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Israel identifies Palestinian pair suspected of kidnapping youths

June 26, 2014 7:57 P.M. (Updated: June 27, 2014 11:50 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Israeli military on Thursday officially identified Marwan al-Qawasmeh, 29, and Ammar Abu Eisha, 33, as the two main suspects in the kidnapping of three Israeli youths who went missing two weeks ago.

The military said in a statement that the pair, who they identified as "Hamas operatives," were behind the disappearance of the youths from the Gush Etzion settlement in the West Bank on June 13.

The military also said that the two, who are both from Hebron, were identified within 24 hours after the "kidnapping" but that they were still at large.

The military said their wives had been detained for questioning and their homes raided, adding that both of the men have previously served time in Israeli prison.

Qawasmeh was detained at the age of 18 and sentence to 10 months in jail, which he served, and was re-arrested four times in the years since, including for administrative detention.

In his last interrogation by Israeli forces in 2010, the military said, he admitted to having been "recruited to the Hamas' military arm in Hebron since 2009," and said he had undergone combat training in the Hebron area. He was then imprisoned until March 2012.

Eisha, meanwhile, was first arrested in Nov. 2005 and was held without trial or charge by Israeli forces until June 2006, the military said. He was re-arrested in April 2007 for a short period of time.

Eisha's brother was shot dead by Israeli forces in Nov. 2005 while ostensibly trying to "throw an explosive" at them, and his father had been arrested by Israel multiple times, the Israeli military added.

The disappearance of the three youths has set off the largest Israeli military deployment across the West Bank in more than a decade, and has led to the deaths of eight Palestinians in less than two weeks.

Israeli forces initially accused Hamas of the kidnapping, which it vigorously denied, and authorities vowed to "crush" the Palestinian political and militant group.

More than 120 Palestinians have been injured in the military operation, which Israel dubbed "Brother's Keeper," and more than 1,350 homes and offices, including numerous universities, have been raided.

The Palestinian Prisoner's Society said on Thursday that 566 Palestinians have been detained in the campaign, including 12 members of parliament.
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