Israel threatens to hit Hamas
JERUSALEM: Israelis prepared to bury three teenagers who had been kidnapped over two weeks ago on Tuesday, as the air force targeted dozens of locations in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said, in a surge of violence that followed the discovery of the teens’ bodies.
Israeli troops also shot dead a Palestinian man in the West Bank, where the teens disappeared on June 12. Israel has accused the Hamas militant group of carrying out the abduction, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned “Hamas will pay.”
Hundreds of people were gathered Monday in the hometowns of the three teens — Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, for memorial services. Laid on stretchers and wrapped in blue and white Israeli flags, the bodies were to be laid to rest together in the central Israeli town of Modiin.
“Recently, the people of Israel went through a great trauma,” said Shirel Shaar, Gilad’s younger sister. “We are living as if we are in a movie, whose ending is as bad as can be,” she said. “I don’t have a brother anymore.”
“We are burying a child today, a child who could have been the child of anyone of us,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid. “Therefore he is indeed the child of each and every one of us.”
The three were abducted while hitchhiking home from the Jewish seminaries where they were studying near the West Bank city of Hebron.
The army launched its largest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, dispatching thousands of troops to search for them and arresting nearly 400 Hamas operatives. The search came to a sad end on Monday afternoon when the bodies were found buried under a pile of rocks in a field north of Hebron.
The crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank has been accompanied by a spike in rocket fire out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Overnight Tuesday, Palestinian militants fired eight rockets into Israel, the army said. The Israeli air force carried out airstrikes on 34 targets, including a Hamas compound, the military said. Palestinian officials said four people were wounded.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot and killed a 20-year-old Palestinian man during a raid in the northern town of Jenin. Israel said the man had thrown a grenade at the troops. But his family said he had been carrying eggs home for a predawn meal before the daylight fast for the Ramadan holiday.
Israel has not yet decided how it will respond to the deaths of the youths. Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet held a stormy, three-hour meeting late Monday but was unable to agree on a response.
The Israeli daily Haaretz said that Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon had proposed building a new settlement in the West Bank in memory of the teens. Another Cabinet minister, Naftali Bennett, proposed a large-scale military operation in Gaza and to begin using the death penalty against Palestinian militants.
Israel is also reportedly considering the deportation of senior Hamas members from the West Bank to Gaza, where they would face tight travel restrictions and be separated from their families.
The Security Cabinet was scheduled to meet later Tuesday after the funerals to continue its debate.
Thousands of Israelis have died in wars and militant attacks over the years, and Israel has grappled with the abduction of soldiers and civilians in the past. But the ages of the victims, and the fact that they were unarmed civilians, struck a raw nerve.
Israel has said two well-known Hamas operatives from Hebron are the primary suspects. The men, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, have not been seen since the teens went missing, 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, said an Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to protocol. AP photos show extensive damage to one side of the house.
Despite the public uproar, Netanyahu’s options could be limited.
After a two-week crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, few major targets remain there. Hamas had already been weakened by seven years of pressure by Israel and the forces of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel could turn its attention toward the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where it has been battling a surge in rocket fire since the teens went missing.
Israel also might consider stronger political action. The crisis has escalated already heightened tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian government, which is headed by Abbas but backed by Hamas.
Hamas, an offshoot of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, is deeply rooted in Palestinian society. The movement’s political goal is an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including the territory that now makes up Israel.
Netanyahu has called on Abbas to end his alliance with Hamas, saying he cannot be serious about peace while cooperating with a group sworn to Israel’s destruction. Israel and its Western allies consider Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, a terrorist group.
Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev called on Abbas “to break his alliance with these killers.”
“This atrocity, this murder of innocent teenagers on their way home from school, is a clear example. It demonstrates that Hamas has not changed. It remains a vicious, vile terrorist organization that targets every Israeli civilian man, woman and as we’veseen, children as well,” he said.