Israel has confirmed that it launched a series of “precision strikes” on 34 “terror targets” in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday morning.
The strikes came after the bodies of three Jewish teenagers, who were kidnapped last month, were discovered in a shallow grave Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “all signs indicate that they are the bodies of our three abducted youths.” The boys — Naftali Fraenkel, 16; Eyal Yifrach, 16; and Gilad Shaar, 19 — were believed to have been kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank on June 12, according to NBC News.
The Israeli Defense Forces said the strikes were a response to rockets being launched at Israel from Gaza, ABC News reports.
But Netanyahu promised vengeance for the deaths of the three boys at an emergency cabinet meeting Monday. He blamed the murders on Hamas.
“They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by beasts,” he is quoted as saying by The New York Times. “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.”
The crisis surrounding the kidnappings has politically weakened Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) President Mahmoud Abbas and damaged hope of a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.
American-led peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders broke down in April after Abbas announced a unity-government deal between the PLO and Hamas. Netanyahu denounced the deal at the time because Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.
Abbas denounced the kidnappings last month and deployed his own security forces to help search for the boys. But Israel dismissed his words and actions, saying they were meaningless unless he severed ties with Hamas.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, issued a statement Tuesday saying “no Palestinian group, Hamas or any other group,” had taken responsibility for the kidnappings or deaths.
“We reject all Israeli allegations and threats against us,” he said. “We are already used to it and will know how to defend ourselves.”
The Israeli air attacks also coincided with attacks on the homes of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, the two men Israel suspects of kidnapping the boys. Just after midnight on Tuesday, witnesses said they saw Israeli forces destroy the homes with explosives.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement saying “as a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing.”
The statement also urged “all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”