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Bodies of 3 Missing Israeli Teens Found in West Bank

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Israeli officials announced Monday night that the bodies of three teenagers abducted 18 days ago in the occupied West Bank have been found.

Haaretz reports the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16 and Israeli-American Naftali Fraenkel, 16 were found north of the Palestinian town of Halhul, north of Hebron, the apparent victims of murder.

The grisly discovery of the three bodies marks the end of Operation Brother’s Keeper, an intensive Israeli search for the missing teens which resulted in the largest ground operation inside the illegally-occupied Palestinian territory in nearly a decade. Six Palestinians were killed and some 370 more were arrested as Israeli forces desperately attempted to locate the missing teens.

Israeli President Simon Peres released a statement Monday evening mourning the loss of the teens:

“The entire nation is bowing its head with unbearable sorrow this evening. Over the past 18 days the nation prayed as one that the fate of our wonderful teenagers would be that they are found alive and well. Now that the bitter news has come, the entire Israeli nation mourns the premature death of our finest youth…

Alongside deep sorrow, we will remain resolute to punish the atrocious terrorists. Our war on terrorism will only intensify and will not waver so that this murderous terrorism won’t dare to rear its head.”

Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely of the ruling Likud party was more blunt in her reaction to the news of the teens’ deaths.

“The despicable kidnapping and murder of the students cannot go by in silence, and those responsible in Gaza must pay the price,” said Hotevely. “The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders.”

Hotovely called for a return to the policy of targeted assassinations of militant Palestinian leaders resisting Israeli occupation and Jewish settler colonization of Palestine, acts which are illegal under international law but which Israel considers legitimate activities.

“Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, may God avenge their blood,” said Aryeh Deri, a member of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) and leader of the far-right ultra-orthodox Shas party.

Late Monday, Israeli leaders were busy pondering and formulating their response to the kidnappings and apparent murders, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with his Security Cabinet, the Associated Press reported.

The three victims, Jewish colonists living in the settlement of Nof Ayalon, disappeared while hitchhiking home near Hebron late on the night of June 12. Israeli officials suspected operatives from the militant resistance group Hamas had abducted the teens, and last Thursday Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, released the names of two well-known Hamas fighters believed to be responsible for the kidnappings.

Binyamin Proper, one of the Israeli civilian volunteers who discovered the teens’ bodies on Monday, told Channel 2 TV that members of his search party “saw something suspicious on the ground” in a field near the village of Halhul.

“[There were] plants that looked out of place, [we] moved them and moved some rocks and then found the bodies,” said Proper.

Although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnappings and dispatched security forces to closely cooperate with the Israeli search operation, Netanyahu has demanded that Abbas to dissolve a unity government recently formed with Hamas. Netanyahu asserts it is impossible for Abbas to be committed to achieving peace with Israel if he joins forces with a group the Jewish state considers a terrorist organization, a group that kidnaps and kills innocent Israeli civilians.

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