Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for condemning the alleged kidnapping of three teenagers by Hamas, but criticised his unity pact with the Islamist movement.
Netanyahu spoke on Tuesday as Israel began to wind down a huge crackdown on Hamas, having arrested hundreds in an operation to find the youngsters who went missing in the southern West Bank nearly two weeks ago.
The Jewish state was coming under increasing international pressure to use restraint in its manhunt, after Israeli raids across the West Bank killed four Palestinians.
“I appreciate what president Abbas said a few days ago in Saudi Arabia, rejecting the kidnapping,” Netanyahu told his Romanian counterpart Victor Ponta at a meeting in Jerusalem.
“I think these were important words,” he said.
Abbas condemned the alleged kidnapping, telling a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that “those who kidnapped the three teenagers want to destroy us”.
“We will hold them accountable,” he said, but stopped short of blaming Hamas.
Israel immediately accused its Islamist foe of kidnapping the youngsters, who went missing on June 12 at a hitchhiking spot near the city of Hebron.
The Jewish state has used that as a pretext to uproot the Islamist movement’s West Bank network, arresting 354 Palestinians, 269 of them Hamas members, according to the army.
Hamas has not claimed an abduction, and Israel has provided no evidence for its involvement.
Abbas has pledged to continue security coordination with Israel, which he said was in Palestinians’ “best interest” since it would “help protect us”.
Israel seized on the opportunity presented by the operation to try to rupture a reconciliation agreement between Abbas and Hamas, under which the two sides formed a merged administration for the West Bank and Gaza earlier this month for the first time in seven years.
In remarks aired Tuesday, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal told Al Jazeera television that “we do not have information about what happened,” but stressed his support for “every resistance attack against the Israeli occupation”.
Afterwards, Netanyahu reiterated that if Abbas “is truly committed to peace and to fighting terrorism, then logic and common sense mandate that he break his pact with Hamas”.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel was beginning to wind down its arrest operation, which has cost the lives of four Palestinians and sparked public anger in the West Bank.