Kidnapped Israeli Teens Were Shot Shortly After Abduction, Officials Believe

Bodies of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, kidnapped on June 12, found north of Hebron.

Wrap-up of Monday's event: The bodies of three Israeli teenagers abducted 18 days ago in the West Bank were found Monday north of Hebron. Their families have been notified.

The discovery of the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad, Gilad Shaar, 16, from Talmon and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon was announced shortly after 8 P.M. Israel’s security cabinet convened in emergency session later on Monday night.

Responding to the discovery of the bodies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed tough action. “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay,” he said in a statement, adding the teenagers “were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals.”

IDF forces have broken into the homes of the suspected kidnappers in Hebron late on Monday. According to Palestinian sources, the soldiers blew up the houses, and Palestinian firefighters were attempting to quell the resulting fire.

The three bodies were found near the Palestinian town of Halhul, just north of Hebron. A large contingent of Israel Defense Forces personnel, police and Shin Bet operatives were still searching the area at the time of going to press.

Local residents reported that the city of Hebron and its environs were cut off on Monday night, with no one allowed to leave or enter.

Yifrah, Shaar and Fraenkel went missing from a hitchhiking station at the Gush Etzion intersection in the West Bank late on the night of June 12. They are believed to have been hitchhiking to Modi’in, a city halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. When the three failed to arrive home or make contact with their families, authorities were notified.

All three were studying at religious seminaries in the West Bank.

The Hebron area and much of the rest of the West Bank has been the focus of a massive search operation by the IDF and other security agencies ever since the abduction was reported.

The Shin Bet last week named two Hamas men who it said were responsible for the abduction: Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh. Neither man has been captured, but the Shin Bet said they were known operatives in the Hebron area.

Officials said the teens had probably been shot soon after their abduction.

“The bodies are currently going through forensic identification. The families of the abducted teens have been notified,” an IDF spokesman said, shortly after the discovery of the bodies was announced.

The spokesman added that the bodies were found “under a pile of rocks” between Halhul and the West Bank settlement Karmei Tzur.

Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported that the bodies were found by a group of civilian volunteers searching the area. It quoted one of the volunteers as saying that they “saw something suspicious on the ground, plants that looked out of place, moved them and moved some rocks and then found the bodies. We realized it was them and we called the army.”

News of the deaths of the teens prompted a spontaneous outpouring of grief among Israelis. Friends and neighbors rushed to the homes of the families in the Israeli towns of Nof Ayalon and Elad, and the West Bank settlement Talmon, while supporters lit memorial candles.

Hundreds also gathered at the central Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, where a large gathering had held a prayer vigil the previous evening.

“All of Israel bows its head today,” said President Shimon Peres in a statement.

“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 his statement.

“Murderers of children and those who direct them cannot be forgiven. Now is a time for actions, not words,” hardline Economy Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on his Facebook page ahead of the security cabinet meeting.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who denounced the abduction, called an urgent meeting of the Palestinian leadership on Tuesday to discuss “the implications” of the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the murders of three teenagers, calling them a “heinous act by enemies of peace” that aim to entrench division and distrust and widen the Middle East conflict.”

“There can be no justification for the deliberate killing of civilians,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement, adding that Ban “hopes Israeli and Palestinian authorities will work together to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice.”

David Bachar