Israeli soldiers from a special army unit take part in a search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 17, 2014
Israeli soldiers from a special army unit take part in a search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 17, 2014 © Menahem Kahana - AFP/File
Israeli soldiers from a special army unit take part in a search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 17, 2014
AFP
Last updated: September 23, 2014

Israel army kills two Palestinians suspected of teens murder

Israeli troops on Tuesday killed two Palestinians in the West Bank suspected of the murders of three Jewish teenagers in June, which sparked events leading to the devastating war in Gaza.

The killings, during a raid on the suspects' hideout, came before Israeli and Palestinian delegations began negotiating in Cairo a more permanent Gaza ceasefire, almost jeopardising the talks, a Palestinian official said.

Amer Abu Eisha, 32, and Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, whom Israel accused of kidnapping and murdering the teens, were killed "in an exchange of fire" in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, the army said.

The pair were hiding out in a Hebron house and killed when gunfire erupted during an operation by the Shin Bet internal security services and the army's anti-terror unit.

Residents said they heard shots fired in what appeared to be a clash between the suspects and security forces, and that the army had also broken down the doors of several shops.

Dozens of youths threw stones at the soldiers nearby, and following the shooting, a general strike was being staged across the city.

Sporadic clashes between stone-throwing youths and soldiers continued, but ceased briefly during the funerals of Abu Eisha and Qawasmeh.

Some 3,000 mourners attended the processions and burials, with many waving the flags of Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza and has a large support base in Hebron.

Hamas's armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades praised the two "martyred fighters".

Shin Bet said troops had also arrested at least three Palestinians alleged to have helped Abu Eisha and Qawasmeh to hide.

- 'No longer a threat' -

Army spokesman Colonel Peter Lerner said on Twitter that the suspects "no longer pose a threat to Israeli civilians," and posted pictures of the two men.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the operation, saying the suspects had been "dealt with".

"I said that whoever perpetrated the kidnapping and murder of our boys would bear the consequences... that we would pursue the enemy, find them and not return until they had been dealt with," he said.

The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority's security chief Adnan al-Damiri accused Israel of "carrying out operations to kill (people) and destroy houses".

Palestinian security forces had known "nothing" about the whereabouts of the suspects, nor "how the Israeli army was able to enter this area," which is under full Palestinian control.

The June abduction of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach from a hitchhiking stop near Hebron sparked a vast Israeli search operation in which hundreds of Palestinians were arrested and at least five killed.

Israel immediately blamed the kidnappings on Hamas militants, rounding up hundreds of suspected members.

The brutal revenge killing by Jewish extremists of Mohammed Abu Khder, a Palestinian teenager in east Jerusalem, was followed by an uptick in rocket fire from Gaza, and the launch on July 8 of a full-scale Israeli military operation against the Strip.

More than 2,200 people died during the 50-day war, which ended with an August 26 ceasefire.

- Diplomatic backlash -

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators met Tuesday in Cairo to discuss a more permanent truce, but a Palestinian official said the killings of Abu Eisha and Qawasmeh had almost scuppered the talks.

"The killing of the two youths in Hebron is causing a crisis, and could lead to the Palestinian delegation not attending indirect talks with the Israeli team," the official said ahead of the talks, requesting anonymity.

Rachel Frenkel, the mother of 16-year-old Naftali Frenkel, one of the three Jewish teenagers, said she was relieved not to have to face his killers in court.

"I'm not all that sorry that I won't encounter their laughing faces in a courtroom," she told army radio.

The army had already partially destroyed the two suspects' homes on July 1, a day after the teenagers' bodies were found. The demolitions were completed in August.

Earlier this month, Israel charged the prime suspect in the teens' murders, Hossam Qawasmeh, with organising and financing their kidnapping.

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