New threats made as Israel buries teens
Israel’s prime minister has threatened 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.
“If there is a need, we will broaden the campaign as much as needed,” he said.
His threats came as Prime Minister Tony Abbott wrote to his Israeli counterpart to extend his condolence.
In a letter titled “Dear Bibi” – Mr Netanyahu’s nickname – Mr Abbott offered the thoughts and prayers of all Australians.
“The abduction and murder of these three innocent teenagers was a shameful act and one that we condemn, as we do all acts of terrorism,” he wrote.
“I hope the perpetrators are found soon and brought to justice.”
The three teenagers – Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship – disappeared on the night of June 12 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. 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.
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.
Earlier, hundreds of people had headed to the teens’ hometowns for separate memorial services.
Thousands of Israelis have died in wars and violence with the country’s Arab neighbours over the years, but these killings struck a nerve, largely because of the young ages of the victims and the fact that they were unarmed civilians.
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.
Israeli media on Tuesday published a recording of the emergency call.
“They kidnapped me,” a voice, believed to be Shaar, can be heard saying. Another male voice is then heard, shouting, “head down!” Hotline workers initially dismissed the call as a hoax, delaying the rescue efforts for several hours, and several workers have been disciplined for the mishap.
The crackdown in the West Bank has been accompanied by a spike in violence in Gaza. Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes on Hamas targets overnight on Tuesday in response to repeated rocket fire.