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Middle East

Israel mourns slain teens as Mideast tensions rise

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-01

Tens of thousands of mourners joined in an outpouring of national grief on Tuesday at the burial of three Israeli teenagers who were found murdered more than two weeks after they went missing while hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has blamed the slayings on the Hamas militant group, vowing to make the group “pay” for the crime.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, went missing from a roadside in the southern West Bank on June 12 and the hunt for their kidnappers gripped the Israeli public.

But the drama drew to a bitter end on Monday when troops uncovered three bodies, buried under rocks, in a field near where they had disappeared.

According to Israeli officials, all three had been shot.

In his eulogy at the cemetery in the centre of the country, President Shimon Peres, a usually dovish elder statesman, echoed official vows to punish Hamas.

“I know that the murderers will be found. Israel will act with a heavy hand until terror is uprooted,” he said at the ceremony in Modi’in, a town between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Israel bombed dozens of sites in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, wounding two Palestinians, as it struck at Hamas a day after finding the bodies.

After the funeral, Israel’s security cabinet convened for a second time in as many days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged Hamas would pay for the slayings and reiterated before Tuesday’s meeting that Israel “must strike hard at Hamas people and infrastructure in the West Bank” and would weigh further attacks to prevent rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel.

Netanyahu vowed to strike at anyone involved in the kidnappings. “We will get them, even if it takes time,” he said.

Panicked phone call

Just before the funeral, a recording of a furtive cellphone call one of the abducted teens made to a police emergency number was broadcast on Israeli television stations.

“They’ve kidnapped me,” the youngster said after which someone shouted orders in Arabic-accented Hebrew - “head down, head down” - and the sound of what appeared to be muffled gunfire followed before the call ended.

The Islamist group has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the disappearance of the students nor in the cross-border rocket salvoes from Gaza.

Before their joint burial in the Israeli city of Modi’in, funeral services were held outside the homes of the three boys.

“There hasn’t been a show of unity like this in Israel for years,” Fraenkel’s father, Avraham, said at the service as he stood facing the body of his son, which was draped in an Israeli flag.

Netanyahu seized on the abduction to demand Abbas annul a reconciliation deal he reached with Hamas, his long-time rival, in April that led to a unity Palestinian government on June 2.

Hunting the suspects

Hamas has been rocked by the arrest of dozens of its activists in an Israeli sweep in the West Bank over the past three weeks during the search for the teenagers that Israel said was also aimed at weakening the militant movement.

But the men Israel has accused of carrying out the abductions are still at large.

Troops set off explosions late on Monday in the family homes of the alleged perpetrators in the West Bank town of Hebron, blowing open a doorway in one, an army spokeswoman said. The other property was on fire after the blast. Soldiers who arrested one of the suspect’s father and brothers ordered the inhabitants of the dwellings to leave before the detonations.

“This kind of act is a sin, whether you’re a Muslim or Jew. They’ve scared the kids so much,” Um Sharif, the mother of one of the alleged kidnappers, said about the damage to her home.

Abbas condemned the abduction and pledged the cooperation of his security forces. That drew criticism from Hamas and undercut his popularity among Palestinians angered by what they saw as his collusion with Israel.

Hamas, which has maintained security control of the Gaza Strip since the unity deal, is shunned by the West over its refusal to renounce violence. The group has called for Israel’s destruction, although various officials have at times indicated a willingness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-07-01

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