Published July 01, 2014FoxNews.com
Hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that “Hamas will pay” for the murders of three Israeli teens, Israel's air force launched strikes on dozens of targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The bodies of the youths -- including one with U.S. citizenship -- were found Monday just north of Hebron in the West Bank, and led to outpourings of grief and rage in the Jewish State.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, disappeared on June 12 while hitchhiking home.
The Israeli air force conducted airstrikes early Tuesday morning against 34 targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks against Israel's southern communities. It was not immediately clear if the airstrikes, which targeted Hamas and Islamic Jihad assets in the strip and came after more than 20 rockets were fired into southern Israel over the past two days, resulted in any casualties, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Also on Tuesday, a Palestinian who Israel said was a member of Hamas was shot dead when he threw a grenade at forces carrying out an arrest raid in the West Bank. The man was the first casualty since the bodies were found in a shallow grave in an open field in the village of Halhul.
Israel has said two well-known Hamas operatives from Hebron are the primary suspects. The men, Amer Abu Aisheh, 33, a locksmith, and Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, a barber, have not been seen since the teens disappeared, and military officials said the search for them would continue.
Israeli soldiers blew up a door of Abu Aisheh's home in Hebron early Tuesday, causing damage to the home, but did not destroy the rest of the house, said an Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to protocol. He did not elaborate. Flames were seen after the blast.
"(The teens) were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals," Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying at a hastily arranged security cabinet meeting on Monday. "In the name of the whole of Israel, I ask to tell the dear families - to the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers and the grandfathers, the brothers and sisters - our hearts are bleeding, the whole nation is crying with them."
A Defense official said based on the investigation that the teens were shot soon after they were abducted. He spoke anonymously in line with protocol as the investigation is still ongoing.
The teens are to be laid to rest on Tuesday afternoon.
Large crowds of Israelis went to the homes of the families in the central Israeli towns of Nof Ayalon and Elad, and the West Bank settlement of Talmon, to pay their respects, while supporters lit memorial candles and prayed.
Large gatherings were also held in Tel Aviv's central Rabin Square, and at the West Bank junction where the youths were abducted, with Israelis singing hymns and songs, praying and lighting candles shaped in the names of the youths or the Jewish Star of David.
"(The teens) were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals."
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
"Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay," Netanyahu vowed.
President Obama called the killings of the teens a "senseless act of terror."
"As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing," he said in a statement. "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth."
Fraenkel's cousin, David Halberstam, told Fox News that the family is devastated, saying his 90-year-old mother, who lost relatives in the Holocaust, "broke down" when she heard the news.
"It's - your worst fears are realized. And it's awfully, awfully difficult. We haven't quite absorbed everything yet," he said.
Netanyahu's comments amplified earlier remarks from President Shimon Peres, who said Israel would pursue the killers.
"The entire nation is bowing its head with unbearable sorrow this evening," Peres said. "Over the past 18 days the nation prayed as one that the fate of our wonderful teenagers would be that they are found alive and well. Now that the bitter news has come, the entire Israeli nation mourns the premature death of our finest youth … Alongside deep sorrow, we will remain resolute to punish the atrocious terrorists. Our war on terrorism will only intensify and will not waver so that this murderous terrorism won't dare to rear its head."
The abductions outraged the Jewish state as well as the international community, and several vigils and rallies were held around the U.S. during the intensive hunt. Hundreds of Palestinians took part in the search, dubbed "Brother's Keeper."
The three youths disappeared as they were heading home from a West Bank religious school. Israeli officials said at the time that one of the teens called a police emergency line around 10:25 p.m. local time and said: "We've been kidnapped." They were not heard from again.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticized the kidnapping and pledged help in the search but denied there was evidence linking Hamas to the crime. Hamas, which governs the Palestinian territories jointly with the PA, praised the kidnapping without claiming responsibility.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of using the murders as a pretext for aggression.
"Only the Israeli version of the events has been published. Israel is attempting to make way for aggression against us, against the Hamas," Zuhri said. "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."
Israeli forces searched more than 1,000 sites for the missing teenagers, rounding up Hamas and Islamic Jihad suspects as part of the operation.
Binyamin Proper, who was among the civilian volunteers that found the bodies, told Channel 2 TV that a member of the search party "saw something suspicious on the ground, plants that looked out of place, moved them and moved some rocks and then found the bodies. We realized it was them and we called the army."
Meanwhile, in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters: "We obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms violence that takes the lives of innocent civilians."