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Monday, 16 June 2014 | MYT 10:50 AM

Israel expands West Bank hunt for missing teens, Palestinian killed

RAMALLAH West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli forces searching for three teenagers believed to have been kidnapped swept into a second West Bank city on Monday, touching off street confrontations in which they killed a Palestinian, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The bloodshed near the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah marked an escalation in a dragnet which risks ensnaring U.S.-backed President Mahmoud Abbas though it targets Hamas, Islamist rivals with which he agreed a power-share in April.

Witnesses said Palestinians threw rocks at soldiers conducting house-to-house searches in al-Jilazoun refugee camp, outside Ramallah, before dawn. Army gunfire killed a 20-year-old Palestinian and wounded another, hospital officials said.

The military, which had announced plans to step up its West Bank operations to locate the three Israeli teens who disappeared after leaving a Jewish settlement on Thursday, did not immediately comment on the al-Jilazoun incident.

Israel accuses Hamas militants of abducting the three and over the weekend rounded up scores of Palestinians in Hebron, a West Bank city where support for the Islamist faction is strong.

Among the detainees were several Palestinian lawmakers from Hamas, including parliament speaker Aziz Dweik, witnesses said.

The crisis is a double test for Abbas. His security forces have sought to help Israel's search, drawing censure from Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called off meandering U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Abbas in response to the new intra-Palestinian alliance, which he says emboldened Hamas's and its belligerence towards the Jewish state.

"I believe that the dangers of this pact should now be abundantly clear to all. We've seen since the signing of that pact an increase in terrorist activity emanating from the West Bank," Netanyahu said on Sunday, blaming Hamas for abducting the three teenagers and holding Abbas responsible for their return.

Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied Israel's allegation. Some Palestinians close to Abbas accused Netanyahu, who champions Jewish settlement of occupied West Bank land where they seek statehood, of seeking a pretext for further hostility.

On Saturday and Sunday, several rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory under Hamas control. Israel launched air strikes at Gaza training camps used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group.

There were no serious casualties on either side.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Sandra Maler)


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