Israelis mourn slain teens at public funeral

Israeli security forces are searching homes across the West Bank, searching for suspects in the kidnapping of three Israeli teens. The teens were found dead on Monday. (Reuters)
July 1

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Tuesday for a funeral service for three teenagers whose bodies were found Monday, more than two weeks after they disappeared in a kidnapping that Israel says was carried out by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his vows to punish the Palestinian group, which runs the Gaza Strip and has denied involvement in the June 12 abduction and subsequent killings. He summoned his security cabinet Tuesday night to discuss Israel’s response, hours after Israeli aircraft pounded dozens of targets in Gaza.

Speaking a day after the teens’ bodies were discovered in a field near the West Bank city of Hebron, Netanyahu pledged that everyone involved in the crime “will bear the consequences.” He said Israeli forces, which have arrested nearly 400 alleged terror operatives and killed at least five Palestinians during a more than two-week search, would “vigorously strike at Hamas members and infrastructure” in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “If need be, we will expand the campaign,” he warned.

“Hamas is responsible,” the prime minister said at the start of the meeting. “Hamas will pay, and Hamas will continue to pay.”

Netanyahu faced renewed pressure Tuesday to avenge the teens’ deaths, including from his hard-line foreign minister, who called for a ground invasion in Gaza. But those calls were relatively muted as Israelis focused on mourning the teens, whose deaths sparked a nationwide outpouring of outrage and grief.

Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, disappeared while making their way home from their religious schools in the tense West Bank. Fraenkel was a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. The three were buried together in a cemetery in the city of Modiin, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in a service at which Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres spoke.

“We prayed, each of us alone and all of us together, for a miracle,” Peres said. “Sadly we were hit by the tragedy of their murder, and a deep grief enveloped our people.”

Earlier in the day, the teens’ families held separate eulogies in their home communities and then accompanied the bodies to the public funeral, which thousands of Israelis streamed to in shuttles. In Nof Ayalon, the small town where Fraenkel lived with his family, Fraenkel’s father, Avraham Fraenkel, spoke through tears.

“Even though you are not here in body with us, you will be with us all the time,” he said. “Naftali, Gilad, Eyal, you were killed for being Jews, that was the only reason you were killed,” he said.

The Israeli police released a recording Tuesday of Shaar’s call to emergency services, which appeared to have been made minutes after he and the two other teens got into their kidnappers’ car.

On the recording, which emergency authorities initially dismissed as a prank, Shaar says, “I’ve been kidnapped.”

An operator says, “Hello?” before a voice speaking Arabic-accented Hebrew says, “Keep your heads down.” As an Israeli radio station broadcasts the voice of a politician in the background, there are sounds of struggle. The operator then repeatedly says, “Hello?”

Security officials say the Israeli military has discovered the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank earlier this month. The bodies were found Monday near the town of Halhul, close to where the teens disappeared. (AP)

Some media outlets in Israel reported that gunshots can be heard — suggesting that the teens were killed in the car — but Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said security agencies that assessed the recording made no such conclusion.

Rosenfeld said the discovery over the weekend of a pair of glasses belonging to one of the teens helped authorities to narrow the search.

The Israeli military pressed on Tuesday with its largest and most aggressive security sweep in the West Bank in decades, searching for two suspects it says carried out the abduction and murders. Israeli officials have said the suspects, Marwan Kawasma, 29, and Amer Abu Aysha, 33, are operatives of Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military blew up the entrances to and raided the homes of the two men, who have not been seen since the night the teenagers disappeared. Israeli authorities have said both suspects have spent time in Israeli prisons. Overnight, a military spokesman said, soldiers made three additional arrests in the West Bank; Palestinian news media reported that a 16-year-old was killed during the raid.

Earlier, the Israeli air force carried out what it called a “precision strike” against 34 Hamas targets in Gaza. The army said more than 20 rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza since late Sunday, with another barrage reported Tuesday evening. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The kidnapping and Israeli sweep have inflamed tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which is based in and controls about 10 percent of the West Bank. Netanyahu has criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent move to form a transitional Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, have condemned Israel for carrying out what they say is “collective punishment” against hundreds of Palestinians to avenge the criminal act of a few. Abbas was meeting with Palestinian leadership Tuesday night.

“No one condones the killing of innocent people of any nationality,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said in a statement. “Yet, collective punitive measures are unacceptable, and the Israeli government cannot continue to pass judgment without evidence and commit grave breaches of international law and war crimes at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Daniela Deane in London contributed to this report.

Ruth Eglash is a correspondent for The Washington Post based Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.
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