Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opened Sunday morning's cabinet meeting with dramatic revelation over the kidnapping of three Israeli yeshiva students, saying that the Islamist terrorist group Hamas is behind the kidnapping, and vowing "serious consequences".
"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," Netanyahu began, referring to his statement last night in which he confirmed that the boys, who had been missing since Thursday night, had been kidnapped.
"Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas – the same Hamas that Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] made a unity government with; this has severe repercussions," vowed the PM.
"We are currently focusing all of our efforts on bringing the abductees back home. Before coming here, I spoke again with the families, and I embrace and encourage them from here, from the Cabinet table, and I know that I speak for all parts of the nation."
In a reflection of the seriousness with which the Prime Minister is taking the kidnapping crisis, this morning's cabinet meeting took place in his Tel Aviv office, instead of its regular Jerusalem location, to allow Netanyahu and other key officials to remain close to IDF headquarters as they work together with security forces to direct the search.
His statement fingering Hamas as the culprits confirms a report on Army Radio earlier this morning that IDF sources indicated that the kidnapping cell had ties to the Islamist group, which rules Gaza.
Speaking to US Secretary of State John Kerry last night, Netanyahu had already hinted at Hamas's involvement in the kidnapping, laying blame for it at the feet of the Palestinian Authority "unity government".
"What is happening on the ground since Hamas was added to the government is a deterioration of the situation. This is the direct result of allowing a murderous and racist terrorist organization into the government," Netanyahu told Kerry, according to Channel 2 News.
But the implications of such a definitive confirmation by the Prime Minister marks a serious turning point, and potentially opens the door to wide-ranging retaliatory measures against Hamas, both in Judea-Samaria and in Gaza.
According to Palestinian media outlets affiliated with Hamas, IDF forces have already raided hundreds of houses in Hevron, Jenin, Ramallah and other cities.
Officials said that more than 80 Hamas members were arrested overnight as part of the investigation into the kidnapping. Those detained include members of the so-called "unity government" between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
At least one of the terrorists arrested by IDF forces was apparently Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas official.
In addition, at least two Islamic Jihad terrorists were arrested in the Samarian city of Jenin.
Also overnight, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) struck several terrorist targets in Gaza, after terrorists fired rockets at Israeli civilians.
Meanwhile, security forces continue to scour the Hevron area both day and night, where intelligence reports indicate the boys are being held.
"Palestinian terrorists will not be able to feel safe or hide," the IDF Spokesperson's Office tweeted on Sunday morning. "They will feel the heavy arm of Israeli military capabilities."