JERUSALEM, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of Israeli troops canvassed the West Bank on Tuesday searching for the two suspected Palestinian militants accused of abducting and murdering three Israeli teens, who were buried in a public funeral ceremony attended by thousands earlier in the day.
More than two week of searching for Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenekel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, ended in tragedy on Monday evening when members of an elite army unit and civilian volunteers found their bodies buried in a shallow pit in a field northwest of Hebron.
Forensics experts and the Shin Bet security service assessed that the teens were shot dead just minutes after getting into the abductors' car. Their bodies were later hastily dumped near the town of Halhul, about a 15-minute drive from the junction where they had been hitchhiking on the night of June 12.
Israel announced its two prime suspects, Marwan Kawasmeh, 29, and Amar Abu-Eisha, 33, claiming they were Hamas operatives who were previously imprisoned in Israeli jails. Concerns were raised that the two may try to flee the Hebron area, prompting the military to block all entrances and exits to Hebron and most surrounding villages, and bar Palestinian commuters from using two main arteries in the region.
"The goal is to find the kidnappers, and this is where the army and Shin Bet will now focus most of their efforts," Israel's Ynet news site quoted a military source as saying. "We won't stop until they are captured."
Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Tuesday joined a chorus of cabinet ministers who have vowed to settle the score with the kidnappers and punish Hamas. More than half of the 419 Palestinian suspects that have been arrested over the past two and a half weeks are affiliated with the Islamist group.
"We will continue to hunt down the boys' murderers, and we will not rest nor remain silent until we lay our hands on them," Ya' alon said in a statement, adding that Israel viewed Hamas as responsible for the teens' deaths.
"We know how to settle scores with them," he said.
The discovery of the slain teens also elicited a furious response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said on Monday night that they were "kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals."
The heated rhetoric came just as the Israeli military launched massive airstrikes on Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, hitting 34 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in response to increased rocket fire from the area.
With the suspected kidnappers still at large, security forces converged on the homes of Kawasmeh and Abu-Eisha on Monday night to ensure that no clues have been missed during earlier searches, Israeli media said.
Army sappers were called in to partially demolish the Hebron home of Abu-Eisha with explosive charges. The military said the measure was taken due to concerns that the militant was in the house and could open fire on the troops.
Forces also raided the home of the second suspect, Kawasmeh, and questioned his family. The military is reportedly awaiting a cabinet decision to raze the homes of both suspects.
Media analysts speculated that army units will withdraw from the West Bank in the coming days to resume training, though a large force would remain in the region to counter possible mass riots by Palestinians as the hunt continues.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have mounted since the teenagers' disappearance was first reported. Israel's evasive operations have also angered many Palestinians, causing a backlash.
Throughout the West Bank clashes have been reported between Palestinians and Israeli security forces during the search operation that has left at least six Palestinians dead, including a 13-year-old Palestinian child.
On Monday night, security forces clashed with West Bank residents, killing one Palestinian and arresting three.
Palestinian officials said Yousouf Ibrahim Zagha, 19, was killed in a confrontation with Israeli troops who raided the Jenin refugee camp. The military released a statement saying he was shot after hurling a grenade at the soldiers.
The three teens were laid to rest side by side on Tuesday in a cemetery in the city of Modi'in.