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Bodies of missing settlers found in West Bank

Israeli PM blames Hamas for death of three teens who disappeared two weeks ago in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Last updated: 30 Jun 2014 23:18
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The three young settlers went missing in the West Bank on June 12 [AP]

The Israeli army has told Al Jazeera that they have found bodies of the three missing teenage settlers near Hebron in the Occupied West Bank.

Al Jazeera's sources said the Israeli army has responded by launching a series of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

The Israeli military announced late on Monday that the bodies had been found. "The bodies are currently going through forensic identification. The families of the abducted teens have been notified," the army said. 

The bodies had been buried in a field near the village of Halhul, just north of Hebron, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson, reporting from Ramallah, said that there were thousands of Israeli soldiers in Halhul.

The Israeli cabinet is holding an emergency meeting at the Knesset. The army is expected to issue a statement later on Monday.

Israel has accused the Palestinian movement Hamas, which has its power base in the Gaza Strip, of kidnapping them. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that "Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay." He added that the teenagers "were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by wild beasts", AP reported.

Nitzan Alon, commander of Israel's military said in a statement that "the mission is not over": "The army, alongside the general security service and the police will continue, for as long as necessary to find the kidnappers, the terrorist from Hamas. We will not rest and not stop until that mission is complete."

Refuting Israel's claims, Hamas said: "The disappearance and the killing of the three settlers was all an Israeli story to use as  a propaganda to start a war against our people. We warn Israel against any stupid action. if Israel wants a war the price they will pay will be greater than in previous wars."

The Palestine Liberation Organisation's Hanan Ashrawi told Al Jazeera that the "Israeli escalation already took place, now they have an excuse of further escalation".

The news was met with condemnation from British Prime Minister David Cameron who called it "an appalling and inexcusable act of terror". Cameron added that London will "stand with Israel as it seeks to bring to justice those responsible".

The US State Department urged Israel and Palestine to exercise restraint while continuing security cooperation. "Any harm that has been done to these teenagers is a tragedy," it added.

More than 400 Palestinians have been arrested since the three settlers went missing in the West Bank on June 12.

Israeli state media confirmed that the bodies were of the three teenagers - Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship - who disappeared almost two weeks ago while hitchhiking home from their religious seminary in Kfar Etzion, an illegal settlement in the West Bank between Bethlehem and Hebron.

The army initially focused its search in that area, sealing off Hebron and deploying troops to comb the hills and villages and installing checkpoints and concrete barriers. But the focus of the offensive quickly widened.

Israel has accused the Palestinian movement Hamas, which has its power base in the Gaza Strip, of kidnapping them. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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