JERUSALEM – Tens of thousands of mourners converged Tuesday in central Israel for a funeral service for three teenagers found dead in the West Bank after a two-week search and crackdown on the Hamas militant group, which Israeli leaders have accused of abducting and killing the young men.
The deaths of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, have prompted angry calls for revenge.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security Cabinet for an emergency meeting to discuss a response to the killings, hours after airstrikes targeted dozens of suspected Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip.
Ahead of the late-night meeting, Netanyahu vowed a tough response against Hamas, saying Israel “will not rest” until it catches the killers. He also warned of stepped up military activity in Hamas-controlled Gaza if rocket fire out of the territory continues.
“Hamas continues to support, even at this time, the kidnappings of our citizens and is directly responsible for firing rockets and mortars at our territory, including in recent hours,” Netanyahu said in a statement on national TV.
Israeli troops also shot dead a Palestinian man in the West Bank, where the teens disappeared on June 12. Israel has accused the Hamas militant group of carrying out the abduction, and Netanyahu has warned “Hamas will pay.”
The three young men were buried side by side in the central Israeli town of Modiin. Mourners arrived in large convoys of buses arranged for the ceremony. Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres were among the speakers to eulogize the youths, whose bodies were wrapped in blue-and-white Israeli flags and laid on stretchers.
“Recently, the people of Israel went through a great trauma,” said Shirel Shaar, Gilad Shaar's younger sister. “We are living as if we are in a movie, whose ending is as bad as can be,” she said. “I don't have a brother anymore.”
“We are burying a child today, a child who could have been the child of anyone of us,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid. “Therefore he is indeed the child of each and every one of us.”
Israeli officials say the three were abducted while hitchhiking home from the Jewish seminaries where they were studying near the West Bank city of Hebron. Hamas has praised the kidnappings but not confirmed allegations that it was involved.
Their disappearances prompted the army to launch its largest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, dispatching thousands of troops to search for them and arresting nearly 400 Hamas operatives. The search came to a sad end Monday when the bodies were found buried under a pile of rocks in a field north of Hebron.
The crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank has been accompanied by a spike in rocket fire out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Overnight Tuesday, the Israeli air force carried out airstrikes on 34 targets, including a Hamas compound, the military said. Palestinian officials said four people were wounded.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot and killed a 20-year-old Palestinian man during a raid in the northern town of Jenin. Israel said the man threw a grenade at the troops. But his family said he was carrying eggs home for a predawn meal before the daylight fast for Ramadan.
The Israeli daily Haaretz said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon proposed building a new settlement in the West Bank in memory of the teens. Another Cabinet minister, Naftali Bennett, proposed a large-scale military operation in Gaza and to begin using the death penalty against Palestinian militants.