The teens, who went missing in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on June 12, have been the subject of a massive search in recent weeks. Israeli forces have arrested hundreds of Palestinians in the course of the search.
The Times reports that senior government officials in Israel said military searchers found the three bodies buried “in a field near Hebron,” a large West Bank city:
“They know it’s the three, they will know for sure after they do the autopsy.” The official said the three appeared to have been shot to death, likely “very close to the kidnap” time, and that the prime suspects had still not been caught.
A gag order in effect on Israeli media has meant that no Israel-based outlets have reported on the discovery of the teen’s bodies. A press conference is scheduled for this afternoon, according to Tweets from reporters. New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren tweeted that Israeli forces are blocking roads into and out of Hebron.
IDF and police blocking roads to Hebron and Halhul, @rincastelnuovo reports from ground — Jodi Rudoren (@rudoren) June 30, 2014
Ahead of any official announcement, rumors were swirling on Twitter that the three boys had been found dead.
Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson was one of the first to tweet the news, despite a gag order on Israeli media until the Cabinet press conference. His message has since been deleted, but the International Business Times managed to grab a screenshot.
JUST IN: Source tells @ABC News that bodies of 3 missing Israeli teens have been found north of the city of Hebron - @MarquardtA — ABC News (@ABC) June 30, 2014
If confirmed these the Israeli teens- shocked if they were killed. Surely their captors know Israel's response will be brutal. — Stefanie Dekker (@StefanieDekker) June 30, 2014
Of the three missing teens — Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel — one, Frenkel, was also a U.S. citizen, which means that President Obama will likely soon issue a statement.
If the kidnapped teens were found murdered, it isn't just huge for Israel. One of them was a US citizen. Obama will have to respond as well. — Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) June 30, 2014
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned his security cabinet for a special session that could decide on stronger military moves against Hamas, which has neither confirmed nor denied the Israeli allegations.
“There can be no forgiveness for the killers of children and those who sent them. Now is the time to act,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.
Netanyahu seized on the abduction to demand Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas abrogate a reconciliation deal he reached with Hamas, his long-time rival, in April that led to a unity Palestinian government on June 2.
The bodies of the teens were found in a field near Hebron, a militant stronghold and the hometown of two Hamas members identified by Israel as the kidnappers and still at large, security officials said.
“They were under a pile of rocks, in an open field,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman.
The United States, while condemning the kidnapping, has urged Israel to pursue a measured response.