Israel mourns teens; Gaza hit by air strikes

July 02, 2014 - 8:47:45 am

MODI’IN: Tens of thousands of mourners joined in an outpouring of national grief yesterday at the burial of three Israeli teenagers whose kidnapping and killing Israel blamed on the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

In his eulogy at the cemetery in the centre of the country, President Shimon Peres, a usually dovish elder statesman, echoed official vows to punish Hamas.

“I know that the murderers will be found. Israel will act with a heavy hand until terror is uprooted,” he said at the ceremony in Modi’in, a town between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Israel bombed dozens of sites in the Gaza Strip yesterday, wounding two Palestinians, as it struck at Hamas a day after finding the bodies of the three youths in the occupied West Bank, not far from where they went missing while hitchhiking on June 12.

After the funeral, Israel’s security cabinet convened for a second time in as many days. Officials said ministers were split on Monday on the scope of any further action in the coastal enclave or in the West Bank. The United States and regional power-broker Egypt urged restraint.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before yesterday’s meeting that Israel “must strike hard at Hamas people and infrastructure in the West Bank” and would weigh further attacks to prevent rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel.

Netanyahu vowed to strike at anyone involved in the kidnappings. “We will get them, even if it takes time,” he said.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said “Hamas’s leaders and members should know that the blood of whoever dares strike at the citizens of Israel is forfeit. They should know that we will pursue them wherever they are and hit them hard.”

Just before the funeral, a recording of a furtive cellphone call one of the abducted teens made to a police emergency number was broadcast on Israeli television stations.

“They’ve kidnapped me,” the youngster said. Shouted orders in Arabic-accented Hebrew — “head down, head down” — and the sound of what appeared to be muffled gunfire followed before the call ended.

The military said aircraft attacked 34 targets in Gaza, mostly belonging to Hamas, but did not link the strikes to the abductions. The military cited 18 Palestinian rockets launched against Israel from Gaza in the past two days.

Palestinian medics said two people were slightly wounded.

The Islamist group has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the disappearance of the students nor in the cross-border rocket salvoes from Gaza.

Two more rockets fired from Gaza struck Israel last evening, causing no casualties, the military said.

Before their joint burial in the Israeli city of Modi’in, funeral services were held outside the homes of Gil-Ad Shaer and US-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19.

Israeli television and radio stations interrupted regular programming to broadcast the funeral, which began more than an hour late as large crowds streamed into the cemetery.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel against going too far.

“The response of the resistance has been limited, and Netanyahu must not test Hamas’s patience,” said Abu Zuhri, whose group’s arsenal includes rockets that can reach Tel Aviv.

In the West Bank yesterday, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian who a military spokeswoman said threw a grenade at soldiers attempting to detain a militant. A Palestinian witness said the 19-year-old killed by the troops was a passer-by.

The men Israel has accused of carrying out the abductions are still at large.

Troops set off explosions late on Monday in the family homes of the alleged abductors in the West Bank town of Hebron, blowing open a doorway in one, an army spokeswoman said. The other property was on fire after the blast. Soldiers who arrested one suspect’s father and brothers ordered the inhabitants of the dwellings to leave before the detonations.