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Thousands attend funeral of murdered teens as Israel mulls military retaliation

Israel has vowed it will exact a high price from Hamas for the murders.

Avi and Rachel Fraenkel embrace during the funeral of their son, Naftali.
Avi and Rachel Fraenkel embrace during the funeral of their son, Naftali.
Image: AP Photo/Tomer Appelbaum

ISRAEL HAS PAID an emotional farewell to three teenagers killed in the West Bank, while vowing to hunt down the Hamas militants it holds responsible for their kidnap and murder.

The disappearance of Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Ifrach, from a roadside in the southern West Bank on June 12 and the hunt for their kidnappers has gripped the Israeli public, triggering an outpouring of public grief and anger.

But the drama drew to a bitter end on Monday when troops uncovered three bodies in a field in the West Bank.

All three had been shot in a triple murder blamed on militants from the Islamist Hamas movement.

Twenty-four hours later, tens of thousands of mourners from across the country packed into the cemetery in Modiin in central Israel to pay their last respects at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

“I know the pain of mourning. There is nothing worse than that,” said Netanyahu standing by the three coffins, each draped with a blue and white Israeli flag.

Mideast Israel Palestinians Family and friends of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, three Israeli teenagers who were abducted over two weeks ago, mourn during their funeral in Modiin. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Israel has vowed it will exact a high price from Hamas for the murders, but at the funerals there were no calls for bloodshed or revenge.

There has never been any credible claim of responsibility for the abductions, and Hamas has described Israel’s accusations as “stupid”.

Israel has vowed to hunt down the killers, and the security cabinet was to meet for a second night to discuss how to deal with Hamas, officials said.

Netanyahu warned at a defence ministry meeting in Tel Aviv late Tuesday that Israel would expand its bombing campaign against Hamas targets in Gaza, after striking dozens of sites belonging to the group the previous night.

The military “has been active in recent days against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip… if need be, we will expand the campaign,” he said, adding that an operation against Hamas in the West Bank would continue in tandem.

Mideast Israel Palestinians A Palestinian inspects the damaged family home of Amer Abu Aisheh, one of two Palestinians identified by Israel as suspects. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Although Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza hitting 34 targets overnight, nobody was killed and only four people were hurt.

Hamas has warned any Israeli attack would “open the gates of hell”.

Two Hamas men named by Israel as the prime suspects — Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eishe — remain at large, although troops blew up their homes on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Since June 12, Israel has arrested 419 Palestinians, two thirds of them Hamas members, and six Palestinians have been killed in clashes triggered by the operation.

Gaza militants have also fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel since June 12, prompting Israel to stage retaliatory air strikes, killing three Palestinians.

Mideast Israel Palestinians Palestinians clean the damaged house of Amer Abu Aisheh. Source: AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi

Nine rockets more rockets struck the south on Tuesday, the army said.

London-based rights group Amnesty International slammed Israel’s vast arrest campaign.

“The murder of three abducted Israeli teens deserves justice,” it said in a statement.

But it said the West Bank operation amounted to “collective punishment of Palestinians” and “blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Read: Israel: Hamas will pay. Hamas: Start a war and you’ll open the gates of hell >

More: Bodies of missing Israeli teenagers found, defence minister calls for ‘eradication of Hamas’ >

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