Israeli officials have confirmed that the bodies of the three teenagers who were abducted earlier this month have been found.
An Israeli government official told the New York Times the three appeared to have been shot to death “very close to” the time that they disappeared in the West Bank. The bodies were discovered buried in a field near the West Bank city of Hebron, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the terror group Hamas, vowing in a statement: “Hamas is responsible – and Hamas will pay.”
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking from school. While Hamas praised the kidnappings, it has not formally claimed responsibility.
“They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals. On behalf of the entire Jewish people, I would like to tell the dear families – the mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and brothers and sisters – we are deeply saddened, the entire nation weeps with you,” Netanyahu said.
President Barack Obama in a statement extended his “deepest and heartfelt condolences” to the families and noted that Naftali Fraenkel held American citizenship.
“As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing,” Obama said. “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth. From the outset, I have offered our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice, and I encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort.”
“I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation. As the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States,” Obama said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chair of the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, and ranking committee member Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said in a joint statement that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must take action if Hamas is determined to be responsible.
“This is a day of tragedy and mourning; the world has lost three beloved sons, friends, and beautiful souls who were taken from us too early, but will forever live on in our hearts and minds,” they said. “We will continue to support the government of Israel in its efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, and we offer the people of Israel our deepest and most heartfelt condolences as we grieve with them. If it is determined that Hamas is behind this horrific tragedy, [Abbas] must immediately break up the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization.”
This post has been updated.