JERUSALEM, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed on Monday evening the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens whose bodies were found earlier this evening in the West Bank.
"Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay," Netanyahu said in a statement to the press at the beginning of an urgent meeting of his diplomatic-security cabinet that was convened to discuss the recent developments and the possible courses of action.
Israeli political leaders echoed Netanyahu and called for harsh crackdown on Hamas. Speaker of the Knesset (parliament) Yuli Edelstein said that "Israel must open a definitive war on Hamas. It is time that the Palestinians will realize that Hamas is leading them to destruction."
After weeks of massive manhunt, the Israeli Defense Forces ( IDF) Spokesperson's Unit said this evening that the bodies of 19- year-old Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel and Gilad Shaer, both 16, were found in the Judean Hills in the southern West Bank, north of Hebron, between the Palestinian town of Beit Ummar and Halhul. Their bodies were discovered in an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority, not far from where they were considered to be kidnapped.
The bodies are currently going through forensic identification. Security sources told Israeli Channel 10 that it is believed that they were killed a short while after the kidnapping.
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers were operating near Halhul to retrieve the bodies, prompting clashes with Palestinian protesters who hurled stones at the soldiers and their vehicles. The suspected kidnappers have not been apprehended.
General Nitzan Alon, head of the Central Command, told Channel 2 news that soldiers are still searching for 29-year-old Marwan Kawasme and 32-year-old Amar Abu Aysha, residents of Hebron and alleged Hamas members, that the Israeli Security Service (the Shin Bet) believes are behind the kidnap.
Israeli security forces conducted a manhunt in the West Bank territories in the past two weeks dubbed operation "Brother's Keeper" to track down the missing teens and their kidnappers. More than 420 Palestinian suspects were arrested and some of Hamas' institutions were closed.
The operation included raids and overnight operations across the West Bank and searches were conducted in more than 2,200 locations, according to the army spokesperson's unit. At least four Palestinians were killed in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security services in the past two weeks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas is behind the attack and urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve his national unity government with it. However, spokespersons for Hamas in Gaza and Jordan have denied any connection to the kidnapping and said they had no information about the whereabouts of the teens.
In addition to the operation in the West Bank, more than 70 rockets were launched by militants in the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel. Israel retaliated in several air raids killing at least three Palestinians, according to local media reports.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is ready to expand its operation against Hamas. Abbas had condemned the kidnapping and said whoever is behind it is set to destroy the Palestinian Authority.