Hamas 'behind murders of abducted Israeli teenagers'
A Palestinian arrested by an Israeli anti-terrorism unit has confessed that the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June was funded by Hamas from Gaza, according to court documents made public yesterday.
Hussam Qawasmeh, from Hebron in the West Bank, is said to have admitted helping to plan the kidnappings, obtaining funding for the operation from the Islamist group and burying the teenagers' bodies in a plot of land he had bought several months previously.
The kidnapping and the subsequent discovery of the young men's bodies beneath a pile of rocks in a field near Hebron was a key event in the lead-up to Israel's decision to begin its month-long attack on Gaza,
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, insisted from the outset that Hamas, whose political wing rules Gaza, had been behind the murders.
However, the apparent confession is the first time that direct testimony has been made public confirming the group's link to the crime.
Mr Qawasmeh (40) was arrested on 11 July in the Shuafat neighbourhood of east Jerusalem by an anti-terrorism unit acting on a tip-off from the Shabbak security services, a police spokesman said.
Details of the arrest were revealed in documents submitted to an Israeli court in defence of a demolition order placed on his family home in Hebron.
Even before the teenagers' bodies were found in a field belonging to the Qawasmeh family, Israel launched an all-out raid on Hamas-related infrastructure and organisations in the West Bank.
There had been earlier doubts over the precise role of Hamas in the kidnapping, with its political leadership denying any involvement. But the organisation's military wing - the Izz ad Din al-Qassam Brigades - operates independently from its political leadership.
Yuval Diskin, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security organisation, said in a recent interview that he thought the Hamas political bureau was "taken by surprise" by the abduction.
He added that "it seems as though it was not co-ordinated or directed by them".
The Qawasmeh family is part of an enormous, elite clan based primarily in Hebron and numbering up to 17,000 members. (© Daily Telegraph, London)