Israel’s search for the three kidnapped teenagers—Naftali Fraenkel, an Israeli with American citizenship, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach—concluded on Monday when their bodies were found in a field near Hebron between the Palestinian villages of Halhoul and Bayt Kahil.
For the past 18 days, the Shin Bet, the IDF, and the Israeli police have been conducting an extensive investigation and search that eventually led them to the three teenagers’ bodies. According to press reports, the yeshiva students were kidnapped while hitchhiking home on the evening of June 12th. While one of them managed to call the police from his cell phone to indicate they had been kidnapped, Israeli authorities now believe that the students were murdered in the back seat of the kidnappers’ vehicle soon afterwards.
Israelis light candles in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on June 30, 2014 after the announcement that the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers had been found near Hebron. (Photo: AFP)
The Israeli Government has publicly blamed Hamas for the murders and has identified two Hamas operatives from Hebron as the main suspects in the teenagers’ deaths. Amer Abu Aisheh and Marwan Qawasmeh have not been seen at their homes since the kidnapping and are still at-large. After the boys bodies were discovered, Israeli troops blew off the doors of the alleged abductors’ homes.
Since the kidnapping, Prime Minister Netanyahu has challenged Palestinian Authority President Abbas to abandon his power-sharing government with Hamas. After the funerals, Netanyahu promised that Israel will capture the murderers, to suppress Hamas activities in the West Bank, and target Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip. According to Haaretz, cabinet ministers are split on how to respond to the horrific killings, pitting hawks such as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon against Justice Minister Tzipi Livni over the scale of a military response. In Washington, President Obama condemned the attack in “the strongest possible terms” calling it a “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”
While postponing any decision on a larger, more comprehensive response, the Israeli Air Force launched 34 targeted air strikes on the Gaza Strip in order to suppress rocket fire on Monday evening. Over 60 rockets have been fired into Israel since the kidnapping, including a number during the funerals of the three boys. The Israeli army issued a statement, saying it “will continue to act with determination, as much is needed against any element that carries out terrorism against Israel. The Hamas terrorist organization, and all of its branches…is responsible.”