Israel believes the killers of three Israeli teenagers are still in the Hebron area, military sources said early Tuesday, hours after the bodies of the three, who were kidnapped on June 12, were found in a field north of Hebron.
Nonetheless, the sources said, they had not ruled out the possibility that the murderers, alleged by Israel to be Hamas terrorists, had managed to escape to other parts of the West Bank or beyond.
The IDF stressed that Operation Brothers’ Keeper, launched in the aftermath of the kidnapping, was still in progress, and the head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, promised that the IDF would do everything necessary to locate the killers.
“At this time, thousands of soldiers and commanders are continuing their mission,” Alon said. “For us, the mission is not over. The troops, together with Shin Bet and police forces, continue to do all that is necessary to locate the kidnappers — terrorists of the Hamas organization. We will not rest until it is complete.”
Following the discovery of the three bodies, IDF troops descended on the home of one of the alleged kidnappers Marwan Kawasme and confiscated his car, while other houses in the area were searched as well. The Kawasme home was reported to have been blown up later Monday by the IDF, but military sources said later that only the front door had been blown off.
Kawasme’s wife, Abrar, was arrested on Sunday, and released Monday. Omar Abu Aysha, the father of the other suspect, Amer Abu Aysha, was said to be detained by the IDF on Sunday.
The Israel police raised preparedness among its troops to a level just under its highest alert.
The bodies of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16, were found near Halhul north of Hebron 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.
Israeli authorities on Thursday had named the two Hamas members as prime suspects in the kidnapping. Abu Aysha and 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.
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.”