Hamas official claims Qassam abducted Israeli teens in June
In the first awknowledgement of its kind, a top Hamas official said the group's militant wing Qassam was responsible for the abduction of three Istaeli teens in June whose deaths sparked violent clashes and revenge attacks, ultimately leading to the war in Gaza, as Retuers reports.
Saleh al-Arouri at the International Union of Islamic Scholars spoke in Instanbul Wednesday, claiming Qassam had imprisioned the three settlers in Hebron as a show of solidarity with Palestinians serving sentences in Israeli prisons. Tensions between Israel and Hamas were already on the rise before the abductions as Palestinian prisoners were carrying out massive hunger strikes inside Israeli jails.
"The popular will was exercised throughout our occupied land, and culminated in the heroic operation by the Al-Qassam Brigades in imprisoning the three settlers in Hebron," he said, adding that the act was meant to "aid [Palestinian] brothers on hunger strike in [Israeli] prisons."
The three Jewish seminary students — 19-year-old Eyad Yifrach, and 16-year-olds Gilad, Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel — were picked up and killed while hitchhiking in the West Bank on June 12. Wednesday's announcement was the first time Hamas has taken responsiblity for the act. While Israel immediately accused them, the group has neither confirmed nor denied the accusations until now.
Still, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has denied any knowledge of the plan praises the action.
Tensions escalated further when almost three weeks later, 16-year-old East Jerusalem resident Mohammad Abu Khder was kidnapped, beaten and burned to death by Jewish extremists in a revenge killing for the three Israelis.
Protests and rocket-fire then prompted large-scale Israeli airstrikes into Gaza, resulting in more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths, 67 Israeli deaths, and several failed caesefires.
Israeli security forces are currently searching for two suspects believed to have carried out or plotted the abduction, while a third suspect has been taken into custody.