Mourning, military strikes after Israeli teens found dead
Watch above: Israel’s air force targeted Hamas locations in the Gaza Strip and destroyed the West Bank homes of the men the government accuses of kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teens. Stuart Greer reports.
The past day in Israel has been one of mourning and military strikes as the country laid to rest three murdered teens and Israeli forces aggressively hunted their killers.
Israeli soldiers discovered the bodies of Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrah north of the West Bank city of Hebron on Monday.
As thousands of people turned out to pay final respects to the three young men, more details have emerged about their kidnapping, the manhunt and Israel’s sweep of Palestinian communities in response to the murders.
What happened on June 12?
The young men were kidnapped on June 12, hitchhiking home from a religious school in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion.
Israeli authorities revealed Monday that Shaar, Yifrah and Fraenkel were shot to death the day they were kidnapped. Their bodies were found buried under rocks in a pit near the Palestinian town of Halhul.
Eighteen days after the three teens disappeared, the Israeli government has lifted a gag order on the emergency call Shaar made after they were abducted.
According to Israeli news agency Haaretz, Shaar whispered “They kidnapped me” to the operator.
It was shortly after that one of their captors could be heard shouting “Head down” in the background and later gunshots, Haaretz reported.
An investigation into the handling of the emergency call lead to the dismissal of some emergency hotline staff: Haaretz reported that proper procedures were not followed and some staff believed the call to be a prank.
As a result, rescue efforts were delayed.
Who does Israel suspect?
Israel has outright blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and the murders of the three young men, vowing to punish those responsible.
In the meantime, Israeli forces are on the hunt for two men in particular and have carried out a series of raids in the West Bank.
The men are 29-year-old barber Marwan Qawasmeh and 33-year-old locksmith Amer Abu Aisha—both are linked to Hamas, according to Israeli security agency Shin Bet.
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 reported to have been arrested in the past—Qawasmeh five times, Aisha twice—and Qawasmeh reportedly once told Israeli intelligence officials he had been recruited by the military wing of Hamas.
The military attacked their homes in Hebron Monday night, causing extensive damage but failing to located either suspect.
How aggressive is Israel’s response?
More than 400 people have been arrested since the kidnapping in the hunt for the young men’s captors and suspected murderers.
Following the discovery of their dead bodies on Monday, Israel carried out air strikes on 34 targets in the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, but officials said that’s in response to at least 18 rockets that have flown from Gaza into Israel since Sunday.
Among those killed were a 20-year-old Yousif Zagha whom Israeli troops shot during a raid of in Jenin early Tuesday.
The Associated Press reported Zagha threw a grenade at the troops, while the man’s family said he was carrying eggs home for a predawn meal before the daylight fast for Ramadan.
Although Netanyahu promised revenge, Israel is also trying to control extreme reaction among its own people.
Haaretz reported about 100 people chanted “death to Arabs” in a protest through Jerusalem that took place while the service was underway, and police arrested two people among a crowd of right-wing activists who were barred from entering a market.
Haaretz also reported on attacks against Arabs in Jerusalem, including a teenager accused of assaulting a taxi driver with tear gas. There were other reports of violence against Arabs and anti-Arab vandalism.
Israeli politician Zahava Gal-on told Haaretz, “Netanyahu must not let the extreme right elements within the government fan the flames.
“There should be a distinction between the perpetrators, who should be punished to the full extent of the law, and the moderate forces in the PA – namely [Mahmoud] Abbas – who have condemned the kidnapping and supported the two-state solution.”
What is the Palestinian response?
Aside from the attacks on Gaza and raids in the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not said how he will respond to the attack on three innocent Israelis.
Hamas said it is prepared for a confrontation if it gets to that, Ma’an reported.
“Hamas isn’t a superpower (ready) to fight a war against Israel, harming our people,” Ma’an reported Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri saying.
Hamas has denied any connection to the murders, but it hasn’t condemned the acts either and there have been examples of Palestinians appearing to celebrate the kidnapping.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) June 17, 2014
While the search for Shaar, Yifrah and Fraenkel was still underway, the Israeli Defense Force circulated social media images of Palestinians, including children, holding up three fingers. The gesture was reported to be a celebration of the kidnappings.
A photo associated with the “3 Shalit’s campaign, through which Palestinians reportedly celebrated the kidnappings of three Israeli teens.
It was dubbed the “Three Shalits” campaign—a reference to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas held captive for five years and only released in 2011 in exchange for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
How is the world reacting?
Internationally, there has been condemnation for the slaying of Shaar, Yifrah and Fraenkel.
Canada, the U.S. and the United Nations all issued official statements deploring the murders but also urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work together to bring those responsible for the murders to justice.
The United Nations, which had already expressed alarm at the strength of Israel’s response to the kidnappings, asked both sides “to refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation.”
Amnesty International, while condemning the murders, also expressed concern at the intensity of Israel’s response.
“Nothing can justify these abductions and murders, which we again condemn. Those responsible must be brought to justice,” Amnesty’s Philip Luther said in a statement. “But justice will not be served by Israel seeking revenge by imposing collective punishment, or committing other violations of Palestinians’ rights.”
With files from The Associated Press
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