The three teenagers who were kidnapped over two weeks ago have been buried amid a surge of violence that has followed the discovery of their bodies.
Hundreds of people gathered in the home towns of the three teenagers – Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship – for memorial services.
Laid on stretchers and wrapped in blue-and-white Israeli flags, the bodies were laid to rest together in the central Israeli town of Modiin.
Shirel Shaar, Gilad’s younger sister, said: “Recently, the people of Israel went through a great trauma. We are living as if we are in a movie, whose ending is as bad as can be. I don’t have a brother anymore.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said: “We are burying a child today, a child who could have been the child of any one of us. Therefore, he is indeed the child of each and every one of us.”
The trio were abducted while hitch-hiking home from the Jewish seminaries where they were studying near the West Bank city of Hebron.
The army launched its largest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, dispatching thousands of troops to search for them and arresting nearly 400 Hamas operatives.
The search came to an end yesterday afternoon when the bodies were found buried under a pile of rocks in a field north of Hebron.
The crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank has been accompanied by a spike in rocket fire out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Overnight, Palestinian militants fired eight rockets into Israel, the army said.
The Israeli air force carried out airstrikes on 34 targets, including a Hamas compound, the military said. Palestinian officials said four people were wounded.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops shot and killed a 20-year-old Palestinian man during a raid in the northern town of Jenin. Israel said he had thrown a grenade at the troops but his family said he was carrying eggs home for a meal.
Israel has not yet decided how it will respond to the deaths of the youths. Mr Netanyahu’s security cabinet held a stormy meeting late yesterday but was unable to agree on a response.
The Israeli daily Haaretz said Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon had proposed building a new settlement in the West Bank in memory of the boys. Another Cabinet minister, Naftali Bennett, proposed a large-scale military operation in Gaza and to begin using the death penalty against Palestinian militants.
Israel is also reportedly considering the deportation of senior Hamas members from the West Bank to Gaza, where they would face tight travel restrictions and be separated from their families.
Israel has said two well-known Hamas operatives from Hebron are the primary suspects over the teenagers’ deaths. The men, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, have not been seen since the trio went missing and military officials said the search for them would continue.
Israeli soldiers blew up a door of Abu Aisheh’s home in Hebron early today, said an Israeli military official. Photos show extensive damage to one side of the house.
Mr Netanyahu has called on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to end his alliance with Hamas, saying he cannot be serious about peace while cooperating with a group sworn to Israel‘s destruction.
Mr Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev called on Mr Abbas “to break his alliance with these killers”.
“This atrocity, this murder of innocent teenagers on their way home from school, is a clear example. It demonstrates that Hamas has not changed.
“It remains a vicious, vile terrorist organisation that targets every Israeli civilian man, woman and as we’ve seen, children as well,” he said.