Flames and smoke billow from the blown-up house of Amer Abu Aisheh, one of two Palestinians identified by Israel as suspects in the killing of three Israeli teenagers, after it was demolished by the Israeli army at the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday. (Nasser Shiyoukhi / AP)
Jerusalem— The Israeli military found the bodies of three missing teenagers on Monday just over two weeks after they were abducted in the West Bank — a grim discovery that ended a frantic search that led to Israel’s largest ground operation in the Palestinian territory in nearly a decade and drew Israeli threats of retaliation.
“Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed, referring to the Islamic militant group that Israel has accused of carrying out the kidnappings.
The teenagers “were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals,” the Israeli leader said as he convened an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet.
The three-hour session ended after midnight without any decisions.
Early today, Israel carried out an especially intense series of airstrikes in Gaza, saying it had struck 34 targets across the Hamas-controlled territory. The military said the airstrikes were a response to a barrage of 18 rockets fired into Israel since late Sunday.
There were no further details on the targets, but in recent weeks Israel has repeatedly targeted launch sites and weapons storage areas in similar attacks. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The kidnapping episode has put Netanyahu in a difficult position. With a public enraged over the deaths, the Israeli leader has widespread support to strike Hamas. But after a two-week crackdown against the group, he could have a tough time finding new targets. He is also facing international calls for restraint.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking home from the Jewish seminaries where they were studying near the West Bank city of Hebron. Despite the dangers, hitchhiking is common among Israelis traveling in and out of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Israel has identified two well-known Hamas operatives from Hebron as the primary suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, who remain on the run.