Middle East

Israel: Hamas 'will pay price' after teenagers found dead

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Media captionThe teenagers were last seen at a busy hitch-hiking spot, from where Yolande Knell reports

Israel has vowed retribution against Hamas, the militant Palestinian group it says kidnapped and murdered three teenagers in the occupied West Bank.

The bodies of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were found on Monday evening, after they had been missing for more than a fortnight.

Israel PM Benyamin Netanyahu said: "Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay." Hamas denies any involvement.

Israel launched more than 30 air strikes on the Gaza Strip overnight.

The strikes came in response to 18 rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza since Sunday night, the Israeli military said.

Israeli troops also flooded into the Palestinian town of Halhul. The bodies were found under a pile of rocks near the town. An Israeli official said it appeared the teenagers were shot soon after their abduction.

Israel named two suspects as Ayoub al-Kawasma and Abu Aisheh. The Israeli military said it set off explosives while raiding the homes of both.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Israeli soldiers detonated explosives at the homes of two Hamas suspects

Pictures showed extensive damage at the home of Abu Aisheh.

One Palestinian was also shot dead after throwing an explosive device at Israeli forces carrying out an operation in the West Bank town of Jenin early on Tuesday, the Israeli military said.

Analysis, by Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Jerusalem

Israel's overnight air raids on Hamas targets in Gaza were an immediate response to a wave of missile attacks launched from the Palestinian enclave since Sunday.

They should not be seen as a definitive response to the abduction and murder of the three teenage boys whose fate has transfixed this country over the course of the last two-and-a-half weeks.

In keeping with Jewish religious custom the funerals will take place on Tuesday - and only when they have passed and the outpouring of national grief they will prompt has died down will Israel's governments finalise its military and political plans.

Having firmly focused the blame for the murders on Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have to demonstrate to the Israeli public that his response will be calibrated to match the huge sense of anger and outrage that is felt here.

In the past, Israel has used targeted missile attacks to kill senior members of militant groups and it has the military capacity to target Hamas's stockpiles of missiles and rockets in a sustained campaign.

And it will have a clear political goal too. Israel was angered by the creation of a Palestinian unity government which brought together Hamas with the Palestinian Authority, whose forces helped to look for the victims.

Hamas said Israel was using the abductions "story" to justify a war on Palestinians.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that if Israeli forces "carry out an escalation or a war, they will open the gates of hell on themselves".

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Media captionVigils were held after the discovery of the bodies, as Yolande Knell reports

'Action not words'

The deaths of the students, who were last seen at a junction between Hebron and Jerusalem as they hitchhiked home, has sparked international condemnation.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The abductions of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach sparked a massive search operation
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A memorial service was held near the United Nations headquarters in New York

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

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Facebook: "Murderers of children and those who direct them cannot be forgiven. Now is a time for actions, not words."

The teenagers' funerals, which will be held on Tuesday afternoon, will be the focus of intense grief and national anger, says the BBC's Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly.

Late on Monday, rockets were launched from Gaza into south Israel. Israel then began air strikes against militant sites in the Gaza Strip.

The ministry of health in Gaza said at least four people were wounded when an air strike hit a police station in central Gaza.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad training facilities were also targeted, local sources said.

Air strikes on electricity stations also caused widespread blackouts.

A BBC reporter in Gaza says that Hamas denies carrying out the rocket attacks.

'We wanted peace'

Israel's Deputy Defence Minister, Dan Danon, told the BBC that Hamas "must pay a price".

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Media captionIsraeli government spokesman Mark Regev: "All Israel is united in mourning"

"We have to say it very clear if you kill innocent children on the way back from school, you cannot continue to work with us as usual," he said.

Hamas has denied being behind the teenagers' abductions or deaths.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of "trying to take advantage" of the situation "to open war against our people". He warned that Israel would "pay a price" for any "aggression".

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership.

His spokesman Abdallah Abdallah expressed "regret" for the deaths. "We wanted peace to be created in this part of the world so no mother or no family will be bereaved for the loss of their beloved ones, Palestinian or Israeli."

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 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.