Gun battle flares as Israeli soldiers seek missing teens

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Gun battle flares as Israeli soldiers seek missing teens
Israeli soldiers patrol during a military operation to search for three missing Israeli teenagers near the West Bank city of Hebron, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank for a second day Saturday, looking for three missing teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli soldiers patrol during a military operation to search for three missing Israeli teenagers near the West Bank city of Hebron, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank for a second day Saturday, looking for three missing teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man in the West Bank City of Hebron, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank for a second day Saturday, looking for three missing teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
An Israeli soldier stands guard in the West Bank City of Hebron, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank for a second day Saturday, looking for three missing teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man in the West Bank City of Hebron, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank for a second day Saturday, looking for three missing teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man in the West Bank City of Hebron, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank for a second day Saturday, looking for three missing teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers transport a burnt car which is reportedly connected to the disappearance of three teenagers near the West Bank city of Hebron, Friday, June 13, 2014. Israeli soldiers searched the West Bank on Friday for three missing teenagers from nearby settlements, one of them a U.S. citizen, amid fears Palestinian militants abducted them, authorities said. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli soldiers deploy near the West Bank city of Hebron, Friday, June 13, 2014. Israeli soldiers searched the West Bank on Friday for three missing teenagers from nearby settlements, one of them a U.S. citizen, amid fears Palestinian militants abducted them, authorities said. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli soldiers transport a burnt car which is reportedly connected to the disappearance of three teen settlers near the West Bank city of Hebron, Friday, June 13, 2014. Israeli soldiers searched the West Bank on Friday for three missing teenagers from nearby settlements, one of them a U.S. citizen, amid fears Palestinian militants abducted them, authorities said. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli soldiers deploy near the West Bank city of Hebron, Friday, June 13, 2014. Israeli soldiers searched the West Bank on Friday for three missing teenagers from nearby settlements, one of them a U.S. citizen, amid fears Palestinian militants abducted them, authorities said. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli soldiers deploy near the West Bank city of Hebron, Friday, June 13, 2014. Israeli soldiers searched the West Bank on Friday for three missing teenagers from nearby settlements, one of them a U.S. citizen, amid fears Palestinian militants abducted them, authorities said. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on June 14, 2014. Israel holds Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority responsible for the safety of three teenagers snatched from the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Israels Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benjamin Gantz deliver a statement in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on June 14, 2014 , as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (unseen) listens on. Israel holds Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority responsible for the safety of three teenagers snatched from the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli soldiers check the ID's of Palestinian cars as they man a checkpoint on the entrance of the West Bank town of Hebron on June 14, 2014, as they search for three teenagers who went missing near a West Bank settlement. The three, all students at a Jewish seminary, went missing late on June 12 as they were hitchhiking between Bethlehem and Hebron. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon gives a press conference in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 14, 2014, following the kidnapping of three Israeli in the area. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held the Palestinian Authority responsible for the wellbeing of the three men, but Palestinians baulked at the idea they were to blame for the disappearance inside an Israeli-controlled area of the West Bank. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli soldiers take part in a search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 19, 2014. Israeli troops arrested some 30 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight as they ramped up a massive search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by Hamas, the army said. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
An Israeli soldier stands guard in front of an armored vehicle during a search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 19, 2014. Israeli troops arrested some 30 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight as they ramped up a massive search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by Hamas, the army said. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
An Israeli soldier carries a computer unit seized from a factory in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 19, 2014 during a search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants. Israeli troops arrested some 30 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight as they ramped up a massive search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by Hamas, the army said. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian youths take part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian youths take part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian youth uses a fake gun he takes part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian youth takes part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian youth runs as he takes part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian youths take part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian youth takes part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian youths take part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian young boys take part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian youth hold a national flag as he takes part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian youth take part in military-inspired exercises during a summer camp organised by the Islamist movement Hamas on June 19, 2014 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO/ SAID KHATIB (Photo credit should read SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian Hamas supporters flash the sign of victory during a rally to express solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails on June 19, 2014 in Gaza City. Israel is to rush through a bill allowing force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, a newspaper reported on June 17, 2014 as 80 Palestinian inmates were hospitalised after refusing to eat for nearly two months. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED ABED (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
A Palestinian prepares throw a stone during clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Jenin, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest raid early Thursday in the most violent confrontation so far in the weeklong search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank. Since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested, the military said, including 200 members of Hamas. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
A Christian worshipper from Democratic Republic of Congo is baptized in the Jordan River, in Yardenit, northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee, Thursday, June 19, 2014 where it is believed Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers walk on a street in a market in an attempt to obtain security camera footage during a search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted, while scouring the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday, June 19, 2014. Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest raid early Thursday in the most violent confrontation so far in the weeklong search for the missing teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
An Israeli soldier watch as others visit shops in a market in an attempt to obtain security camera footage during a search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted, while scouring the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday, June 19, 2014. Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest raid early Thursday in the most violent confrontation so far in the weeklong search for the missing teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
An Israeli soldier holds a weapon as others inquire shops to obrain security camera footage during a search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted, while scouring the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday, June 19, 2014. Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest raid early Thursday in the most violent confrontation so far in the weeklong search for the missing teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
An Israeli soldier carries a confiscated digital video recorder during a search for three missing teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank city of Hebron, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested, the military said, including 200 members of Hamas. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers search for three missing teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank city of Jenin, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested, the military said, including 200 members of Hamas. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
An Israeli soldier searches for three missing teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank city of Jenin, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested, the military said, including 200 members of Hamas. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
Members of the Palestinian Civil Defense hose down a shop that caught on fire due to clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Jenin, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest raid early Thursday in the most violent confrontation so far in the weeklong search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank. Since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested, the military said, including 200 members of Hamas. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
An Israeli soldier breaks the lock on a house door in the village of Taffouh near the West Bank city of Hebron, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank, looking for three missing Israeli teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers stand next to an elderly Palestinian in the village of Taffouh near the West Bank city of Hebron, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank, looking for three missing Israeli teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers patrol during a search for three missing Israeli teenagers in the village of Taffouh near the West Bank city of Hebron, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank, looking for three missing teenagers, including an American, who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli army soldiers take up positions during a search operation in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Israeli security forces searched the West Bank looking for three missing Israeli teenagers who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
Israeli soldiers walk during an operation in Balata refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus,Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Israel's army says it has arrested 40 more Palestinians in the West Bank, expanding searches for three missing Israeli teens who Israel believes Hamas kidnapped last week. The arrests early Tuesday brought the total number of Palestinians detained since the kidnapping to over 200, most of them Hamas activists. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)
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By Maayan Lubell

(Reuters) - Israeli forces traded gunfire with Palestinians on Thursday, the military said, in the fiercest street battles in the occupied West Bank since a search began for three Israeli teenagers missing for a week.

Hospital officials said three Palestinians suffered bullet wounds in the overnight clashes in Jenin, a militant stronghold and the scene of deadly fighting during a Palestinian uprising a decade ago. There were no reported Israeli casualties.

A military statement said about 300 Palestinians, including some who "hurled explosives and opened fire", confronted soldiers who entered Jenin looking for the three seminary students.

Israel says the Hamas Islamist group abducted them last Thursday as they were hitchhiking near a Jewish settlement.

"The soldiers responded with live fire, identifying hits," the statement said. It said 30 "terror suspects" were detained in the West Bank, bringing to 280 the number of Palestinians taken into custody over the past week.

Reuters photographers in Jenin heard heavy gunfire during the night but were kept away from the scene of the clashes by Israeli forces.

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, and to deal a substantial blow to Hamas, a group dedicated to its destruction.

HEBRON SEARCHES

A statement issued by the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of using the teenagers' disappearance as "a pretext to impose tough punishment against our people and besiege them" in violation of international humanitarian law.

Israeli raids have spread from house-to-house searches in Hebron, a flashpoint town in the area where the three went missing, to raids across the West Bank of institutions believed to provide funding and other support for Hamas.

"The policy of collective punishment conducted by the occupation government against our people and our land requires condemnation by the whole world," the Palestinian presidential statement said.

While military operations inside Hebron continued, the heavy troop presence around the city appeared to have been scaled back. Some roadblocks at entrances to the city were left unmanned, allowing vehicles to enter and leave freely. Paratrooper platoons that had camped by a road nearby were gone.

"We know more today than we did a few days ago, but we still have a way to go," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a West Bank military headquarters, near the site where the teens are believed to have been abducted.

CHARITY BANNED

As part of the crackdown, Israel said on Thursday it was banning the British-based charity Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) from operating in the occupied West Bank. It accuses the IRW of being a funding source for the Hamas Islamist movement.

At Bir Zeit University, near the Palestinian town of Ramallah, Israeli soldiers on Thursday seized Hamas posters and flags from a student group affiliated with Hamas.

Soldiers have searched about 900 locations so far, the military said. There has been no word from the missing teenagers nor any public claim of responsibility or ransom demands, including from Hamas.

Hamas, however, has not issued any denial of involvement and on Thursday appeared to praise the apparent abduction.

"Regardless of who was responsible for the operation ... the Palestinian people have the right to use all forms of resistance in order to liberate land and people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a news conference in the Gaza Strip.

TUNNEL EXPLOSION

Hamas's armed wing in Gaza said at least six members of its group were killed in the collapse of a tunnel the group had dug close to the border with Israel to infiltrate the Jewish state.

Abbas roundly condemned the kidnappers on Wednesday and promised to hold to account those responsible. His words in turn were denounced by Hamas and other factions, who accused him of betraying the national cause.

Netanyahu called on Abbas and his more secular Fatah movement to turn their backs on Islamist Hamas, who have set up a unity government with the aim of healing a rift between the bitter Palestinian political rivals.

"I expect President Abbas to dissolve the union with this murderous terrorist organisation. I think that's important for our common future," the Israeli leader said.

On Tuesday, Hamas and 10 other Palestinian factions issued a joint communique warning Israel that they would not "stay handcuffed" in the face of its West Bank dragnet - a threat of armed resistance.

Later on Thursday, militants fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel, one of which was shot down by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile interceptor system, the military said. Neither caused any damage.

Security experts expect the frustration of ordinary Palestinians at Israeli restrictions in the West Bank to mount as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is due to begin on June 28 or 29.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Jonathan Oatis)

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