Hamas and Palestinian leadership continue to refer to three kidnapped Israeli teenagers as "soldiers" even though two of the boys are 16 and none serves in the Israeli military. During an Al-Jazeera interview Monday, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal would not say whether his organization is responsible for the abduction, but insisted that the boys were "settlers and soldiers in the Israeli army," the Times of Israel reports.
Meshaal also praised the kidnappings: "Blessed be the hands that captured them. This is a Palestinian duty, the responsibility of the Palestinian people. Our prisoners must be freed; not Hamas's prisoners – the prisoners of the Palestinian people."
The statement indicates that the main objective of the kidnappings is to facilitate a future swap for Palestinian detainees. The boys, Yeshiva students who disappeared June 12, are not "youths, as Israel calls them, but first and foremost settlers… and not even regular settlers, but armed ones."
Israel accuses Hamas of orchestrating the operation and points to a previous Meshaal speech that sanctioned the abduction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to Meshaal's interview, emphasizing that Hamas is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state and is waging a war against all Israeli citizens and Jews around the world.
Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to break the recent alliance forged with Hamas in light of the kidnappings.
Meanwhile, the mothers of the three boys went to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to appeal for the release of their sons. Speaking to the council, Naftali's mother Rachel Frenkel addressed the council's president. She noted that international humanitarian law prohibits taking hostages.
"Mr. President, it is wrong to take children, innocent boys and girls, and use them as instruments of any struggle," Frenkel said. "It is cruel. This council is charged with protecting human rights. I wish to ask: Doesn't every child have the right to come home safely from school?"