Today, 15 Sivan, is the second yahrtzeit of Naftali Frenkel (16, from Nof Ayalon), Gilad Shaer (16, from Talmon), and Eyal Yifrach (19, from Elad).
On June 12, 2014, these three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped at the bus/hitchhiking stop at the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, as they were hitchhiking to their homes.
Gilad Shaer called a police emergency hotline to report the kidnapping. The emergency call recording, initially under a gag order, was leaked to the public. After Gilad Shaer’s whispered message “They kidnapped me,” the taped call also recorded shouting in Arabic from the kidnappers and several volleys of automatic gunfire. Within days, Israeli investigators, though lacking conclusive proof, strongly suspected the teenagers had been killed, and, if so, knew where the victims’ bodies would probably have been dumped.
The Israel Defense Forces initiated Operation Brother’s Keeper in search of the three teenagers. As part of the operation, in the following 11 days Israel arrested around 350 Palestinians, including nearly all of Hamas’ West Bank leaders. Five Palestinians were killed during the military operation.
On June 15, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu said that the teens had been kidnapped by Hamas, which Hamas denied. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas maintained that as of 22 June there was no evidence that Hamas was behind the kidnapping.
On July 25, BBC correspondent Jon Donnison tweeted that Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld stated that the kidnappings did not occur on the orders of, or with the knowledge of the Hamas leadership, and that the crime was the action of a “lone cell.” Sheera Frenkel had reported similar views from Israel and Palestinian sources some ten days earlier. Rosenfeld later denied having used the words “lone cell.” On 5 August, Israel said that it had arrested Hussam Qawasmeh on 11 July, who is suspected of having organized the killing of the three teenagers. According to court documents, Qawasmeh stated that Hamas members in Gaza financed the recruitment and arming of the killers. Hussam Qawasmeh’s lawyers stated that he confessed under “heavy torture” from Israeli security services, Shin Bet. Qawasmeh lawyer stated “What he said during interrogation was that he was responsible for ordering the kidnapping,” and that “The orders came from him personally.”
On June 26, the Israel Security Agency released the identities of two Hamas suspects in the kidnapping. Both ISA and Palestinian authorities said that the two men have been missing since the night of the kidnapping, and the ISA stated that both had engaged in terrorism, been arrested, and served time in the past, and were considered suspects immediately after the kidnapping. A senior Palestinian intelligence official said off the record that their disappearance constituted clear evidence the two suspects have links with the abduction.
On June 30, search teams found the bodies of the three missing teenagers in a field north-west of Chevron. They had apparently been killed shortly after their abduction. Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed a tough response to the killings.
On August 20, 2014, a Hamas official Salah al-Arouri, who had been publicly identified as the mastermind of the operation several days after the kidnapping, on June 19, said that the organization’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was behind the kidnapping and murder. The Shin Bet had been investigating him in the belief that he ran a major Hamas network in the West Bank, headed by Riad Nasser of Deir Qadis, near Ramallah, and that he was behind the kidnapping. Following this line of investigation may have delayed the capture of Hussam al-Qarasme, who was only arrested on July 10. al-Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing, made his comments at a conference in Istanbul, where he lives in exile. The Israeli Defense establishment thinks that Arouri is unconnected with the kidnapping, and was engaged in boasting. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal said that some Hamas members had kidnapped and murdered the Israeli teens but stated that they were not acting on orders from the Hamas leadership, which he said, were “not aware of this action taken by this group of Hamas members in advance” and the first he heard about it was through the Israeli investigation into the events. Meshaal, who has headed Hamas’ exiled political wing since 2004, has denied being involved in the “details” of Hamas “military issues.” He initially praised the kidnappers hoping the action could lead to the release Palestinian prisoners. According to J. J. Goldberg, the military indictment contains no evidence of orders from Hamas itself and strengthens the thesis that the incident was organized by the Qawasmeh family alone from start to finish. According to Amos Harel and Chaim Levinson, the kidnappers planned to wait a few days, then contact senior Hamas operatives in the Hebron area, to manage the hostage and negotiate a prisoner swap with Israel. In their view it appears doubtful that any senior Hamas official would have been ready to accept that kind of risk.
On September 23, 2014, after Israel killed the two suspects Marwan Kawasmeh and Amar Abu-Isa in a shootout, IDF Chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz announced that Operation Brother’s Keeper “has come to an end.”
On January 6, 2015, Hussam Qawasmeh, a member of Hamas, was jailed and sentenced to three life terms in prison for the murders. He must also pay $63,000 in compensation to the victims’ families.
The investigation concluded that the kidnapping operation’s costs ran to NIS220,000, a sum procured by Hossam Hassan Kawasmeh, with the assistance of his brother, Mahmoud, who was exiled to the Gaza Strip in the Gilad Shalit exchange in November 2011, to purchase the two vehicles and weaponry. The cars were purchased from Nuh Abu-Eisha, the weapons from Hamas operative Adnan Mahmad Izzat Zru, both Hebronites. His attempt to escape to Jordan, thwarted when he was arrested in the Shuafat refugee camp on 11 July, was assisted by his relatives Hisham Kawasmeh (45), Jamil Kawasmeh (38) and Hassan Kawasmeh (45) a Hamas militant. Two other Hebronites, Ahmad Ibrahim Mahmad Kawasmeh (64) and his brother, senior Hamas operative Arafat Ibrahim Mahmad Kawasmeh (50) for assistance in going into hiding, and the latter concealed them on his property. On January 6, 2015, Hussam Qawasmeh was sentenced to three life terms in prison for the murders as well as a compensation payment of $63,000 to the victims’ families.
Matzav.com Israel News Bureau, Wikepedia