ABOVE: Israeli authorities have located the bodies of the three teens missing since June 12 – but will it lead to further escalation of violence?
Israeli forces have located the bodies of three kidnapped teens not far from the West Bank city of Hebron.
The Israeli government confirmed the bodies of 19-year-old Eyal Yifrah and 16-year-olds Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel were located north of the city, Israeli news sources have reported.
Israeli News agency Haaretz reported he bodies were found near the Palestinian town of Halhul, saying “a large contingent of Israeli security forces were in the West Bank Monday evening between… Halhul and the West Bank settlement Karmei Tzur.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and killing of Yifrah, Shaar and Fraenkel, saying “Hamas will pay.”
Netanyahu made the comments as he opened an emergency cabinet meeting for Monday evening in response to the discovery of the bodies.
“With deep sorrow we found three bodies this evening, and all the signs point to them being the bodies of the three kidnapped teens, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals,” Haaretz reported Netanyahu saying.
The teens disappeared near the Israeli settlement of Gush Etzion, in the West Bank on June 12, prompting the Israeli government to launch a sweep of communities in the Palestinian territory.
The Washington Post reported it has been the “most aggressive military sweep and manhunt in the Palestinian territory in a decade.”
The military sweep has left five Palestinians dead, including 15-year-old Mohammed Dudeen, who was shot during an Israeli raid in the village of Dura. Israeli forces arrested more than 400 Palestinians during the manhunt, Al Jazeera reported.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnappings, and his forces co-ordinated closely with Israel during the search for the teens. But Netanyahu has called on Abbas to dissolve a unity government recently formed with the backing of Hamas, saying it is impossible to be committed to peace while simultaneously sitting together with a group that kidnaps Israelis.
Abbas has so far refused the calls, saying his new government is committed to his political program. Hamas is not part of his government, but has lent its backing from the outside.
Hamas responded to Monday’s developments by denying any connection to the kidnapping or murder of the three teens.
“We reject all Israeli allegations and threats against us. We are already used to it and will know how to defend ourselves. No Palestinian group, Hamas or any other group, has taken responsibility for the action, and thus the Israeli version can’t be trusted,” Haaretz reported Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhuri saying.
The kidnapping has been condemned internationally, including by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
WATCH: A spokesperson for the United States State Department said Monday that the U.S. was continuing to call for restraint on both sides, urging them not to abandon efforts at joint security
“We continue to offer our full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens, and we have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services. We understand that cooperation is ongoing,” Kerry said in a June 15 statement.
Kerry also called the kidnapping a “despicable terrorist act” and said Hamas appeared to be to blame.
Fraenkel is Israeli but holds a U.S. passport. His mother told the Washington Post on June 22 she believed “the children are alive, that they will be brought back to us.”
Fraenkel is a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen from the Israeli community of Nof Ayalon. His grandparents moved to Israel from the Flatbush neighbourhood of Brooklyn in 1956.
In a speech in front of the U.N. Human Rights Council on June 24, his mother Rachelle made an emotional plea to the world to do more to help find the boys.
Rachelle called her son an ordinary teenager who “loves to play guitar and basketball, a good student and a good boy, a combination of serious and fun.” Naftali texted his mother the night he went missing, saying he was on his way home.
Shaar was from the West Bank settlement of Talmon. His family described him as an amateur pastry chef who loved to watch movies.
Yifrah was from the town of Elad, is described as loving sports and cooking.
In two YouTube videos recently shared by his family, Yifrah can be seen performing a song he composed for his cousin’s wedding, and singing with a friend just a week before the kidnapping.
Canada joined other nations in condemning the murders of Yifrah, Shaar and Fraenkel.
Foreign Minister John Baird said he was “personally dismayed to hear the horrific news” on Monday and gave his condolences to the families of the teens.
“Canada hopes that the perpetrators of this heinous act are swiftly brought to justice, and we call on the Palestinian Authority to work with Israeli authorities toward this end,” Baird said.
He offered “Canada’s unwavering support” and said Canadian ambassador to Israel, Vivian Bercovici, would pay respects on behalf of the government.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office issued a statement calling on all sides to “refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation.”
“There can be no justification for the deliberate killing of civilians. He hopes Israeli and Palestinian authorities will work together to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice, and extends his deepest sympathy to the families of the victims,” the statement read.
U.S. President Barack Obama echoed the comments from Ban’s office and condemned “in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth.
“As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing,” Obama said in a statement released Monday afternoon.
With files from The Associated Press
Ed. Note: The spellings of the names of the three victims are consistent with reporting from The Associated Press
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