Israeli troops have killed two Palestinian men who were suspected of kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teens in June, a government official said Tuesday.
Fox News reports that Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told reporters the soldiers had been tracking Amer Abu Aisheh and Marwan Qawasmeh since the kidnappings occurred.
The teens — Eyal Yifrah, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship — were abducted while hitchhiking in the West Bank June 12.
Those kidnappings and the subsequent discovery of the three teens’ murdered bodies on July 1 were largely responsible for touching off the recent 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Lerner said Israeli troops tracked the two suspects to a home in the Hebron area of the West Bank about a week ago. Residents there told Reuters that troops surrounded the house before dawn Tuesday morning. They said they later heard gunfire.
“We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange,” Lerner said of the gunfight.
The two men killed had known ties to the militant of wing of Hamas, according to The Associated Press.
Lerner said they were named as suspects in the abduction and murder case early in the investigation and believed they had tried to abduct Israeli citizens in the past.
“We were determined in bringing the ruthless murderers of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali to justice,” he said. “Today's successful mission brings the long-term search to an end, and the perpetrators of the crime no longer pose a threat to Israeli civilians.”
Lerner added that troops had “visual confirmation” that only one of the two suspects was killed but assumed that the other man also died in the firefight. Palestinian officials have not confirmed the death of either man.
Hussam Badran, a spokesman for top Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, praised the presumed-dead militants from his Twitter account.
“The martyrdom of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh came after a long life full of jihad sacrifice and giving. This is the path of resistance, which we all are moving in,” he wrote.