Tel aviv: The bodies of three missing Israeli teenagers, including one with US citizenship, have been found close to the southern West Bank city of Hebron, according to multiple Israeli media reports.
Security officials told Israeli media the bodies were found yesterday near the village of Halhul, not far from the location where the teenagers disappeared on June 12. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for releasing the information ahead of a formal announcement.
The three, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel who were both 16, went missing while hitchhiking back from their religious schools in settlements on the West Bank, prompting claims from the Israeli government that they had been kidnapped by the militants from the Islamist organisation Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for killing three Israeli teenagers and vowed that they would answer for it.
“They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals in human form,” his office quoted him as saying. “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”
Hamas has dismissed the Israeli allegations as “stupid” with its spokesman Abu Zuhri accusing Israel of fabricating the kidnapping as an excuse to crack down on the Islamist movement.
“The disappearance and murder of the three Israelis is only based on the Israeli narrative, and the occupation is trying to use this story to justify its extensive war against our people, against resistance and against Hamas,” he charged. Any Israeli action to punish Hamas for the alleged murder of three teenagers would open “the gates of hell,” the Islamist movement warned.
“If the occupiers carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. The warning came shortly after Israel confirmed finding the bodies of the three students who disappeared while hitchhiking in the southern West Bank on June 12.
The case prompted a massive manhunt by soldiers, police and members of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet that saw 400 Palestinians arrested — mainly members of Hamas — and five killed. The hunt for the three missing youths has galvanised Israeli society, prompting round the clock coverage and large rallies — the most recent in Tel Aviv on Sunday — calling for their release.
As the search went on, concerns mounted for the teenagers safety amid pointed and grim reminders in the Israeli media that West Bank kidnapping victims historically had often been killed shortly after their abduction.
Early reports on social media and elsewhere suggested the bodies had been found in a rocky gully close to Halhul a town at the entrance to Hebron, a city of 750,000, although that could not immediately be confirmed.
However, reports suggested that the access to the area had been sealed by military roadblocks. The abduction of the three youths has become a heated political issue both on the domestic and international political front, with Palestinian leaders accusing the Israeli government of using it as an excuse to smash the new Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas.
However, even within Palestinian circles cross to President Mahmoud Abbas, concerns had been growing over the potential fallout that would follow the revelation the teenagers had been kidnapped or killed by militants associated with, or member of, Hamas with one official telling the Guardian the unity government would be dead in the water.
US President Barack Obama yesterday condemned the “senseless” murder of three Israeli teenagers and warned against actions that could further “destabilise” the situation, amid threats of retaliation against Hamas.
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth,” Obama said in a written statement.
The killing of three Israeli teenagers is an “inexcusable act of terror” and Britain will back Jerusalem in bringing those responsible to justice, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.Agencies