Israeli forces killed two alleged Hamas members who, the Israelis say, kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers on June 12, an Israeli defense spokesperson announced Tuesday. The two suspects “came out shooting” when the Israelis, in the final phase of one of the largest manhunts in Israel’s nearly 70-year history, tracked them to a building in the West Bank town of Hebron.
The two men were identified as 29-year-old Marwan Qawasmeh (pictured at left above) and Amer Abu Aisha, 33. Both men were members of Hamas and had been hiding out in the Hebron building for about a week when the Israelis moved in on them Tuesday.
A Hamas spokesperson, Hussam Bardan, confirmed that the two suspects were indeed members of Hamas, and praised their “sacrifice.”
When Israeli forces blasted the small building with a rocket, Qawamesh and Abu Aisha burst out with their own guns blazing. Israelis are certain that one of the men was killed in the ensuing gun battle. The second disappeared in hail of bullets and explosives.
“One of them was killed on the spot,” Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner told the media. “We have one confirmed kill and the second assumed killed. Because of how he fell back into the void and the grenades that we threw after him, it’s very unlikely that he survived.”
The pair ignored Israeli forces who offered to let them surrender, Israeli authorities said. That’s when the shooting began. Three other men were arrested during the raid.
The two men killed were the chief suspects in the June kidnapping and murder of three teenage students, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach. Yifrach was 19 years old, the other two boys were 16. Their murdered bodies were found hastily buried under a rockpile just outside of Hebron, and their deaths escalated tensions between Israel and the terror group Hamas, which serves as the Palestinian government in Gaza.
The heightened tensions culminated in the bloody, 50-day Gaza war in July and August.
Peace talks currently underway in Gaza will continue, though the killing of the two kidnapping suspects could have cut them short, Palestinian officials said. Nonetheless, Palestinian leaders condemned the killing of the two Hamas members.
“It’s clear now the two martyrs, al-Kawasme and Abu Aysha, were assassinated this morning during a military operation in the Hebron University area,” said Hebron’s governor, Kamel Hmeid, in a statement which appeared to confirm that both suspects had in fact been killed. “We condemn this crime, this assassination, as deliberate and premeditated murder.”
Qawamesh, a member of a prominent Palestinian family with known ties to Hamas, had been arrested eight times previously. Abu Aisha had been arrested twice by Israeli authorities, before his death Tuesday morning.