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Israeli Military Responds After 3 Missing Teens Found Dead


Three Israeli teenagers are being buried side-by-side today. They were kidnapped almost three weeks ago while hitchhiking in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and it now appears they were shot and killed almost immediately. Israeli soldiers found their bodies yesterday under a pile of rocks in a West Bank field. Israel blames the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the murders. NPR's Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem, but she's spending sometime in Washington right now, so she joins us in our studios. Emily, good morning.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Just remind us if you can who these three teenagers are and why they might have been targeted.

HARRIS: They're two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old. They are Israeli-Jewish citizens, and they were going to school in the West Bank. They probably were not targeted specifically. They were hitchhiking, picked up at a hitchhiking post. Israeli-Jewish citizens, who live in the West Bank in settlements in the West Bank or go to school in the West Bank, are part of the ongoing conflict over land in the West Bank. This is land that the Palestinians want as their part of their future state. So they were probably not targeted as specific individuals, but their kidnapping and death brought a lot of emotion to the Israeli public because they are teenagers. And there have been murders of Israeli citizens in the West Bank over the past several months - in the past six months that have not evoked the same kind of emotional or political response.

GREENE: And tell us now about that political response since their bodies have been found.

HARRIS: Well, since the bodies have been found last night, the military searches have continued. Israel is still looking for two people that they've named as suspects in this kidnapping, and the politics of what to do next is what is really at the heart of the Israeli response now. Israeli security officials met last night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They didn't come out with a resolution of what to do. T here are reports in the Israeli press that this was a very confrontational cabinet meeting. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has basically only said Hamas is responsible. This is what Israel said from the start, and he says Hamas will pay.

GREENE: And what does that exactly mean? I mean, how might Hamas pay here?

HARRIS: Well, that is the question, and that's the debate within Israeli society right now; should there be a very broad, intense military operation in the West Bank? Should there be something that lets most Palestinians go about their daily lives but really tries to pinpoint the people that Israel says are responsible? What Israel decides to do could impact how Palestinians respond with the overall question of, is this going to erupt into some kind of serious and sustained violence or not?

GREENE: Well, what are we hearing so far from the Palestinians as they hear this tough language and these threats coming from Israel?

HARRIS: Well, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to his spokesperson last night called officials in Washington and Europe and asked him to try to stop Israel from launching some kind of heavy military attack. The Palestinian leadership has also been meeting to try to figure out what to do. There's an interesting political situation on the Palestinian side as well. Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of Fatah, a much more mainstream party and a party in his government - works in cooperation with Israel on a number of things including security operations. But two weeks before the kidnapping, Fatah joined together with Hamas in what's being called a unity government. Basically they both agreed to accept certain technocratic cabinet members.

GREENE: A partnership that Israel was not happy with.

HARRIS: A partnership that Israel from the beginning has said they don't want. From the Palestinian perspective, it's very important to unify, or they can't go forward in any method to try to get the state that they want. But Israel's made it clear form the beginning they don't like this partnership and made it clear since the kidnapping that one of their main goals in the pursuit of the kidnappers has been to pressure Abbas to give up this partnership with Hamas. So on the Palestinians side, the big question is, what is going to happen politically? What will Abbas choose to do?

GREENE: All right, a lot to follow as this goes forward. We've been speaking to NPR's Jerusalem correspondent Emily Harris about the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers. Emily, thank you very much.

HARRIS: Thanks, David.

GREENE: You are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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