An Israeli military court on Wednesday convicted a Palestinian man for masterminding the kidnapping and slaying of three Israeli teenagers earlier this year.
Hussam Kawasme, 40, was found guilty of planning and financing the kidnapping and murders of Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach. Kawasme also stands accused of trading in war equipment, obstruction of justice and harboring wanted fugitives, but has not yet been convicted of the charges.
Kawasme previously served six years in an Israeli prison for his involvement in Hamas terror attacks.
He was arrested on July 11 and admitted to his role in the attack as well as fingering other family members and acquaintances, detailing their role in the June 12 killing of Shaar, Fraenkel and Yifrach after the three Israeli teens were abducted from a hitchhiking post in Gush Etzion in the central West Bank. The teenagers were shot dead in the escape vehicle shortly after they were snatched.
According to the Shin Bet General Security Services, the two men at the heart of planning the attack were Hussam and his brother Mahmoud Kawasme. The latter, who lives in Gaza, was released in 2011 from a 20-year sentence in an Israeli prison for his role in a 2004 suicide attack in Beersheba and exiled, as part of the Gilad Shalit deal, to the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave.
The alleged actual perpetrators of the kidnapping and murders, Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha, were both killed during a September arrest attempt in Hebron. Forces descended on the house where the suspects were believed to be hiding and began firing heavily on the home. Both were killed after refusing to surrender.
Hussam, whom the Shin Bet had described as playing a “staff officer role” in the attack, asked his brother for, and received, NIS 220,000 ($61,000) in cash in order to fund an attack.
With the money, which was allegedly hand-delivered to Hussam’s mother in envelopes, he bought two rifles and two handguns from Adnan Zaro, 34, of Hebron, and two cars – one for the abduction and one for the escape.
After disposing of the bodies and torching the newly stolen Hyundai used for the kidnapping, the Shin Bet said Marwan Kawasme arrived at Hussam’s house and explained the complications in the plan. The two then allegedly decided to retrieve the bodies and to bury them on a plot of land that Hussam had recently purchased.
On June 30, once the bodies were found by an Israeli search team in a field outside Hebron in late June, Hussam planned to flee to Jordan with forged papers, but was arrested beforehand in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Security forces destroyed Kawasme’s home in Hebron in August.
The disappearance of the three Israeli teens triggered a massive search operation and crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, with hundreds of members being arrested.
Tensions were further ratcheted up after their bodies were found and following the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammed Abu Kdheir in an alleged revenge attack. The events contributed to the lead up to the 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
JTA contributed to this report.