Israel holds murdered teenagers' funerals

Thousands gathered around Modein cemetery, as the BBC's Yolande Knell reports

The funerals of three teenagers who were abducted and murdered while hitch-hiking in the occupied West Bank have been held in Israel.

Addressing thousands of mourners, PM Benjamin Netanyahu described their killers as "heinous murderers".

Israel has blamed the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the deaths. Hamas has denied any involvement.

The youths' bodies were found on Monday evening, more than two weeks after the trio went missing.

Mr Netanyahu has said Hamas will be made to pay a price for the killings.

Speaking at the joint funeral held for Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach in central Israel, Mr Netanyahu said "a broad moral gulf separates us from our enemy. They sanctify death, we sanctify life".

After holding a second meeting of his security cabinet in 24 hours, Mr Netanyahu outlined the following objectives:

  • find the teenagers' killers and kidnappers
  • weaken Hamas' infrastructure and manpower in the West Bank
  • operate against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, expanding the operation "if the need arises"
Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaar (16) and Eyal Yifrach (19), found dead near Hebron on 30 June The abductions of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach sparked a massive search operation
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At the scene: Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Jerusalem

The scenes at the funeral of the three murdered teenagers were extraordinary.

In burning afternoon sunshine, tens of thousands of mourners made their way through the steep, arid landscape outside the central Israeli town of Modein to this tiny hilltop cemetery.

The crowds were large enough to delay the start of proceedings.

When the funeral began, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the speakers - although there were reports that the families had asked him not to address the issue of any possible Israeli response to Hamas.

Mr Netanyahu saw a lesson in the tragedy that resonates for him with broader Jewish history.

"One nation stood together," he said, "and got a reminder of who we are and why we are here."

As day gave way to night here on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide, the question of how Israel will respond to this bitter loss was being asked with greater urgency.

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Earlier, Israeli media released a recording of the emergency call made to police by one of the teenagers shortly after the abduction.

A voice, thought to be that of Gilad Shaar, is heard saying "I was kidnapped", followed by another voice shouting "Head down!".

Police have confirmed the recording is authentic. The call was initially dismissed as a hoax, delaying the search efforts.

Overnight, Israel launched more than 30 air strikes on facilities linked to militant groups in the Gaza Strip after 18 rockets had been fired into Israel since Sunday night, the Israeli military reported.

The teenagers were last seen at a busy hitch-hiking spot, from where the BBC's Yolande Knell reports

The teenagers' bodies were found under a pile of rocks near the Palestinian town of Halhul. An Israeli official said it appeared the youths had been shot soon after their abduction.

Israeli troops flooded into Halhul after the discovery.

Mourners and relatives of Israeli teenager Eyal Ifrach gather to attend his funeral outside his house in the city of Elad, central Israel Thousands of mourners gathered to attend the funerals of the three teenagers
Rachel (front L) and Avi (2nd R) Frenkel, parents of US-Israeli national Naftali, 16, one of three Israeli teens who were abducted and killed in the occupied West Bank, mourn near the Israeli flag-covered body of their son during a memorial service before his funeral, in the central Israeli village of Nof Ayalon Naftali Frenkel's parents at their son's memorial service before his funeral in the village of Nof Ayalon
Israelis pray on the road where three missing teenagers were abducted near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut Israelis pray on the road where the teenagers were abducted near the Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut
Relatives and neighbours of one of the main suspects Abu Aisheh are seen in a house destroyed by the Israeli army in response to the killing of the Israeli teenagers in Hebron People inspect the house of one of the Palestinian suspects destroyed by the Israeli army

Israel's Shin Bet security agency had named named two Hamas members from Hebron - Marwan Qawasmeh, and Amer Abu Aisha - as suspects. The Israeli military raided the homes of both men, setting off explosives.

Palestinian witnesses said Abu Aisha's home was destroyed.

Israeli security forces have set up blockades and closed down whole areas around Halhul, a few kilometres from where the teenagers were last seen.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership and has expressed "regret" over the deaths.

Map

The disappearance of the teenagers on 12 June sparked a huge search operation in Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank.

More than 400 Palestinians were arrested, while five were killed by Israeli troops.

Mr Netanyahu has said the incident is a consequence of "the partnership" between Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist, and the Fatah movement of Mr Abbas.

The two signed a reconciliation deal in April after years of division and formed a unity government last month.

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