Israeli military officials say that three bodies found Monday near the town of Telem in the the occupied West Bank are those of teenage Israelis who went missing on June 12.
The Israel Defense Forces announced the news Monday, saying that forensic testing was underway and that the three families had been notified. Early Tuesday, the Israeli army launched at least two dozen air strikes in Gaza.
The bodies of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrah were found near the flash point city of Hebron, where relations between settlers and local Palestinians have been tense for many years. The IDF said the bodies were discovered by a group of Israeli soldiers and civilian volunteers, only a few miles away from where the teens went missing. The bodies were found under a pile of rocks, according to the IDF.
Israel confirmed that the two members of Hamas it had fingered as leading suspects on Thursday were still the main suspects in the disappearances. Its security sources have conducted a widespread search and crackdown in the West Bank since the abduction, during the course of which, Palestinian officials say, at least six Palestinians were killed and hundreds more were arrested.
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed reports that troops were seeking two men, both in their 30s, from the West Bank’s Hebron area. Both have reportedly served time in Israeli prisons.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency issued a release saying that both men have been wanted and at large since the kidnappings and that several other Palestinians suspected of involvement in the abductions were being questioned.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the suspects were only part of the group behind the kidnappings and reiterated his call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to abrogate a unity pact with Hamas. Israel has repeatedly blamed Hamas for the disappearances but has provided no evidence to support the claim.
"They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals," Netanyahu said on Thursday. "Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay."
While Abbas has refused Israeli calls to break up his alliance with Hamas, he has instructed his security forces to continue a controversial policy of security coordination with the Israelis.
Abbas called an emergency meeting of Palestinain leadership for Monday night to respond to the deaths, according to the Jerusalem Post. The three-hour session ended after midnight without any decisions, and officials were expected to resume deliberations on Tuesday.
Early Tuesday, Israel carried out a series of airstrikes in Gaza, saying it had struck 34 targets across the Hamas-controlled territory. The military said the airstrikes were a response to a barrage of 18 rockets fired into Israel since late Sunday.
There were no further details on the targets, but in recent weeks Israel has repeatedly targeted launch sites and weapons storage areas in similar attacks. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Israeli authorities had been searching for two weeks for the youths, one of whom is a dual U.S.-Israeli national. The three, ages 16 and 19, disappeared near a Jewish seminary at an illegal Israeli settlement as they were hitchhiking home in the West Bank.
The discovery of the bodies prompted a rebuke from members of the U.S. Congress.
"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," U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Ranking Member of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said in a release. "If it is determined that Hamas is behind this horrific tragedy, (Abbas) must immediately break up the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas."
President Obama also weighed in, saying Israel could expect the full support of the U.S. as it investigates the attacks, but made no mention of Hamas in his brief statement.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the killings.
Al Jazeera and wire services