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 bloody war in Gaza.
The killings, during a raid on the two suspects’ hideout, came as Israeli and Palestinian delegations were to negotiate in Cairo a more permanent Gaza ceasefire, almost putting the talks in jeopardy, 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 two men were hiding out in a house in Hebron and killed when gunfire broke out during an operation by the Shin Bet internal security services and the army’s anti-terror unit, it said in a statement.
Residents said they heard shots fired during the assault in what appeared to be a firefight between the suspects and security forces, and that the army had also broken down the doors of several shops in the area.
Dozens of local youths threw stones at the soldiers near the scene of the raid, and following the shooting, a general strike was being observed across the city.
Sporadic clashes between stone-throwing youths and soldiers continued during the day, an AFP correspondent said, but ceased briefly during the funerals of Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha.
Some 3,000 mourners attended the processions and burials, with many waving the flags of Hamas, which controls Gaza and has a large support base in Hebron.
The Shin Bet said in a statement the army had also arrested several other Palestinians who had helped hide Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha after the teens were killed.
“Troops also arrested Bashar Qawasme, Mahmud Qawasme and Taer Qawasme, the sons of Arafat Qawasme who was himself arrested on July 14 on charges of helping the killers hide after the murder of the teens,” it said.
The suspects “no longer pose a threat to Israeli civilians,” army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said on Twitter, posting 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 in a statement.
The June abduction of Gilad Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach from a hitchhiking stop near Hebron sparked a huge 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 during the arrest operation.
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.
Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were to discuss a more permanent truce in Cairo beginning Tuesday, but a Palestinian official said the killings of Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha 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, 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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