Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: 'Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay'

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Hebron
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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: 'Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay'
Flames and smoke billow from the blown-up house of Amer Abu Eisheh, one of two Palestinians suspected in the killing of three kidnapped Israelis, in the West Bank town of Hebron on July 1,2014. The Israeli army demolished the West Bank homes of two main suspects in the kidnap and killing of three young Israelis, witnesses told AFP. They said the houses of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh, Hamas members in the city of Hebron, were blown up, in what a human rights group said was the first punitive demolition since Israel halted the practice in 2005. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke billow from the blown-up house of Amer Abu Eisheh, one of two Palestinians suspected in the killing of three kidnapped Israelis, in the West Bank town of Hebron on July 1,2014. The Israeli army demolished the West Bank homes of two main suspects in the kidnap and killing of three young Israelis, witnesses told AFP. They said the houses of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh, Hamas members in the city of Hebron, were blown up, in what a human rights group said was the first punitive demolition since Israel halted the practice in 2005. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke billow from the blown-up house of Amer Abu Eisheh, one of two Palestinians suspected in the killing of three kidnapped Israelis, in the West Bank town of Hebron on July 1,2014. The Israeli army demolished the West Bank homes of two main suspects in the kidnap and killing of three young Israelis, witnesses told AFP. They said the houses of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh, Hamas members in the city of Hebron, were blown up, in what a human rights group said was the first punitive demolition since Israel halted the practice in 2005. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
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JERUSALEM (AP) - The Israeli military found the bodies of three missing teenagers on Monday just over two weeks after they were abducted in the West Bank - a grim discovery that ended a frantic search that led to Israel's largest ground operation in the Palestinian territory in nearly a decade and drew Israeli threats of retaliation.

"Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed, referring to the Islamic militant group that Israel has accused of carrying out the kidnappings.

The teenagers "were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals," the Israeli leader said as he convened an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet.

The three-hour session ended after midnight without any decisions, and officials were expected to resume deliberations on Tuesday.

Early Tuesday, Israel carried out an especially intense 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.

Israel Blames Hamas After Kidnapped Teens Found Dead

"The IDF will continue to act in order to restore the peaceful living to the civilians of the state of Israel. The Hamas terror organization and its extensions are solely responsible for any terror activities emanating from the Gaza Strip," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman.

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.

The kidnapping episode has put Netanyahu in a difficult position. With a public enraged over the deaths, the Israeli leader has widespread support to strike Hamas. But after a two-week crackdown against the group, he could have a tough time finding new targets. He is also facing international calls for restraint.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking home from the Jewish seminaries where they were studying near the West Bank city of Hebron. Despite the dangers, hitchhiking is common among Israelis traveling in and out of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In an operation codenamed "Brother's Keeper," Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area and arrested some 400 Hamas operatives throughout the territory. The search ended Monday afternoon with the discovery of the bodies under a pile of rocks in a field north of Hebron.

Israel has identified two well-known Hamas operatives from Hebron as the primary suspects. The men, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, remain on the run, and military officials said the search for them would continue.

The search for the teens became a national obsession. Israeli media delivered round-the-clock updates, top officials held daily televised briefings and Israelis held prayer vigils. The mothers of the three teens became public figures as they campaigned for their sons' return, at one point traveling to Geneva to address the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

News of their deaths prompted an outpouring of grief late Monday. Large crowds of supporters rushed to the homes of the families in the central Israeli towns of Nof Ayalon and Elad, and the West Bank settlement of Talmon, while supporters lit memorial candles and prayed.

Large crowds gathered in Tel Aviv's central Rabin Square, and at the West Bank junction where the youths were abducted, singing songs, praying and lighting candles shaped in the names of the youths or the Jewish Star of David.

"All of Israel bows its head today," said President Shimon Peres.

Thousands of Israelis have died in wars and militant attacks over the years, and Israel has grappled with the kidnappings of soldiers by militant groups in the past. But the ages of the victims, and the fact that they were unarmed civilians, seemed to strike a raw nerve. Security officials have long feared that civilian hitchhikers in the West Bank could make easy targets.

Beyond identifying the suspected kidnappers, Israel has not publicly provided evidence proving the involvement of Hamas, which has praised the kidnappings but not claimed responsibility for them. It is also not clear whether the kidnappers received orders from higher-ups or acted on their own.

Still, Hamas frequently encourages its members to try to kidnap Israelis, believing hostages could be used to win the release of militants detained in Israeli prisons. Tensions had also been high since the shooting deaths in May of two Palestinian teens during a stone-throwing clash with Israeli security forces.

News of the Israeli teens' deaths generated condemnations from around the world. Pope Francis, who in May visited the region, shared in the families' "unspeakable pain," said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

In Washington, President Barack Obama sent his "deepest and heartfelt condolences" to the families. "As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing," he said. Yet he urged "all parties" to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a similar condemnation of the "heinous crime," but also urged the sides to "refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation."

Israel's options may be limited. After a two-week crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, few major targets remain there. Hamas had already been weakened by seven years of pressure by Israel and the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli troops seemed to find very little during the latest crackdown.

Israel could turn its attention toward the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel has been battling a surge in rocket fire from Gaza and could step up the intensity of its reprisals.

It also might consider stronger political action. Netanyahu has urged Abbas to disband a unity government he recently formed with Hamas' backing. The Israeli leader will almost certainly step up the pressure on Abbas.

Israeli media have also said that Israel might consider deporting Hamas leaders in the West Bank to Gaza.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel against any broad offensive. Gaza militants possess thousands of rockets, and would almost certainly unleash heavy barrages at Israel if Israel attacks.

"Netanyahu should know that threats don't scare Hamas, and if he wages a war on Gaza, the gates of hell will open on him," he said.

29 PHOTOS
Missing Israeli teens
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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: 'Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay'
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold posters during a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold posters during a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold flags during a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold posters during a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) An Israeli woman hugs Iris Yifrah (from the back), mother of kidnapped Israeli teenager Eyal Yifrah During a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israeli women attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israeli women pray before a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Israeli soldiers stand next to their vehicles on June 30, 2014 in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank town of Hebron, where the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers were found. Israel confirmed finding the bodies of three teenagers who disappeared in the southern West Bank on June 12, blaming the Islamist Hamas movement for their kidnapping and murder. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
An Arab Israeli protester holds stones during clashes with Israeli securituy forces following a rally in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and against Israeli army's operation to search for the three Israeli missing teenagers on June 27, 2017 in the northern Israeli town of Umm al-Faham. After the teens disappeared while hitchhiking in the West Bank, the army launched a vast hunt for them focusing on the Hebron area, detaining hundreds of Palestinians. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI (Photo credit should read AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
An Israeli policeman stands guard next police vehicles on June 30, 2014 in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank town of Hebron, where the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers were found. Israel confirmed finding the bodies of three teenagers who disappeared in the southern West Bank on June 12, blaming the Islamist Hamas movement for their kidnapping and murder. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 29: (ISRAEL OUT) Israelis hold a poster showing the three missing Israeli teenagers, as they attend a rally under the slogan 'Bring Our Boys Home' on June 29, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday evening for a rally calling for the release of the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped more than two weeks ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Israeli soldiers check a map at the start of a search operation in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 26, 2014, to try to locate the three teenagers the army believes were abducted by Islamist movement Hamas on June 12. Israeli Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for condemning the alleged kidnapping of three teenagers by Hamas, but criticised his unity pact with the Islamist movement. Netanyahu spoke as Israel began to wind down a huge crackdown on Hamas, having arrested hundreds in an operation to find the youngsters who went missing in the southern West Bank nearly two weeks ago. AFP PHOTO/HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JUNE 25: Palestinians attend a solidarity demonstration held for Palestinians, living in West Bank and facing Israeli soldier's detentions and oppression during the search operations for Israeli missing teens, in Gaza City, Gaza on June 25, 2014. Carrying Palestinian and Hamas flags during the demonstration, people demand to stop Israeli oppression and detentions. (Photo by Ezz Zanoun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Israeli soldiers take part in a search operation in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 26, 2014, to try to locate the three teenagers the army believes were abducted by Islamist movement Hamas on June 12. Israeli Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for condemning the alleged kidnapping of three teenagers by Hamas, but criticised his unity pact with the Islamist movement. Netanyahu spoke as Israel began to wind down a huge crackdown on Hamas, having arrested hundreds in an operation to find the youngsters who went missing in the southern West Bank nearly two weeks ago. AFP PHOTO/HAZEM BADER (Photo credit should read HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)
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Abbas has condemned the kidnappings, and his forces coordinated closely with Israel during the search for the teens. But he has so far refused Israeli calls to terminate the unity government, which ended a seven-year rift with Hamas. He says his new Cabinet remains committed to his political program.

The Palestinian president scheduled a meeting of the Palestinian leadership on Tuesday to discuss the events, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Abdallah Abdallah, an adviser to Abbas, said the Palestinians regretted the loss of life.

"We want peace to be created in this part of the world so no mother or no family will be bereaved for the loss of their beloved ones, Palestinian or Israeli," he said.

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Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

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