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Palestinians fear Israeli reprisals over death of three settlers - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Smoke rises from the family home of Palestinian Ziad Awad in the town of Idna, 8 miles (13 kilometers) west of the West Bank city of Hebron, on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Smoke rises from the family home of Palestinian Ziad Awad in the town of Idna, 8 miles (13 kilometers) west of the West Bank city of Hebron, on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat—The body of a Palestinian youth was discovered in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday amid fears that the missing Palestinian teen had been killed as part of reprisals following the deaths of three abducted Israeli teens.

Naftali Frenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, went missing on June 12 near the West Bank town of Hebron, sparking a massive search operation. Their bodies were discovered in a shallow grave north of Hebron on Monday; the three Israeli teens are believed to have been killed while hitchhiking home.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas of being behind the crime, with Israeli authorities naming Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, both residents of Hebron, as suspects in the murders. Both suspects were last seen on the night the three Israeli teens were abducted and killed.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Amer Abu Aisha’s uncle, Mohamed Abu Amer, denied accusations that his nephew was a member of Hamas or involved in the murders, branding the Israeli allegations “weak, confused and wrong” and describing the story as being like the plot of a “bad movie.”

“Amer is married and has three children; he left home without saying goodbye to his wife and children or anybody from his family. He is financially comfortable and makes a lot of money . . . There is nothing in his life to indicate that he would want to destroy his life,” Mohamed said.

“We have no reason to believe that he has any affiliation to Hamas. He does pray five times a day, but he is not affiliated to any faction.” Amer Abu Aisha’s uncle added.

Amer Abu Aisha’s uncle also stressed that his nephew was not physically capable of kidnapping the three Israeli settlers: “Amer is unwell; he cannot exert too much effort following a brain injury he suffered during a car accident, so how could he be responsible for kidnapping the three Israelis? It is impossible.”

The death of the three teenagers has raised Palestinian fears of Israeli reprisals. Israel launched 34 air raids in the early hours of Tuesday morning, just hours after the bodies of the three settlers were found, in response to 20 rockets being launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian was also shot and killed on Tuesday in an Israeli operation in Jenin in the West Bank; Israel’s military claimed the man was a member of Hamas.

Tuesday’s operations came just hours after Netanyahu pledged that Hamas “would pay a heavy price” for the deaths of the three Israeli settlers. “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay . . . [The settlers] were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by wild beasts,” the Israeli prime minister said.

Hamas, now part of a unity government with the Palestinian Authority, has denied involvement in the deaths. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Monday: “Only the Israeli version of the events has been published.”

“Israel is attempting to make way for aggression against us, against Hamas . . . No Palestinian group, Hamas or any other group, has taken responsibility for the action, and thus the Israeli version can’t be trusted,” he said.