JERUSALEM — A Palestinian from the militant group Hamas was shot dead when he threw a grenade at forces carrying out an arrest raid in the West Bank hours after the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago, Israel’s military said Tuesday.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, disappeared on June 12 while hitchhiking home. The teens’ bodies were found Monday.
A Defense official said based on the investigation that the teens were shot soon after they were abducted. He spoke anonymously in line with protocol as the investigation is still ongoing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Hamas kidnapped the three and “will pay.” Hamas, which has kidnapped Israelis in the past, has praised the abduction of the teenagers but not taken responsibility for it.
The man killed Tuesday was the first casualty since the bodies were found.
A military spokesman said aircraft struck 34 targets across the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip overnight after more than 20 rockets were fired into Israel since late Sunday from the territory.
In an operation codenamed “Brother’s Keeper,” Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area and arrested some 400 Hamas operatives throughout the territory.
The search ended Monday afternoon with the discovery of the bodies under a pile of rocks in a field north of Hebron.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon issued a statement Tuesday vowing to find those behind the killings. “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,” he said.
Israel has said two well-known Hamas operatives from Hebron are the primary suspects. The men, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, have not been seen since the teens went missing, and military officials said the search for them would continue.
Israeli soldiers blew up a door of Abu Aisheh’s home in Hebron early Tuesday, causing damage to the home, but did not destroy the rest of the house, said an Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to protocol. He did not elaborate.
There is a national spirit of solidarity in Israel, a small country with an “all for one and one for all” mentality that stems from compulsory military service for Jewish citizens, and news of the teens’ deaths prompted an outpouring of grief late Monday.
Large crowds of Israelis went to the homes of the families in the central Israeli towns of Nof Ayalon and Elad, and the West Bank settlement of Talmon to pay their respects, while supporters lit memorial candles and prayed.
Large crowds gathered in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square, and at the West Bank junction where the youths were abducted, singing hymns and songs, praying and lighting candles shaped in the names of the youths or the Jewish Star of David.
Thousands of Israelis have died in wars and militant attacks over the years, and Israel has grappled with the abduction of soldiers and civilians in the past. But the ages of the victims, and the fact that they were unarmed civilians, struck a raw nerve.
Netanyahu met with top security officials late into the night Monday to discuss how to respond but no decisions were made and officials are expected to resume deliberations on Tuesday.
Funerals for the teens will be held later in the day, Israeli media reported.