RAMALLAH, West Bank: Two Palestinian militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza Friday, officials said, as searches for three teens Israel says were abducted by the militant group Hamas in the West Bank entered their third week.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said the militants’ car was hit in an airstrike.
The men were members of the Popular Resistance Committee, a group aligned with Gaza’s Hamas rulers that often fires rockets at Israel, he said.
Gaza gunmen have fired 30 rockets at Israel since the search for the teens began, including one that exploded inside Gaza killing a Palestinian girl earlier this week.
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon confirmed the strike. “Aircraft killed a terror operative in Gaza who had been responsible for recent rocket attacks on southern Israel and was planning more terror attacks on Israeli citizens,” he said in a statement. Israel considers Hamas responsible for what happens in Gaza and warned the group not to “test Israel’s patience and determination.”
Earlier, Israel’s military says it fired at Hamas targets in Gaza after an explosive device was deployed against troops on the border, causing no injuries. A Palestinian boy was seriously hurt in the fire.
The incidents came as Israel’s operation in search of three teens feared abducted in the West Bank entered its third week.
Several Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded so far during the search and related protests.
Israel blames Hamas, which controls Gaza, for the teen’s abduction. On Thursday, it identified two well-known Hamas operatives in the West Bank as the central suspects. Hamas has praised the abduction of the teens but not taken responsibility for it.
The three teens – Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, with dual Israeli-American citizenship – have not been heard from since hitchhiking home in the West Bank on June 12.
Israel launched its broadest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade following the teens’ disappearance, arresting about 400 Palestinians, most of them Hamas activists.
Israel’s Shin Bet security service named the suspects as Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh.
It said both men are Hamas activists in the West Bank city of Hebron, near where the youths disappeared. Hamas in Hebron has confirmed the two suspects are members of the group.
Israeli and Palestinian officials said the two men have been missing since the teenagers disappeared and a manhunt is underway.
Abu Aisheh’s mother, Nadia, told the Associated Press that “If it’s Amer as they say, I will be proud of him until I die and be beside him.”
The U.N.’s human rights office Friday urged Israel and its adversaries to exercise restraint amid a crackdown on Palestinians during a hunt for three Jewish teenagers missing in the West Bank.
“Clearly these boys need to be found, that’s totally understandable, but the scale of operations and the number of people they are affecting is deeply disturbing,” its spokesman Rupert Coville said.
“We reiterate our call for strict adherence to international law by all relevant actors and join others in their call for restraint,” he told reporters.
The mothers of the three teenagers traveled to Geneva this week and held a private meeting with deputy U.N. human rights chief Flavia Pansieri.
“As a mother herself, she expressed her understanding of their deep anxiety about the fate of their sons. We are concerned that the three teenagers have still not been located, after being missing for 15 days. We hope for their immediate safe return,” Colville said.
“Our heartfelt sympathy also goes out to the mothers and loved ones of the six Palestinians, including two teenagers, who have been killed by Israeli forces, in addition to the many others who have been injured, during these past two weeks,” he told reporters.
Colville said the loss of life during the operation was alarming, as were the spiking tensions in the West Bank. “We call for prompt and thorough investigations, and prosecution of the perpetrators in cases where there has been excessive use of force.”
“We are also concerned about reports of damage to property and theft during these operations, especially house-to-house searches, and their traumatic effect on children and families,” he added.