- (Photo: Reuters/Handout)
- (Photo: Reuters/ Mussa Qawasma)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Palestinian militant group Hamas "will pay" for the murder of three Israeli teens, one with dual-U.S. citizenship, whose bodies were discovered north of Hebron in the West Bank.
"[The teens] were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals," Netanyahu said at a security cabinet meeting on Monday. "In the name of the whole of Israel, I ask to tell the dear families – to the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers and the grandfathers, the brothers and sisters – our hearts are bleeding, the whole nation is crying with them."
Fox News noted that Israel's air force bombed 34 targets in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday morning, apparently in response to rocket attacks against Israel's southern communities on Sunday.
The murdered teens, who disappeared on June 12 while hitchhiking home, include Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship. A Defense official said that the teens were shot soon after they were abducted.
"It's – your worst fears are realized. And it's awfully, awfully difficult. We haven't quite absorbed everything yet," said Fraenkel's cousin, David Halberstam, revealing that their family is devastated.
The Associated Press added that a member of Hamas were shot dead after throwing a grenade at forces carrying out the air raids. The man, who wasn't immediately identified, is the first reported casualty since the bodies were discovered.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri has warned Israel that it would "open the gates of hell" if it undertakes any broad offensive against the group.
"Only the Israeli version of the events has been published. Israel is attempting to make way for aggression against us, against the Hamas," Zuhri said. "We reject all Israeli allegations and threats against us. We are already used to it and will know how to defend ourselves. No Palestinian group, Hamas or any other group, has taken responsibility for the action, and thus the Israeli version can't be trusted."
But Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon insisted on Tuesday that Hamas is to blame:
"We see Hamas responsible for the kidnappings and murders. We will continue to pursue the murderers of the teens and will not rest until we lay our hands on them."
Large crowds of Irsaelis have paid their respects to the families of the murdered teens, with supporters lighting memorial candles and offering prayers. Crowds also gathered in Tel Aviv's central Rabin Square, as well as the West Bank junction where the youths were abducted, singing hymns and songs.
The war between Israel and Palestinians militants has caused thousands of casualties over the years, but the young age of the victims had "struck a raw nerve" with the people, AP noted.
"Today is really a national mourning day in Israel," said Eitan Schwartz, from the Tel Aviv municipality.
Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, said that Hamas, an offshoot of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, continues to be a major threat to stability in the region.
"This atrocity, this murder of innocent teenagers on their way home from school, is a clear example. It demonstrates that Hamas has not changed. It remains a vicious, vile terrorist organization that targets every Israeli civilian man, woman and as we've seen, children as well," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned the killings of the teens, calling them a "senseless act of terror."
"As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth," Obama said in a White House statement.
"From the outset, I have offered our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice, and I encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort. I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation."
The Vatican has also responded to the news, calling the killing of the Israeli teens "terrible and dramatic."
"The assassination of innocent persons is always despicable and unacceptable, and a very serious obstacle to that peace to which we must continue untiringly to commit ourselves and for which we must pray," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, according to CNN.
"Violence calls for more violence and feeds the mortal circle of hatred. Pope Francis unites himself to the indescribable pain of the families stricken by this homicidal violence and to the pain of all people stricken by the consequences of hatred, and asks God to inspire in all thoughts of compassion and peace."