A heretofore unknown Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers on Wednesday, Palestinian media reported.
A message from a group identifying itself as the “Hezbollah Brigades” stated that the kidnapping was in retaliation for the assassination of senior Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad member Imad Mughniyeh in 2008.
The claim, which appeared on the website of the Gaza-based Amad Press, is the latest in a string of missives claiming responsibility for the June 12 abduction of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaar from a hitchhiking post in the West Bank, but none has been thought to be credible.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the kidnapping, though the Islamist group has denied involvement.
Hezbollah mouthpiece al-Manar TV did not report on the new claim, raising doubts whether the group is in fact linked to the Lebanese Shiite militant organization.
Mughniyeh was a key military commander of Hezbollah’s paramilitary and intelligence arms. His assassination is widely believed to have been carried out by Israeli agents and Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate.
In February 2012, on the fourth anniversary of the Hezbollah commander’s death, Israel’s diplomatic missions in India and Georgia were attacked, and analysts connected the offensives with Hezbollah.
In May of that year five Israelis were killed in a bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria. A Bulgarian investigation later implicated Hezbollah.
Since the kidnapping, thousands of Israeli troops have searched hundreds of locations in the West Bank and arrested some 400 Palestinians, many from Hamas, including some who were freed in a 2011 prisoner exchange for Hamas-kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Israeli officials have publicly stated that in addition to rescuing the teens, weakening Hamas and breaking up the Palestinian unity government are goals in the operation.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.