via Fox News
Israel’s nearly three-week vigil for three teens kidnapped in the West Bank — including one with U.S. citizenship — ended grimly Monday, with the discovery of their bodies just north of Hebron.
The search for Eyal Yifrach, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Frenkel, also 16, who were snatched while hitchhiking, ended even as Israeli forces were conducting raids in the West Bank, where Hamas operates. Frenkel holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.
Israeli forces were massing Monday in the West Bank village of Halhul, just north of Hebron. Sources said the bodies were found in a shallow grave in an open field. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to speak on the discovery later Monday.
The abductions outraged the Jewish state as well as the international community, and several vigils and rallies were held around the U.S. during the intensive hunt. Hundreds of Palestinians took part in the search, dubbed “Brother’s Keeper.”
The three youths disappeared as they were heading home from a West Bank religious school. Israeli officials said at the time that one of the teens called a police emergency line around 10:25 p.m. local time and said: “We’ve been kidnapped.” They were not heard from again.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticized the kidnapping, and pledged help in the search but denied there was evidence linking Hamas to the crime. Hamas, which governs the Palestinian territories jointly with the PA, praised the kidnapping without claiming responsibility.
Netanyahu previously left little doubt as to who he blamed.
“Hamas terrorists carried out Thursday’s kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers,” Netanyahu said earlier this month. “We know that for a fact. Hamas denials do not change this fact.”
Israeli forces searched more than 1,000 sites, rounding up Hamas and Islamic Jihad suspects as part of the operation. Last week, the Israel Security Agency identified two Hamas operatives from Hebron as key suspects in the kidnappings, Ammar Muhammad Abu Eisha, 33, a locksmith, and Marwan al-Qawasmeh, 29, a barber. Both men allegedly disappeared from their homes on the night of the kidnapping have not been seen since.
Obama administration officials did not confirm the deaths, referring reporters to the Israeli government while condemning the violence.
“The kidnapping and, of course, any harm that has been done to these teenagers is a tragedy,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
Binyamin Proper, who was among the civilian volunteers that found the bodies, told Channel 2 TV that a member of the search party “saw something suspicious on the ground, plants that looked out of place, moved them and moved some rocks and then found the bodies. We realized it was them and we called the army.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.