A prime suspect in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank has been charged with organising and financing the crime, Israeli security officials said Thursday.
The deaths, which Israel immediately blamed on Hamas, triggered a series of events that led to a devastating 50-day war in Gaza that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 71 Israelis.
Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet accused Hossam Qawasmeh, who was arrested on July 11, of organising the June 12 kidnapping and spending some 220,000 shekels ($61,300, 47,200 euros) on weapons and cars used in the crime.
According to the charge sheet seen by AFP, Qawasmeh was charged in a military court for “transferring enemy funds”, carrying out services for an illegal organisation (Hamas) and “deliberately causing the death” of the three Israelis.
The indictment noted that Qawasmeh had asked and obtained the money from his brother Mahmud, “a Hamas operative who had been expelled to Gaza”.
The boys — Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach — were shot almost immediately after their abduction, and their bodies were discovered on June 30 near to where they were snatched.
Qawasmeh’s two suspected accomplices, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisha, are still at large.
The Israeli army destroyed the homes of the latter two on July 1, a day after the teens’ bodies were found, Palestinian witnesses said.
The army says the kidnapping was orchestrated by Qawasmeh, a senior Hamas militant who sent the other two, both of whom had a history of serving time in prison for their involvement in Hamas, to carry out the abduction.
Israel rounded up hundreds of Hamas members in the West Bank in a mass arrest operation, prompting an uptick in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is based, and setting the stage for an Israeli operation in Gaza.
The Gaza war, which ended August 26 after 50 days of fighting, killed 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians on the Israeli side, including a Thai migrant worker.