The manhunt for two suspects in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens continues, but aggressive efforts to find them have come up short.
Israel officials believe the men responsible are 29-year-old barber Marwan Qawasmeh and 33-year-old locksmith Amer Abu Aisha.
Israeli security agency Shin Bet named the men as the suspects in the kidnapping on June 26, 14 days after the abduction, but Israeli authorities have been looking for them from very early on.
Both men are from the West Bank city of Hebron, south of the Israeli settlement of Gush Etzion where Eyal Yifrah, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gilad Shaar, 19, were captured on June 12 while trying to hitchhike home from a religious school. Their bodies were found Monday buried under rocks in a pit near the Palestinian community of Halhul.
Qawasmeh and Aisha have been linked to the militant group Hamas, whose political wing controls the Gaza Strip and whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blames for the abduction and killings.
Israeli and international media reports have detailed the connections both men and their families are said to have to Hamas.
Qawasmeh’s Hamas connections
Both men have spent time in Israeli custody—Aisha twice and Qawasmeh five times, the first at age 18—and Qawasmeh, according to a New York Times report, told Israeli intelligence Hamas’ military wing had recruited him.
“In his last interrogation by Israeli forces in 2010, the military said, he admitted to having been ‘recruited to the Hamas’ military arm in Hebron since 2009,’ and said he had undergone combat training in the Hebron area. He was then imprisoned until March 2012,” Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported.
But his connection to Hamas reportedly goes beyond that.
Qawasmeh’s uncle, Abdullah Qawasmeh, was the head of military operations for Hamas before he was killed in 2003, The Times of Israel reported.
Plain-clothes members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) anti-terrorism unit shot and killed Abdullah in Hebron in an operation meant to capture him alive and gather information on Hamas.
Haaretz reported an IDF source saying at the time Abdullah was “the No. 1 wanted man on [the IDF's] list in the West Bank.”
The Qawasmeh family is one of the three largest clans in the Mount Hebron region,” Al-Monitor columnist Shlomi Eldar reported on June 29.
“At least 15 members of the family were killed during the second intifada, nine of them while committing suicide attacks against Israel,” he wrote.
But, after going into further detail about attacks linked to the Qawasmeh clan, Eldar wrote “[the Palestinian Authority] considers the actions of the Qawasmeh family a ‘gray area,’ which cannot be used as an indicator for what is happening within Hamas.”
Aisha’s Hamas connections
Aisha’s brother Zayd died in 2005 during “a clash with IDF solders in Hebron,” the Times of Israel reported, saying he was a member of Hamas.
The New York Times, citing Israeli security agency Shin Bet, reported Zayd was killed while trying to “hurl an explosive at Israeli soldiers.”
Aisha’s first arrest happened at around the same time, the Jewish Press reported.
“Abu Aisha was placed under administrative detention until the following June, then freed until he was re-arrested in April 2007, when he spent several weeks in custody again,” according to the Jewish Press.
Omar Aisha, the father, also has ties to Hamas and has spent time in Israeli custody, the Times of Israel reported.
Following the kidnapping of Yifrah, Fraenkel and Shaar, Israeli soldiers searched Aisha’s family’s home eight times and took DNA samples from his parents.
Monday night, after Israeli troops discovered the young men’s bodies, the IDF set off an explosion at the home Aisha lived in with his wife and two sons, in Hebron.
Omar Aisha denied his son had any involvement in the kidnapping or murders and instead claimed Israeli forces have captured him.
“I have not yet grasped that Amer and Marwan could kidnap three settlers from the most dangerous security square in Etzion. These are Israeli fabrications, whose goal could be is to strike Hamas in the West Bank and strike the national reconciliation,” he told Ma’an News.
The Times of Israel reported Aisha’s mother saying if her son “did take part in the kidnapping, she was proud of him and hoped he would continue to evade capture, both by Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces.”
© Shaw Media, 2014