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 occupied 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.
According to the Times of Israel, the two men are believed to have been in the car that picked up the three teens—16-year-olds Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach—as they hitchhiked from their yeshiva in the West Bank.
The identities of the suspected kidnappers, who attended prayer services regularly at the same mosque, have been known to Israel since soon after the kidnapping, but were kept secret as the search operation continued over the past two weeks. They are alleged to have been in the car in which Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel were abducted from a hitchhiking post near the settlement of Alon Shvut in the Eztion Bloc south of Jerusalem, Israeli officials said. Other members of their Hamas group have been arrested, the officials added.
The kidnapping has prompted a massive search that’s been called the largest military operation in the West Bank in several years. Nearly 400 Palestinians have been arrested in the West Bank (51 of whom had been released from prison in the controversial 2011 deal to free Gilad Shalit), and five Palestinians have been killed in the increasingly violent clashes.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly blamed Hamas for the kidnapping, this is the first report tying the teens’ disappearance to the militant group that’s been released to the public.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.