ISRAELI special forces stormed a West Bank hideout yesterday and killed two Palestinians they claim were suspects in the brutal murder of three Israeli teenagers.
The gruesome attack triggered a chain of events that led to the war in Gaza this summer. The deaths of the two suspects, identified by the Israeli military as well-known Hamas militants, ended one of the largest manhunts conducted by the Israeli security forces.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the development.
"This episode sends a clear and unambiguous message that Israel will do whatever it needs to to deal with threats and challenges wherever they may occur," he said.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking home in the West Bank and killed soon afterward.
The teens' abduction and slaying prompted a large Israeli crackdown on the Islamic militant Hamas group and set off a chain of events that led to a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In an operation codenamed "Brother's Keeper," Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area and arrested hundreds of Hamas operatives throughout the territory.
The search ended July 1, when the bodies were found under a pile of rocks in a field north of the West Bank city of Hebron. Officials later said it was believed the three had been killed shortly after the abduction.
Israeli forces had been pursuing the suspects, Amer Abu Aisheh and Marwan Qawasmeh, since the abductions, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman.
Separately yesterday, the Israeli military shot down a Syrian fighter jet that infiltrated its airspace over the Golan Heights.
The military said a "Syrian aircraft infiltrated into Israeli air space" in the morning hours and that the military "intercepted the aircraft in mid-flight, using the Patriot air defense system."
The military would not say what type of aircraft was downed and said the circumstances of the incident were "unclear." A defence official identified the downed aircraft as a Sukhoi Su-24 Russian fighter plane. Perviously, it was reported to have been a MiG aircraft. He said the Syrian jet penetrated 800 meters (2,600 feet) into Israeli air space and tried to return to Syria after the Patriot missile was fired.
The crew managed to abandon the plane in time and landed in Syrian territory, the Israeli official said.