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Israel says it’s killed 2 Palestinians accused in kidnappings that led to Gaza war

This combination of images released by the Israel Defense Forces shows Israeli teens Eyal Yifrah, 19, left, Gilad Shaar, 16, center, and 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, Naftali Fraenkel. Israeli special forces stormed a West Bank hideout early on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, and killed two Palestinians suspected in the June abduction and slaying of the three teenagers, a gruesome attack that had triggered a chain of events that led to the war in Gaza this summer. (AP Photo/Israel Defense Forces, File)
This combination of images released by the Israel Defense Forces shows Israeli teens Eyal Yifrah, 19, left, Gilad Shaar, 16, center, and 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, Naftali Fraenkel. Israeli special forces stormed a West Bank hideout early on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, and killed two Palestinians suspected in the June abduction and slaying of the three teenagers, a gruesome attack that had triggered a chain of events that led to the war in Gaza this summer. (AP Photo/Israel Defense Forces, File) AP

After an extended manhunt, Israeli security forces on Tuesday tracked down and killed two Palestinians suspected of abducting and slaying three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June, the army said

The kidnapping, blamed by Israel on the militant Islamist group Hamas, set in motion a sequence of events that led to the recent war in Gaza, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians and 72 Israelis and a foreign worker died.

In public remarks after the suspects were killed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had told the parents of the slain teenagers that “justice had been done.”

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an army spokesman, said that Israeli special forces, acting on intelligence, surrounded the suspects’ hideout in the city of Hebron in the southern West Bank early Tuesday.

The fugitives, Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, and Amer Abu Aisheh, 33, had evaded capture since going missing after the June 12 abduction of the three teenagers in a cluster of Jewish settlements south of Bethlehem.

After shots were fired at the building housing the suspects, Israeli authorities used construction equipment to tear a hole in the building’s wall. The fugitives “came out shooting,” Lerner said. One of the Palestinians was killed on the spot, and the second fell back into the structure and was presumed dead after troops hurled grenades and explosive devices inside.

Three more members of the Qawasmeh family were arrested in the area on suspicion of aiding the fugitives, Lerner said. Palestinians reported that troops blasted open the doors of homes during the searches.

Earlier this month charges were brought against another family member, Husam Qawasmeh, the accused ringleader of the kidnappers. He was charged with arranging a safe house for the fugitives and funding the abduction with money obtained from his brother, identified as a Hamas operative and former prisoner who had been expelled from the West Bank to Gaza.

The kidnapping of the teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, as they hitchhiked home from their religious schools, triggered an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank in which hundreds of Palestinians were arrested.

The crackdown led to an escalation of militant rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes across the Israel-Gaza border, culminating in the launch of an Israeli offensive against Hamas that became a 50-day war. A cease-fire reached on Aug. 26 ended the hostilities, pending talks on a long-term truce that are supposed to resume next month.

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