Israel Hits Gaza After Finding Bodies of Slain Teenagers

Calev Ben-David — Bloomberg July 1, 2014

Israeli air strike in Rafah. Click to enlarge

Israeli air strike in Rafah. Click to enlarge

Israeli aircraft hit dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip overnight after finding the bodies of three missing teenagers in the West Bank and blaming the Palestinian militant group Hamas for their murders.

The Israeli Air Force carried out a “precision strike” against 34 targets in Gaza, in response to more than 25 rockets fired from the Hamas-ruled territory over the last two days, including at least eight today, the army said in a statement.

One Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank overnight. An Israeli army spokeswoman, who asked not to be named in accordance with military rules, said the man was a Hamas militant had attempted to throw a grenade at security forces carrying out an arrest raid.

The violence follows yesterday’s discovery of the bodies of three Israel teenagers who disappeared while hitchhiking in the West Bank in June. Their bodies were found by troops under a pile of rocks in an area north of the West Bank city of Hebron, and are undergoing forensic investigation, Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

“All signs indicate that they are the bodies of our three abducted youths — Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “Hamas is responsible — Hamas will pay.”

Suspects Arrested

Netanyahu has blamed the kidnapping on two Hamas militants, without offering evidence of their involvement. Suspects connected with the kidnapping have been arrested, Lerner said, without providing further details.

Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, has neither confirmed nor denied involvement. At least five Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces carrying out searches and arrests during the kidnapping investigation.

“No Palestinian group, including Hamas, has taken responsibility for this act, and thus thus the Israeli version can’t be trusted,” Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, said in a statement.

Netanyahu has called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party rules parts of the West Bank, to end the unity government he formed with his Hamas rivals after peace talks with Israel collapsed two months ago. Abbas condemned the kidnapping and instructed his security forces to aid in the search.

Israel will need to investigate the kidnapping incident thoroughly to determine if it was planned and carried out only by a local militant cell, or involved more senior Hamas operatives, said Barak Ben-Zur, a former senior official in the Israel Security Agency, better known as Shin Bet.

“The government shouldn’t rush into a possibly disproportionate response, as the security situation could very quickly spin out of control,” Ben-Zur said by phone.

‘Eradicating Hamas’

Israel also has arrested hundreds of Hamas officials and operatives in the West Bank since the youths disappeared.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said yesterday that Israelis “have the willingness and the fortitude necessary to endure the hardships of a long-lasting operation aimed at eradicating Hamas.”

Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman, said Israel was seeking “to provoke aggressive acts against us, but we are used to it and will know how to defend ourselves.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a statement, condemned the abduction and killings as a “senseless act of terror” and urged “all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”

French President Francois Hollande expressed his “sadness” over the discovery in a statement, and British Prime Minister David Cameron called the incident “an appalling and inexcusable act of terror.”

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