President Obama urged “all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation” after the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. Naftali was a dual citizen with an American passport.
The youths were walking home from their yeshiva about halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron, possibly hitchhiking as public transportation in the area is scarce. One of the boys reportedly got a call into Israeli police to say “we’re being kidnapped” at about 10:30 p.m. before the line was disconnected.
“With heavy grief, this evening we found three bodies. All signs indicate that they are the bodies of our three abducted youths – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of this evening’s security cabinet meeting.
“They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals. On behalf of the entire Jewish people, I would like to tell the dear families – the mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and brothers and sisters – we are deeply saddened, the entire nation weeps with you. We will give the boys a proper burial. ‘Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.’ Neither has vengeance for the blood of three pure youths, who were on their way home to meet their parents, who will not see them anymore,” Netanyahu continued.
“Hamas is responsible – and Hamas will pay.”
Obama said in a statement that “as the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States.”
“As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth,” he said. “From the outset, I have offered our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice, and I encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort.”
Less than a week ago, Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, was on Capitol Hill urging lawmakers and the administration to help Israel find the boys.
“Yes, this happened in Israel, but we all know that the terrorists can make this happen any place in the world and to anyone,” Shaar said. “We must stand strong against all the terrorists and all the terrorist organizations… the terrorists will not break us, no matter what they try to do.”
Shaar met with committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), both at the press conference along with Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).
Royce said the kidnappings can be traced to “decades of demonization of Israelis by the Palestinian Authority” and the “genocidal aspirations of Hamas.”
“We as members of Congress feel that it is important to stand beside these three teens and call upon our government to work with the government of Israel in every way,” the chairman said.
Engel stressed that “as long as we don’t do anything to combat terror, we are in essence condoning terror.”
Royce stressed today that “the brutal murder of these boys should leave the administration with no illusion that a Hamas-backed Palestinian government will be a partner for peace.”
“With these killings, the genocidal intent of Hamas has been laid bare yet again,” he added.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said “there are no words of condolence or solace that can ever comfort the bereaved families of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal.”
“Hope for their recovery has transformed into mourning… This act of terrorism strikes at the heart of freedom loving people the world over and we stand with Israel as it works to bring to justice those who committed this murderous act,” Menendez added. “Over these past 18 days, the Jewish community and people of good faith in New Jersey, the United States, and throughout the world demonstrated an unbreakable unity of spirit in praying for Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal’s swift return. That strength will only endure.”
“The individuals who kidnapped and caused the deaths of these innocent teens need to be held accountable for their cruel and cowardly deeds,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki opened today’s briefing just about 20 minutes after the news broke in Jerusalem.
“We have seen the reports. I don’t have anything to confirm from here. I would point you to the government of Israel. Certainly, as we’ve said many times throughout the course of the last several weeks, the kidnapping and of course any harm that has been done to these teenagers would — is a — is a tragedy. We’ve been in close touch with the Israelis and the Palestinians over the course of the last several weeks. I don’t have any new calls to update you on as of this morning,” Psaki said.
She stressed that the message of “restraint” urged by the U.S. government as the Israeli Defense Forces went hunting for suspects “certainly” still applies.
“We have — as you noted, been in touch with both sides and have been urging continued security cooperation that the Israelis and the Palestinians continue to work with one another on that and we certainly would continue to urge that in spite of, obviously, the tragedy and the enormous pain on the ground as a result,” Psaki said.
When asked if Hamas involvement in the slaying of the three boys, as Netanyahu contends, would finally convince the administration to cut off aid to the Palestinian unity government, she replied, “We do look at all kinds of information as it relates to our relationship with the Palestinians — our relationship with any — any entity that we work with.”
“So, I’m not going to make a prediction. I don’t know what the outcome will be of the final findings.”
UPDATE 6:15 p.m. EST: Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in, calling the deaths of the three teens “simply devastating.”
“We all had so much hope that this story would not end this way. As a father, there are no words to express such a horrific loss that shakes all people of conscience. We pray for these three boys and their families, and together we grieve with all the people of Israel. Knowing that Naftali was also an American citizen makes this an especially heavy blow not just to Israel, but to the United States,” Kerry said.
“We condemn this despicable terrorist act in the strongest possible terms. The killing of innocent youths is an outrage beyond any understanding or rationale, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. This is a time for all to work towards that goal without destabilizing the situation.”