JERUSALEM, Israel -- As part of its mission to rescue three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, the Israeli army arrested dozens of Hamas members, some of whom were released from Israeli prisons in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Israeli officials said.
The three teenagers -- Naftali Frenkel (who holds dual American citizenship), Eyal Yifrach and Gil-Ad Shaer -- were waiting for a ride home at a bus stop in Gush Etzion last Thursday evening when they were abducted.
Shalit was kidnapped in June 2006 during a cross-border attack on an IDF outpost near the Gaza border. A Hamas-led terror cell tunneled under the fence, killed two soldiers, wounded three and took Shalit back to Gaza where he languished for more than five years. In 2011, Israel exchanged 1,027 terrorists for Shalit.
According to the IDF Spokesman's Office, Israeli security forces searching for the missing youths detained 65 suspects overnight, including 51 Palestinians released in the Shalit prisoner swap.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operation "sends an important message" that this operation and others "will continue in order to bring the abducted youths home and strike at Hamas in Judea and Samaria."
"We are in the midst of a wide-ranging operation," Netanyahu said on Wednesday. "It will yet include many actions against the terrorists that attack, murder and kidnap Israeli citizens and want to destroy the State of Israel.
"We are fighting terrorism and Hamas will continue to pay a heavy price for abducting Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, the three youths who were on their way home to their parents," he added.
Since the operation began, the Israeli army has detained about 240 suspects and searched some 800 locations, the IDF said. It has also carried out 10 operations against so-called "Dawa" institutions, which are civilian organizations used by Hamas to recruit, disseminate information and facilitate cash flow to the organization.
Netanyahu has charged that Hamas was behind the abductions, though he has yet to provide any public information as to why Israel believes that's the case.
Hamas is known for its abductions and attempts at it. Its leaders have publicly called for kidnapping Israelis to use in prisoner exchanges such as Shalit's. Most Palestinians in Israeli jails are serving time for terror-related offenses.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials have expressed their support in the past for kidnapping Israelis to swap for Palestinian security prisoners.
After four days, Abbas issued a condemnation of the current kidnapping and also criticized Israel's efforts to retrieve the youths.
According to the Palestinian Media Watch, Abbas spent six words in Arabic condemning the kidnapping and 35 words condemning Israel.
At the same time, Fatah has continued to celebrate the teens' abduction. On its Facebook page on June 16 it posted what has now become the new Palestinian "salute" -- three fingers up representing three Gilad Shalits.