Israel re-arrested 51 Palestinians freed in a 2011 prisoner swap deal, the army said on Wednesday, in the sixth day of a massive search for three missing teens believed abducted in the occupied West Bank.
Israel has accused Islamist group Hamas of kidnapping the seminary students, who disappeared last Thursday while hitchhiking close to a Jewish settlement. Hamas has neither denied nor claimed responsibility for the abduction.
A military spokesman said more than 65 Palestinians were detained overnight, including 51 who were part of a group of 1,027 prisoners released by Israel three years ago in return for soldier Gilad Shalit, who was seized by Hamas in 2006.
"We have two efforts ongoing in parallel. First is to bring back the boys, and the second is to take a toll on Hamas for its actions," spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.
Palestinians said the majority of those re-arrested were affiliated with Hamas, and accused Israel of reneging on the prisoner-swap deal, which was partially brokered by Egypt.
"What Israel is doing has nothing to do with security, but is a policy of revenge," said Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, which advocates on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli custody.
According to the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency, Sami Abu Zuhri- spokesman of Hamas- described Israel's accusations as "stupid."
Abu Zuhri said that Israel aims to "break Hamas" through the ongoing arrests in the West Bank, claiming that such goal will never be achieved.
The Israeli escalation in the West Bank and Gaza reflects an Israeli state of confusion, spokesman of the Islamist movement noted.
Israeli officials have said they want to make clear to Hamas that it will pay a high price for the abduction. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was swift to praise the latest arrests, which brought the total number of those detained to 240.
"The operation tonight in which Hamas terrorists were arrested, including some who had been freed in exchange for the return of Gilad Shalit, is a component with an important message in a series of many actions," he said in a statement.
Since the disappearance of Gil-Ad Shaer and US-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, Israeli raids have spread from house-to-house searches in Hebron, a Hamas stronghold, to Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank.
Lerner said the military had raided the offices of institutions that provide civilian support for Hamas, including the group's Al-Aqsa radio station. He said computers and documents were seized.
"It's a multi-dimensional operation, both overt and covert and indeed, it is going to strike a substantial blow to Hamas, its infrastructure, its institutions, its lifeline and everything that keeps it going," he said.
Israel Radio reported on Wednesday morning that Egypt had begun mediation efforts for the return of the teenagers. There was no immediate confirmation of this.
This story was edited by Ahram Online.