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New threats against Hamas as Israel buries teens

02 July 2014, 06:44

Jerusalem - Israel's prime minister threatened on Tuesday to take even tougher action against Hamas following an intense wave of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, as the country buried three Israeli teens it says were kidnapped and killed by the Islamic militant group.

In comments broadcast live on national television, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his first goal is to find the killers of the three teens. "We will not rest until we reach the last of them," he said.

But a broader mission is to act against Hamas in its Gaza stronghold, the Israeli leader said as he convened an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet to discuss a response to the deadly abductions.

"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.

"If there is a need, we will broaden the campaign as much as needed."

The three teenagers - Eyal Yifrah, aged 19, Gilad Shaar, aged 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship - disappeared on the night of 12 June as they were hitchhiking home from Jewish seminaries they attended in the West Bank.

The abductions sparked Israel's broadest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, with the military deploying thousands of troops in a frantic search for the youths. Accusing Hamas of being behind the abductions, it also launched a massive crackdown against the group's West Bank infrastructure.

The manhunt came to a grim end on Monday when searchers discovered the teens' bodies under a pile of rocks in a field near the city of Hebron, a few miles from where they disappeared.

The plight of the teens captured the nation's attention, and the discovery of their bodies prompted an outpouring of grief. An estimated 50 000 mourners attended Tuesday's funeral in the central Israeli city of Modiin, arriving in hundreds of buses organised for the occasion.

"This day has spontaneously turned into a national day of mourning," Netanyahu said in his eulogy as the three bodies, wrapped in blue-and-white Israeli flags and laid out on stretchers were laid to rest side-by-side.

Israel has identified two Hamas operatives as the chief suspects in the kidnappings. But it has offered little public evidence against the men, who remain on the loose.

It also is unclear whether the suspects acted alone or at the instruction of Hamas leaders. Hamas has praised the kidnappings, but not said whether it ordered the mission.

- AP


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