Missing Israeli teens found dead near Hebron

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The three Israeli teenagers who went missing earlier this month in the West Bank have been found dead.

An Israeli military spokesman said their bodies were found in a pit near the town of Halhul, north of Hebron.

Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both aged 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach were last seen at a junction near Hebron as they hitchhiked home.

Israel has accused Hamas of being behind their disappearance, a claim the Palestinian militant group has denied.

On Monday evening, Israel’s Shin Bet security service reiterated that the main suspects in the case were two men named Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh and that they were “Hamas operatives”.

Police forensic teams were in the area and searches were continuing in an effort to capture “all those involved in this attack”, a statement said.

The Israeli military has set up blockades and closed down whole areas around Halhul, which is just a few kilometres from where the teenagers were last seen.

The Israeli cabinet held an emergency meeting on Monday evening.

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.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres said the “whole nation is in deep grief”.

“Amid our deep sorrow, we remain determined to fiercely punish the criminal terrorists,” he added.

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

More than 400 Palestinians have been arrested, while five have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

Earlier, Israeli television showed large numbers of Israeli security forces personnel deployed around Halhul.

There have been reports of clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the area.

The case has put serious strain on relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the incident is a consequence of “the partnership” between Hamas and the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two signed a reconciliation deal in April after years of division and formed a unity government earlier this month.

 

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