After carrying out hundreds of arrests for more than a week, the Israeli military is turning down the heat on its campaign against Hamas and focusing on intensifying its search for the three Jewish teenagers allegedly kidnapped by militants.
Only four Palestinian suspects were arrested in the West Bank overnight, while on Monday morning the military removed roadblocks in the city of Hebron and enabled the Palestinian police to redeploy there, signaling that the aggressive campaign against Hamas' presence in the region was nearing an end. Israel has accused the militant Islamist group of perpetrating the abductions on June 13, but has not provided proof to back up the assertion.
The army said Monday that 354 Palestinians, 269 of them associated with Hamas, have been arrested since it launched Operation Brother's Keeper to retrieve the youths. Israeli soldiers raided dozens of Hamas-linked civil organizations known as Da'was, seizing assets, while storming nearly 2,000 homes, hunting for suspects and clues.
A senior officer said Sunday that the scaling back on Hamas operations follows evaluations by Israel's defense chiefs and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet of the situation. Concerns have been raised that a prolonged presence of massive groups of Israeli security forces within heavily populated Palestinian cities could spark a conflict.
"(The operation targeting Hamas) is a focused effort, one which has reached exhaustion," the Jerusalem Post quoted the senior officer as saying.
"There's no point doing (the raids) again and coming up with nothing. There are consequences to these operations, which touch on the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his security forces, the fact that Ramadan is coming up, and the Gazan arena. There are many changing variables," he said.
With the focus shifted away from Hamas, the military is setting its sights on sustaining, and perhaps expanding its already massive searches for the teens, with some 4,000 troops expected to continue combing Hebron and other West Bank areas until the missing are located.
"There is a process of elimination going on, and at the same time, we are focusing our efforts on where we think they might be, " the officer said, noting that security forces were operating under the assumption that the teens are alive.
At the same time, intelligence agencies, led by the Shin Bet security service, were pushing for a breakthrough in the investigation by cross-checking information received from detainees and analyzing footage from some 150 security cameras confiscated from Palestinians.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin, who also chairs Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Monday told the Ynet news service that the Shin Bet has obtained a significant amount of information.
"We know who carried out the abduction and are looking for them, " he said.