The teenagers’ deaths triggered a chain of events that led to the invasion of Gaza by Israel this summer.
The deaths of the two suspects, identified by the Israeli military as well-known Hamas militants, ended one of the largest manhunts conducted by the Israeli security forces.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-US citizenship, were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking home in the West Bank and killed soon afterward.
In an operation codenamed “Brother’s Keeper”, Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area and arrested hundreds of Hamas operatives throughout the territory.
The search ended on July 1, when the bodies were found under a pile of rocks in a field north of the West Bank city of Hebron. Officials said it was believed the three had been killed shortly after the abduction.
Israeli forces had been pursuing the suspects, Amer Abu Aisheh and Marwan Qawasmeh, since the abductions, said Israeli army spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner. Lerner said a recent breakthrough led the Yamam, a counter-terrorism unit, to the hideout in Hebron about a week ago. Early yesterday, Israeli special forces entered the ground floor of the two-story building and killed two Hamas operatives after coming under fire, Lerner said. The military believes both men were killed, though troops confirmed the killing of only one suspect. Lerner said the second suspect fell backward in a hail of fire and is presumed dead.
Lerner noted the two men had been identified as suspects early in the search.
Another three members of the Qawasmeh family were arrested, he said.