JERUSALEM (AFP) - The Israeli army said on Monday it had destroyed the homes of two of three Palestinians suspected of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June.
Israel has named three Palestinians from the southern city of Hebron as being behind the abduction - Hossam Qawasmeh, who was arrested in July, and Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisha - both of whom are still at large.
"Overnight, as part of the ongoing mission to combat terror in the region, security personnel demolished the residences of Hossam Qawasmeh, and Amer Abu Eisha, and sealed off the residence of Marwan Qawasmeh in Hebron," an army statement said.
The homes of Marwan Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha had been partially destroyed by the army on July 1, a day after the teens' bodies were found, Palestinian witnesses told AFP at the time. At the scene, an AFP correspondent confirmed the demolition of two of the houses and said a third had been sealed off with concrete.
Israeli officials say all three are Hamas members, with Hossam Qawasmeh named as the leader of the group.
It said the demolition was carried out after the High Court rejected three appeals against it.
Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach disappeared from a hitchhiking stop in the southern West Bank on June 12 and their bodies were found June 30, with Israel blaming Hamas militants.
The incident triggered a series of events which led to the currently bloody stand-off in Gaza where Israel and Hamas have been locked in a violent confrontation for more than a month.
Army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told AFP the kidnapping was orchestrated by Hossam Qawasmeh, a senior Hamas militant who sent the other two, both of whom had a history of serving time in prison for their involvement in Hamas, to carry out the abduction.
Following the teenagers' disappearance, Israel launched a vast search and arrest operation, which also sought to lay waste to Hamas's West Bank network in a move which triggered an increase of rocket fire from Gaza.
In a bid to stamp out the rocket fire, Israel launched a major military operation on July 8, which raged for more than a month, killing 1,980 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side, before the guns fell largely and a series of temporary truce agreements kicked in.
The latest truce expires at midnight on Monday, with negotiators in Cairo racing against the clock to secure a more permanent end to hostilities.