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Published: Sunday June 22, 2014 MYT 11:11:09 PM
Updated: Sunday June 22, 2014 MYT 11:11:09 PM

Two Palestinians killed as Israel hunts missing teenagers

RAMALLAH West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli troops killed two Palestinians on Sunday, Palestinian medics and a militant group said, as Israel pressed on with its crackdown on Hamas, the Islamist group it accuses of abducting three Israeli teenagers.

In a sign of growing Palestinian anger, Palestinian police loyal to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas also came under attack - by a rock-throwing crowd that wanted them to confront Israeli troops on a raid of the de facto capital of Ramallah.

Gunfire - apparently warning shots fired by police from the balcony and windows of their station house - echoed for several minutes in the heart of Ramallah as dozens of protesters crouched or ran for cover. There were no reports of casualties.

Demonstrators taunted police with the chant of "collaborators" during the night-time Israeli operation. The windows of three police cars parked outside were smashed.

The Israeli military said soldiers entered several Palestinian cities and villages overnight, rounding up six suspected militants.

Israel has said its West Bank operation is twofold - to find Gil-Ad Shaer and U.S.-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, who went missing near an Israeli settlement on June 13, and to deal a substantial blow to Hamas.

The crisis has put pressure on a unity pact between Abbas and Hamas, an Islamist group sworn to Israel's destruction. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the disappearance of the youths.

Abbas has condemned the abduction of the three Israelis, and his security forces have been helping in the search. But he has also called the Israeli sweeps "collective punishment" of the Palestinian people.

During an overnight raid in the city of Nablus, Israeli soldiers fired at stone-throwing Palestinians, killing Ahmad Famawi, 26, residents and medics said. In Ramallah, the Islamic Jihad militant group said one of its members was killed by Israeli gunfire. The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident.

LOW MORALE

A Western official who works with Palestinian security forces described their morale as low and said they were aware their effective confinement to barracks during Israel's operations had hurt their standing among ordinary Palestinians.

Hamas officials have said the Palestinian people are heading towards a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyal al-Maliki said on Friday that would not happen as long as Abbas was in charge.

Abbas's Fatah movement, however, issued a statement on Sunday cautioning that its patience "has started to run out because of the daily crimes committed (by Israel) against our people".

Warning that Israel was "bringing the situation towards an explosion", the Palestinian Authority said it had launched efforts to convene an urgent session of the U.N. Security Council to try to end the offensive.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in public remarks to his cabinet on Sunday, said Israel had conveyed its evidence against Hamas to several countries and would soon make it public. He defended Israel's military action in the West Bank.

"We have no intention of deliberately hurting anyone, but our forces are acting as necessary for their self-defence and, on occasion, there are fatalities or casualties on the Palestinian side," Netanyahu said.

The military has so far searched some 1,350 sites in the West Bank and detained more than 330 Palestinians. The raids have triggered street clashes in which four Palestinians have been killed, including in Sunday's incidents.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Writing by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Trevelyan)

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