MODI’IN Israel, 1 July-2014(Reuters): Thousands of mourners gathered on Tuesday in an outpouring of national grief for the burial of three Israeli teenagers whose abduction and killing Israel blamed on Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group it vowed to punish.
Israel bombed dozens of sites in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, wounding two Palestinians, striking at Hamas a day after finding the bodies of the Jewish seminary students in the occupied West Bank, not far from where they went missing while hitchhiking on June 12.
But officials said Israel’s security cabinet, which held an emergency session late on Monday and was due to meet again on Tuesday, was split on the scope of any further action in the coastal enclave or in the West Bank. The United States and regional power-broker Egypt urged restraint.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised Hamas would pay. Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, speaking at a funeral service for one of the teens, said: “Hamas’s leaders and members should know that the blood of whoever dares strike at the citizens of Israel is forfeit. They should know that we will pursue them wherever they are and hit them hard.”
The military said aircraft attacked 34 targets in Gaza, mostly belonging to Hamas.
Palestinian medics said two people were slightly wounded.
The Islamist group has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the disappearance of the students nor in the cross-border rocket salvoes from Gaza.
Before their joint burial in the Israeli city of Modi’in, funeral services were held outside the homes of Gil-Ad Shaer and U.S.-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19.
“There hasn’t been a show of unity like this in Israel for years,” Fraenkel’s father, Avraham, said at the service, as he stood facing the body of his son, which was draped with an Israeli flag.
Israeli television and radio stations interrupted regular programming to broadcast the funerals.
“We will learn to sing without you, but we will always hear your voice within us,” Naftali’s mother, Rachel, said.
At the security cabinet meeting, the army proposed “considered and moderate actions” against militants in the West Bank, officials said. Any sustained campaign there could undermine U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
But the cabinet did not agree on a future course of action at that session, officials said.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel against going too far.
“The response of the resistance has been limited, and Netanyahu must not test Hamas’s patience,” said Abu Zuhri, whose group’s arsenal includes rockets that can reach Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu seized on the abduction to demand Abbas annul a reconciliation deal he reached with Hamas, his long-time rival, in April that led to a unity Palestinian government on June 2.
An Arab diplomat familiar with Egyptian mediation between Israel and the Palestinians said Cairo, echoing Washington, expected the Netanyahu government to tread carefully.
“I don’t believe Israel is ready, just yet, to change the status quo,” he told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It can punish those who did the crime, but should not get out of control with civilians who had nothing to do with the crime.” In the West Bank on Tuesday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said troops opened fire at a man, identified by Palestinian officials as Yousouf Al-Zagha, 19, who threw a grenade at soldiers attempting to arrest a militant in Jenin refugee camp. A Palestinian witness said Zagha was an innocent passerby.
The men Israel has accused of carrying out the abductions are still at large.
Troops set off explosions late on Monday in the family homes of the alleged abductors in the West Bank town of Hebron, blowing open a doorway in one, an army spokeswoman said. The other property was on fire after the blast. Soldiers, who arrested one of the suspect’s father and brothers, ordered the inhabitants of the dwellings to leave before the detonations.
“This kind of act is a sin, whether you’re a Muslim or Jew. They’ve scared the kids so much,” Um Sharif, the mother of one of the alleged kidnappers, said about the damage to her home.
Hamas has been rocked by the arrest of dozens of its activists in an Israeli sweep in the West Bank over the past three weeks during the search for the teenagers that Israel said was also aimed at weakening the militant movement. Up to six Palestinians died as a result of the Israeli operation, local residents said
Abbas condemned the abduction and pledged the cooperation of his security forces, drawing criticism from Hamas and undercutting his popularity among Palestinians angered by what they saw as his collusion with Israel.
Hamas, which has maintained security control of the Gaza Strip since the unity deal, is shunned by the West over its refusal to renounce violence. The group has called for Israel’s destruction, although various officials have at times indicated a willingness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire.