 and involved 77 prisoners, according to Qadoura Fares, an advocate for Palestinian prisoners. It ended Wednesday after the deal was struck with Israel Prisons Authority, said Minister of Prisoner Affairs Shawqi Al-Aissa.

Fares said the agreement “states that the prisoners stay in hospital until they recover, and then they will be taken to the prisons they were in before the strike while Israel ends punitive measures against them.” The measures included limited visits by family members as well as removal of televisions and other amenities from their jail rooms.

“This is not a big victory but it has shaken the administrative detention law,” Fares said, adding that the prisoners will “continue their struggle for freedom.”

Fares said the crisis over the missing teens “had a very bad effect on the strike,” reflecting what some observers have said — that Palestinians can’t expect Israel to make any concessions under such circumstances.

The three Israeli teens — Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship — disappeared on June 12 in the West Bank.

Since then, the territory has seen a spike in violence. Israel has accused the militant Palestinian Hamas group, which controls Gaza, of being behind the abduction. Hamas has praised the kidnapping, but has not taken responsibility for it.

The Israeli military said troops arrested 17 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight. It also said that since the operation to locate the teens and crackdown on Hamas began, about 370 Palestinian suspects have been arrested, including about 280 Hamas members.

In a related development, Israel’s parliament earlier this week postponed a vote on a bill that would allow force feeding prisoners. Last week, Leonid Eidelman, the president of the Israeli Medical Association, told The Associated Press that Israeli doctors would “absolutely refuse” on ethical grounds to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

Under the bill, a judge could sanction force-feeding if an inmate’s life is perceived to be in danger. The government argues that a death in custody could trigger violent unrest in prisons or the Palestinian territories and harm Israel’s security.

Israeli hospitals have so far been successful in keeping Palestinian hunger strikers alive without having to resort to force-feeding. This includes offering hunger strikers supplements of glucose, vitamins or electrolytes.

The Israeli military said Gaza militants fired a total of five rockets at Israel late Tuesday. It said two were shot down by the “Iron Dome” rocket-defense system, while one fell in an open area and two landed inside Gaza.

The Israeli military responded early Wednesday with a series of airstrikes across Gaza, saying it targeted five concealed rocket launchers, a weapons-manufacturing facility and a “terror activity” site.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said Israel is “determined to act against those that strive to target Israel.”

___

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

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