Israeli authorities said on Tuesday they had arrested a Palestinian suspected of being involved in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June.
Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.
Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Kawasme’s arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.
The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.
The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organise the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.
Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.
Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.
THREE-DAY TRUCE BETWEEN ISRAEL, HAMAS TAKES EFFECT
Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war.
Minutes before the truce began at 8 a.m. local time, Hamas launched a salvo of rockets, calling them revenge for Israel’s “massacres.” Israel’s anti-missile system shot down one rocket over Jerusalem, police said. Another hit a house in a town near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. There were no casualties.
Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,865 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches.
ISRAEL: ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ ON DESTROYING TUNNELS
Israeli armour and infantry withdrew from the Gaza Strip ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been completed. “Mission accomplished,” the military tweeted.
Troops and tanks will be “redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions,” spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting if attacked.
Lerner said the army overnight destroyed the last of 32 tunnels located inside Gaza and which had been dug by Hamas for cross-border ambushes at an estimated cost of $100-million. “Today we completed the removal of this threat,” he said.
Israeli officials say, however, that some tunnels may have gone undetected and that the armed forces are poised to strike at these in the future.
PALESTINIANS: RESIDENTS RETURN HOME FROM SHELTERS
In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents, carrying mattresses and with children in tow, left U.N. shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.
Sitting on a pile of debris on the edge of the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Zuhair Hjaila, a 33-year-old father of four, said he had lost his house and his supermarket. “This is complete destruction,” he said. “I never thought I would come back to find an earthquake zone.”
Visiting International Red Cross President Peter Maurer, responding to local criticism that his organization was late in helping some of the victims, said “we were insufficiently able to bridge the gap between our willingness to protect them and our ability to do so.”
PEACE TALKS: DELEGATES DUE IN CAIRO
Israel was expected to send delegates to join talks in Cairo to cement a longer-term deal during the course of the truce.
For now, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel’s Army Radio, “there are no agreements. As we have already said, quiet will be answered with quiet.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Islamist movement had also informed Egypt “of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm,” beginning on Tuesday.
Efforts to turn the ceasefire into a lasting truce could prove difficult, with the sides far apart on key demands, and each rejecting the other’s legitimacy. Hamas rejects Israel’s existence, and vows to destroy it, while Israel denounces Hamas as a terrorist group and eschews any ties.
Besides the truce, Palestinians demand an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on impoverished Gaza and the release of prisoners including those Israel arrested in a June crackdown in the occupied West Bank after three Jewish seminary students were kidnapped and killed. Israel has resisted those demands in the past.
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