Israel launched overnight air strikes on the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian teenager was shot dead in Jenin early Tuesday just hours after the discovery of the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers in a field near Hebron on Monday evening.
The homes of two Palestinian men named by Israel as prime suspects in the kidnapping and murder were also blown up by Israeli troops early Tuesday, according to Palestinian witnesses.
Israel has vowed to make Hamas, whom they hold responsible for the kidnapping, pay for their murder. The Islamist movement warned any reprisal attacks would open “the gates of hell”.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16 and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, had been missing since 12 June after they went hitchhiking at Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.
In the weeks since their kidnapping, the Israeli army’s Operation Brother’s Keeper has seen a manhunt throughout the West Bank, the arrest of more than 600 Palestinians including lawmaker and the killing of six Palestinians. The arrests have been met by rocket attacks on southern Israel by militants in the Gaza Strip and answered in turn by Israeli air strikes.
On Monday night, the Palestinian interior ministry reported around 30 Israeli air strikes on deserted militant training sites across Gaza, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. The Israeli military said in a statement that aircraft hit 34 separate targets.
Rocket attacks were also reported around 1:00AM Tuesday (22:00 GMT Monday) in the Negev desert region.
At the start of an emergency session of his security cabinet on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli teens were “kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals”.
“Hamas is responsible”, Netanyahu said, “and Hamas will pay”.
Hamas, which had denied any involvement in the abduction of the teenage boys, issued a warning in return to the Israelis.
“If the occupiers carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
In recent weeks, Hamas has dismissed the Israeli allegations, with Abu Zuhri accusing Israel of fabricating the kidnapping as an excuse to crack down on the movement.
“The occupation is trying to use this story to justify its extensive war against our people, against resistance and against Hamas,” he charged.
Abbas has come under massive Israeli pressure to renounce a reconciliation agreement with Hamas under which a merged administration for the West Bank and Gaza was formed in early June for the first time in seven years.
Deputy head of the Hamas politburo Ismail Haniyeh also said on Monday that his group is unfazed by the Israeli threats to target its members.
“The Israeli threats against Gaza and Hamas do not [scare] us, and we would stand up against any Israeli attempt to attack the Palestinian people,” Haniyeh told Anadolu Agency.
“The [Israeli] occupation’s threats would only push the Palestinian people to show more steadfastness against any Israeli bid to attack the Gaza Strip,” he added.
The Israeli youngsters’ bodies were found near the West Bank town of Halhul, some 10 minutes drive from the roadside where they were last seen hitchhiking.
One of the civilian volunteers involved in the search told Israeli Army Radio the bodies had been found under a pile of branches and stones in a remote area.
“Today, during a sweep with the army, one of the guys spotted something unusual, they started to move branches and stones and found the bodies,” said volunteer Benny Truper.
“It was a very isolated area, more or less at the end of the world.”
Israeli public radio said on Tuesday that the youths were apparently shot dead shortly after they were snatched.
Israelis gather outside the house of one of the missing teenagers after police confirmed that they had been killed (AFP)
During a Monday night meeting, the Israeli Security Council postponed its decision over the possible reactions to the discovery of the bodies in the wake of “fierce disagreement”, according to local news sources.
The council will meet again on Tuesday to discuss what steps will be taken, amid reports of mounting political pressure on Netanyahu to be seen to take decisive action.
Israeli army spokesperson Peter Lerner says “We have absolutely no interest in escalation with Hamas in Gaza but we will not succumb to rocket terrorism.”
In the northern West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead 18-year-old Palestinian early Tuesday during a raid into the Jenin refugee camp, Palestinian security and medical officials said.
They named the dead youth as Yusuf Abu Zagher.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said that he was a Hamas operative about to hurl an explosive device at troops sent to arrest him.
“They opened fire and confirmed a hit,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, a 28-year-old Palestinian was run over by a settler and a 9-year-old was also reportedly run over by a settler in a separate attack, Al Jazeera reported. Both are said to be in critical condition.
‘Inexcusable Act of Terror’
US President Barack Obama condemned the killings and warned against actions that could further “destabilise” the situation, amid the 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.
British Prime Minister David Cameron slammed an “inexcusable act of terror” and pledged to stand with Israel as it seeks justice.
French President Francois Hollande denounced the “cowardly murder” of the teens which German Chancellor Angela Merkel called “a detestable act for which there is no excuse”.
Pope Francis, who last month visited Israel and the West Bank, called the killing “an abominable crime”.
“This is a serious obstacle on the path to peace for which we must continue to pray and continue to be involved,” a Vatican statement quoted him as saying.
(Middle East Eye – http://www.middleeasteye.net)