bodies of three missing Israeli teenagers were found in the
occupied West Bank, and Israel vowed to punish Hamas, the
Palestinian group it accuses of abducting and killing them.
"They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by beasts,"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after
the military discovered on Monday the remains of the Jewish
seminary students who disappeared on June 12.
"Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the killings but called
on all parties to exercise restraint.
Netanyahu, who earlier on Monday held Hamas responsible for
new rocket strikes from Gaza, convened his security cabinet
to consider moves against the Islamist group, which has
neither confirmed nor denied Israel's allegations about the
The senior ministers ended their late-night session without
taking any final decisions and plan to reconvene later on
Tuesday, a government official said.
"Netanyahu's threats against Gaza and against Hamas do not
frighten us," the movement's Gaza-based leader, Ismail
Haniyeh, was quoted as saying by its Al-Quds television
At the square in Tel Aviv where Israeli Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, scores of Israelis
lit memorial candles for the teenagers, a day after thousands
attended a prayer vigil for them at the same spot.
Hamas has been rocked by the arrest of dozens of its
activists in an Israeli military sweep in the West Bank over
the past three weeks during a search for the teenagers that
Israel said was also aimed at weakening the militant movement
Up to six Palestinians died as a result of the Israeli
operation, local residents said.
Israelis gather to mourn in the in the town of Elad,
outside the home of Eyal Yifrah. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
The kidnapping, near a settlement in the West Bank,
appalled Israelis who rallied behind the youngsters' families
in a display of national unity reminiscent of times of war or
national crisis in a country with deep political and religious
"On behalf of the people of Israel, I wish to tell their dear
families ... our hearts are bleeding, the entire nation is
weeping with you," Netanyahu said in the statement.
The bodies of Gil-Ad Shaer and U.S.-Israeli national Naftali
Fraenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were found in a field
near Hebron, a militant stronghold, not far from a road where
they were believed to have been abducted while hitchhiking,
security officials said.
The teens, who attended a religious school in a Jewish
settlement, had apparently been shot soon after having been
taken, the officials said. Two of the youths lived in Israel.
"They were under a pile of rocks, in an open field," said
Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman.
The alleged abductors are still at large. Israeli media said
the break in the case came after their relatives were
Troops set off explosions in the family homes of the alleged
abductors, blowing open a doorway in one, an army spokeswoman
said, while television footage showed the other on fire after
the blast. Neighbours said both houses were empty.
After news of the teenagers' deaths, condolence messages and
condemnation of the killings poured in from foreign leaders.
"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms,
this senseless act of terror against innocent youths," Obama
said in a statement. "I also urge all parties to refrain from
steps that could further destabilise the situation."
Netanyahu seized on the abduction to demand Western-backed
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas abrogate a reconciliation
deal he reached with Hamas, his long-time rival, in April
that led to a unity Palestinian government on June 2.
Abbas condemned the abduction and pledged the cooperation of
his security forces, drawing criticism from Hamas and
undercutting his popularity among Palestinians angered by
what they saw as his collusion with Israel.
Hamas, which has maintained security control of the Gaza
Strip since the unity deal, is shunned by the West over its
refusal to renounce violence. The group has called for
Israel's destruction, although various officials have at
times indicated a willingness to negotiate a long-term