The bodies of three Israeli teens kidnapped earlier this month in the West Bank have been found, the Israeli military reported today.
Search teams located the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gilad Shaar, 16, this afternoon in a field west of the Palestinian village of Halhul in the south of the occupied West Bank. The three boys had been missing since June 12.
“They were found in a field under a pile of rocks,” an IDF spokesperson told VICE News. “Their bodies are currently undergoing forensic identification.”
As rumors emerged regarding the discovery of the bodies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency security cabinet meeting this evening. The group is expected to discuss potential responses to the killing of the three boys.
Right-wing members of the Israeli government have called for all-out war on Hamas. “We have to destroy the homes of Hamas activists, wipe out their arsenals everywhere, and stop the flow of money that directly or indirectly keeps terror alive... make the entire Palestinian leadership pay a heavy price," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon reportedly said shortly after the news broke. The Likud politician called for a full-throttle military assault aimed completely wiping out Hamas.
Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely (also of Likud) reiterated Danon’s sentiments, adding that “those responsible in Gaza must pay the price. The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders, and return to the policy of assassination.”
Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Sunday in support of three teenagers who went missing in the West Bank on June 12. According to local reports, the rally was held in Rabin Square on Sunday night. Attendees were led in a prayer calling for children to be left out of the violence of conflict.
While Israeli authorities have placed blame for the killings fully on Hamas, the Islamist movement has thus far denied responsibility. “The search is continuous for the two Hamas terrorist operatives,” the IDF spokesperson told VICE News. “We have reason to believe that they [Hamas] were directly involved in the kidnapping. That is why you are seeing a broader effort to dismantle Hamas in the West Bank.”
The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, has named Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, both residents of Hebron, as the primary suspects in the abductions. Both men have spent time in Israeli prisons and have reportedly been missing since the night the teens went missing.
The IDF representative told VICE News that while these two are believed to have been involved in the kidnapping, the military cannot confirm their responsibility in the killing of the three victims.
This footage is described by the IDF as showing soldiers of the Oketz canine unit working in Hebron on June 25.
The discovery of the bodies will bring to an end the Israeli military’s 18-day-long search effort, and connected crackdown throughout the West Bank. Just hours after the teens’ disappearance, Israel launched the largest military operation in the West Bank in a decade, dubbed “Operation Brother’s Keeper.” While the campaign was primarily focused on locating the missing teens, it has been called out as a politically opportune excuse for Israel to concurrently obliterate Hamas once and for all.
At least four Palestinians have been shot and killed and more than 500 arrested, including lawmakers, since the operation began over two weeks ago. The entire southern West Bank is currently on lock down, as Israeli forces continue to raid homes and search fields, wells, and caves in an effort to find those responsible for the abduction and killing of the boys.
Palestinian residents are worried of an oncoming campaign of collective punishment throughout the occupied territories.
Minutes after news broke of the discovery of the teens, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel released the following statement: “In war, on the one hand you need to strike down terrorists without any mercy, and on the other hand, you need to provide an suitable Zionist response.” Ariel was referring to a potential increase in settlement activity as well an increased military assault on Hamas.