Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to several world leaders Monday night, hours after the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found near Hebron in the West Bank, and asked them for help in reining in an Israeli response.
According to Israel Radio, Abbas was set to convene a meeting in Ramallah Tuesday to discuss the possible measures Israel may take in response to the murders, which it has blamed on Hamas. Abbas is said to be anticipating a firm Israeli demand that the Palestinian Authority end its unity pact with Hamas.
On Monday evening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed a decision on a response, opting to reconvene a security cabinet meeting after the funerals of Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach, which were set for Tuesday afternoon.
Early Tuesday morning, the Israeli Air Force struck 34 targets in the Gaza Strip in response to ongoing rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave.
Netanyahu vowed Monday night that “Hamas will pay” for the murders of the three Israeli teenagers, who were kidnapped on June 12.
Later Monday night, Israeli forces blew off the doors at the family home of Marwan Kawasme, one of the two Hamas members alleged by Israel to have carried out the killings. Military sources said earlier reports that the home was demolished were incorrect.
Netanyahu said it was “with great sorrow that we found the three bodies” — of Fraenkel, 16,Shaar, 16, and Yifrach, 19 — who he said were “kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals… Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,” he said.
The bodies were found in an area near Halhul on Monday afternoon. Israeli security forces, which had been conducting extensive searches in the area, sealed off the area and declared it a closed military zone. Hebron was also sealed off.
A search team from the local Kfar Etzion field school, along with IDF soldiers from an elite unit, found the teens. The local volunteers had been asking for two weeks to join the search.
Fraenkel, Shaar, and Yifrach were kidnapped on the night of June 12 at a hitchhiking post outside the settlement of Alon Shvut in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem. “They were on their way to home to be with their parents,” said Netanyahu bitterly, “but will not see them again.”
The bodies were found at about 5:30 p.m., bound and partially buried, in an open field in a hard-to-access area known as Wadi Tellem near Halhul. The site is less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from where the teens had been abducted.
The parents were informed on Monday evening that the bodies had been found. Relatives gathered in the three family homes; spokespeople for the families thanked the Israeli security forces for their efforts to locate the teenagers, and thanked the public for their support and solidarity.
Netanyahu telephoned the families and expressed his condolences. “The entire nation is crying as one,” he said.
The three Israeli teenagers had been killed soon after their abduction, and the bodies were apparently disposed of hurriedly. The bodies were not in a good condition when they were found, Channel 2 said. “It was a harrowing sight.”
Forensic experts identified the bodies at the scene. The bodies were flown to the Abu Kabir Institute for Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv on Monday evening for definitive identification. Israelis placed mourning candles outside the institute later Monday night.
Israel’s security cabinet convened in emergency session. Among other decisions, it was expected to demand that Abbas sever his unity government partnership with Hamas.
Israeli authorities on Thursday had named two Hamas members as prime suspects in the kidnapping.
The two, Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme, have been missing from their homes in Hebron’s Hares neighborhood ever since the kidnapping took place. The two were allegedly in the car in which the three were abducted.
The two were still at large on Monday night, and Israel’s security forces were making intensive efforts to track them down.
Hamas leaders in the Hebron area were reported to have made themselves scarce, anticipating that they would be sought by the security forces. Hamas has not taken responsibility for the kidnapping and killings; a Hamas spokesman was quoted warning on Monday night that “any Israeli response will open the gates of hell.”
Hamas officials in Hebron confirmed the two suspects were members, and said Israeli troops had targeted the men’s homes since the beginning of Operation Brother’s Keeper. The officials said troops had entered the homes several times, conducting intense searches and confiscating items as evidence.
Since the start of Operation Brother’s Keeper to find them, 18 days of searches had seen the arrests of over 400 Palestinians, a majority of them members of Hamas.