NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Several Jewish groups held a prayer service and vigil outside the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan on Monday for three teens kidnapped in the West Bank last week.
The groups are also trying to popularize #BringBackOurBoys on Twitter, modeled on the #BringBackOurGirls social media effort that drew international attention to the plight of Nigerian school girls.
Gilad Shaar, 16; Naftali Frankel, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 19, are Jewish seminary students and were kidnapped Thursday while hitchhiking at a West Bank bus stop near the Palestinian city of Hebron. Frankel is an American citizen whose family is originally from Brooklyn, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
The three were on their way home — two to towns in Israel, and the third to a West Bank settlement.
“We trust that Eyal and Gilad and Naftali, three boys coming home on the way from school … will be with us here, and we’ll hug them soon,” Naftali’s mother, Rachel Frankel, said. “God willing, we’ll all be able to celebrate their return safely.”
Rabbi Avi Weiss organized the prayer service to show solidarity, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported.
“Right to left across the political and religious spectrum, we stand as one with our brothers and sisters in Israel,” Weiss said.
“To all the terrorists in the world, to those who support Hamas, let me say clearly you will never be able to be part of the civilized international community until you renounce the kidnappings and the terrorism and the murder of innocents,” Weiss added.
A few hundred turned out to wave Israeli flags, hold pictures of the boys and sing songs of prayer. Some called on the United States to pressure the Palestinians to help bring the boys home safely.
“We need to hear you stand up in the oval office in the White House. We need you to declare my heart is broken because Naftali Frankel is my son. He is my son and I cannot rest at night until they come home,” Rabbi Weiss said.
“This puts added pressure on the Obama administration to do something more than just talk,” attorney and Israel activist Ben Brafman said.
Roberta Post, of Long Island, issued a plea to anyone who might be holding them captive.
“Please, have a moment of sanity,” she told Smith. “Let these innocent children go. Enough is enough.”
On Monday night, hundreds packed the Manhattan Day School on the Upper West Side to pray for their safe return.
“I have a 16-year-old son who goes to school. I don’t know where he is every second. I think this is a mother’s worst nightmare,” Chavie Kahn told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.
Israeli troops, meanwhile, rounded up dozens more senior Hamas activists and killed a Palestinian in a clash with stone throwers — part of the feverish search for the teens.
Israeli officials are investigating claims by an extremist group known as Dawiat al-Islam, which claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, reported Kramer. The organization is linked to ISIS, the Sunni militant organization behind the current war in Iraq.
“Israel will act against the kidnappers, and their terrorist sponsors and comrades,” said Iraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We will do whatever needs to be done to protect our people.”
Large numbers of Israeli troops have been involved in a massive search for the boys, going house to house in some areas.
Netanyahu has blamed the kidnappings on the decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a government with Hamas. Netanyahu said he will hold Abbas responsible for the disappearance, Kramer reported.
“You remember that Israel warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact,” Netanyahu said.
It’s not clear how far Netanyahu will go in trying to dismantle the Hamas organization, considering the risk this might further destabilize the region. Despite Netanyahu’s verbal attacks against Abbas, he does not want to see a collapse of the pragmatic Palestinian leader’s self-rule government in the West Bank.
Senior Israeli Cabinet ministers was expected to meet Monday. The government is reportedly weighing a series of measures, including the deportation of Hamas leaders from the West Bank to Gaza, where Hamas remains the de facto power despite the unity deal.
Israeli forces have arrested more than 150 Palestinians, most of them from Hamas, over the past four days. Among those detained were 10 Hamas legislators — or one-third of the Hamas representatives from the West Bank in the long-defunct Palestinian parliament. The most senior among those detained Monday was Parliament Speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik.
Netanyahu called Abbas on Monday, a fairly rare contact between the two leaders, the Israeli premier’s office said. Netanyahu called on Abbas to help with efforts to rescue the abducted teens and arrest the Hamas kidnappers.
“The Hamas kidnappers came from territory under Palestinian Authority control and returned to territory under Palestinian Authority control,” Netanyahu told Abbas.
Abbas aides have rejected Netanyahu’s contention that the Palestinian self-rule government is ultimately responsible for the abductions, saying Israel is in overall control of the West Bank. The junction where the teens were last seen is under Israeli control and is commonly used by soldiers and Jewish settlers.
Abbas had remained silent since Thursday, but issued a statement Monday.
“The Palestinian leadership condemns the series of events over the last week, beginning with the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens and ending with a series of Israeli violations,” the statement said.
He referred to the arrests and the killing of a 20-year-old Palestinian by Israeli army fire early Monday, during a confrontation between stone throwers and soldiers.
The abductions have placed Abbas in a bind.
He has repeatedly assured the U.S. and Europe that despite his agreement with Hamas, his forces in the West Bank would not halt their security coordination with Israeli troops. The targets of such coordination have been militants, including from Hamas.
Despite the heated rhetoric of recent days, Palestinian security chiefs have worked with Israel to try to locate the missing teens, Palestinian officials have said.
At the same time, Abbas cannot use the security coordination as a defense against Netanyahu’s verbal attacks against him. Such coordination is widely unpopular among Palestinians and, if highlighted publicly, could torpedo Palestinian reconciliation efforts.
In a meeting Sunday of senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Abbas was visibly angry, said a participant, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to journalists about what was discussed in the closed-door meeting.
Abbas said he doesn’t know who is behind the kidnappings, the PLO official said. He quoted Abbas as saying that Hamas involvement would be unacceptable and that the group has no right to destabilize the West Bank while observing a truce on the Israel-Gaza border.
Netanyahu has used the abductions to try to discredit the unity government, which is made up of technocrats loyal to Abbas and won initial support from Europe and the U.S.
Palestinian militants have repeatedly threatened to kidnap Israelis, hoping to use them as bargaining chips to win the release of prisoners held by Israel. The abductors in this case have not issued demands, so it is not clear what their objectives are.
Currently, dozens of Palestinians held by Israel are on an open-ended hunger strike to try to force Israel to end the practice of “administrative detentions” without charges or trial.
The hunger strike began April 24, and since then dozens of participants have been hospitalized. Netanyahu is trying to fast-track a bill that would allow force-feeding.
Hamas has praised the kidnappings, but has stopped short of claiming responsibility.
Several claims of responsibility have emerged in recent days, including one by a purported al-Qaida offshoot, but none could be authenticated.
For Hamas in the West Bank, the arrest sweep is another serious blow. Since the movement seized Gaza by force in 2007, wresting control there from Abbas, it has been targeted in crackdowns in the West Bank, both by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
With the latest arrests, 19 of 30 Hamas legislators in the West Bank are now in Israeli custody.
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