Israel on Thursday named two Hamas Islamists as leading suspects in the June 12 kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers, in the most concrete report yet of results after weeks of searches in the West Bank.
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed reports that troops were seeking Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, militants in their 30s from the Hebron area of the West Bank, both of whom have served time in Israeli prisons in the past.
Israel's Shin Bet Security Agency said in a statement both men had been wanted and at large since the kidnappings, adding that several other Palestinians suspected of involvement in the abductions were being questioned.
Aysha was jailed without trial under so-called administrative detention for six months in 2005, about the time his brother was killed by Israeli forces as he attempted to throw explosives at soldiers, Israeli security officials said.
Kawasme once served a 10-month prison term and trained for military action in the Hebron area, in addition to being involved with Hamas recruitment efforts there, the officials said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the suspects were only part of the group behind the kidnappings and reiterated his call on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to abrogate a unity pact with Hamas, a group that holds power in the Gaza Strip and calls for Israel's destruction.
Israeli authorities have been searching for two weeks for the youths aged 16 and 19, one of whom is a dual U.S.-Israeli national, who disappeared near a Jewish seminary at a West Bank settlement.
Israel scaled back its searches for the youths on Tuesday after arresting several hundred Palestinians in house-to-house raids throughout the West Bank which led Palestinians and some rights groups to accuse it of imposing collective punishment on civilians.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Andrew Roche