Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, of kidnapping three Israeli teenagers that went missing on Thursday night.
At the start of a weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: "This morning I can say what I was unable to say yesterday before the extensive wave of arrests of Hamas members in Judea and Samaria."
"Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas -- the same Hamas that Abu Mazen made a unity government with; this has severe repercussions."
Despite Netanyahu’s convictions, Hamas deny any wrongdoing and claim that the boys went missing on Israeli controlled land.
The announcement by Netanyahu comes a day after the Israeli military arrested a number of Palestinians during a raid in the West Bank.
According to reports from Israeli Army officials, about 80 people had been arrested in the raid, which was part of the Israeli Defence Force’s efforts to try and find the missing boys.
It was reported on Hamas’ website that of those arrested, 60 were members of the group, with two former cabinet ministers and seven Hamas legislators also among those to have been detained.
One of the most prominent of these legislators is Hassan Yousef a senior Hamas activist and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The raid came after the Israeli Army stepped up their search for the three Israeli teenagers that went missing just north of the Palestinian city of Hebron on Thursday.
The students – two are reported to be 16 and the third 19 – are said to have disappeared close to the Alon Shvut settlement on their journey back home from school.
The Israeli intelligence agencies quickly suspected that the boys had been kidnapped when it was found that the tracking devices on the their phones had been blocked.
Since then, Israeli security forces have been patrolling the area and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has put pressure on the Palestinian government to help secure the safe return of the teenagers.
On Saturday, Netanyahu said that he had been in talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and asked Abbas “to do everything to help bring the boys back in peace."
Spokesman for the Israel Defence Force, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said on Saturday that the IDF were committed in resolving this endeavour” and “would use all means at hand in order to do so.”
He added: "We are determined in bringing the boys home in a [hasty] manner, in safety and in good health. Palestinian terrorists will not feel safe, will not be able to hide and will feel the heavy arm of the Israeli military capabilities."