JERUSALEM — Israel arrested a Palestinian last month accused of being the prime mover in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June, it emerged from court papers on Tuesday. The abduction set off the most recent conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The suspect, Hussam Qawasmeh, 40, from the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of the three Israelis — Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach — who were reported missing on June 12 and discovered dead a couple of weeks later.
According to the court documents, Qawasmeh told the police during an interrogation that he had helped organize the kidnappings and had gotten money for the task from Hamas. He also reportedly admitted to having bought weapons and given them to the two other men who are suspected of having carried out the attack and who are still at large. And Qawasmeh is said to have admitted to helping bury the teenagers in a plot of land he bought a few months before.
The fate of the three teenagers, who attended yeshivas in settlements in the West Bank, seized the nation. After their bodies were found, the suspects’ reported connection to Hamas was used to justify Israel’s wide-ranging crackdown on the group in the West Bank, with the arrests of scores of people, including the rearrests of some men who had been let go in an earlier deal for the release of a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit.
The case also prompted the kidnapping of a Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, who was beaten and burned to death hours after the funerals of the Israeli teenagers. Three Israelis have been indicted in that case.
The associated crimes set off a cycle of violence that led to weeks of conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and there has been criticism in Israel and abroad that the Israeli government exaggerated the involvement of Hamas in the original kidnapping and murder.
Qawasmeh’s arrest was made public on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and the two other suspects — Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, also from Hebron — should be destroyed as a punitive measure. The Israeli Supreme Court had blocked the demolition orders and sought further justification from the state.
Israel identified the two suspects still at large in June; they were said to be Hamas members of long standing. Critics argued that the local Qawasmeh clan might have acted on its own and that it was not clear that Hamas as an organization was behind the kidnapping.
Hussam Qawasmeh was arrested trying to flee into Jordan, the police said.