HALHUL, Palestine: Israel vowed Monday it would make Hamas pay for the deaths of three Israeli teens, whose bodies were found Monday near Hebron after a 17 day search.
“They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by beasts,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the military discovered the remains of the Jewish seminary students who disappeared on June 12. “Satan has not yet invented vengeance for the blood of small child,” he said. “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”
But a senior Hamas official warned Israel against any reprisals, saying it would open “the gates of hell.”
The discovery of the three bodies in a field in the southern West Bank came 17 days after the youngsters disappeared, triggering a huge manhunt during which five Palestinians were killed and more than 400 arrested.
It also triggered a surge in rocket attacks against southern Israel by militants in the Gaza Strip, which triggered retaliatory Israeli airstrikes almost nightly.
Israel has publicly blamed Hamas for the teens’ abduction and staged a major crackdown on the Islamist movement’s West Bank network.
Netanyahu convened a session of his security Cabinet that could decide on stronger military moves against the Islamist group.
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.
The bodies were found in the southern West Bank near the town of Halhul, some 10 minutes from the roadside where they were last seen hitchhiking.
“During the search for Eyal Ifrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frankel, the IDF discovered three bodies,” the Israeli army said on Twitter.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the bodies had been found around 1400 GMT but refused to comment on the cause of death.
“At around 5 p.m., the IDF uncovered three bodies in the northwestern Hebron district,” he said, adding that the bodies were being transferred for formal forensic identification.
“We have informed the families but final identification is pending.”
One of the civilian volunteers involved in the search told army radio the bodies had been found under a pile of branches and stones in a remote area.
“Today, during a sweep with the army, one of the guys spotted something unusual, they started to move branches and stones and found the bodies,” said volunteer Benny Truper. “It was a very isolated area, more or less at the end of the world.”
Shortly before the news was made public, Netanyahu convened a meeting of his security Cabinet with ministers expected to take “operative” decisions, public radio said.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon called for a widespread operation to “eradicate” the Islamist movement. “We will not stop until Hamas is completely defeated.”
“The homes of the terrorists must be demolished and their arms caches destroyed.” Following the teens’ disappearance, Israel launched a vast search and arrest operation, which also sought to lay waste to Hamas’s West Bank network.
More than 400 Palestinians were arrested, two-thirds of them Hamas members, and another five people killed in clashes sparked by the campaign, dubbed Operation Brother’s Keeper.
But Hamas Monday warned Israel against any punitive action against the movement. “If the occupiers carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
Hamas has dismissed the Israeli allegations as “stupid” with Abu Zuhri accusing Israel of fabricating the abduction as an excuse to crack down on it.
“The disappearance and murder of the three Israelis is only based on the Israeli narrative, and the occupation is trying to use this story to justify its extensive war against our people, against resistance and against Hamas.”
President Mahmoud Abbas convened an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership to discuss the latest developments.
Abbas condemned the killings, saying that the kidnappers were seeking to destroy the Palestinian Authority, presidential spokesman Nabil Abo Rudeinah said in a statement carried by official Wafa news agency.
The killings were widely condemned by the international community.
President Barack Obama condemned the deaths as “senseless.” He urged “all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the killing of the three teenagers as an “inexcusable act of terror.”
French President Francois Hollande hit at out at their “cowardly murder.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is condemning the murder of three Israeli teenagers by “enemies of peace” in the strongest terms.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said “he hopes Israeli and Palestinian authorities will work together to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice, and extends his deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.”