NEW YORK -- The United States confirmed on Tuesday it has strong evidence that Hamas is culpable, if not directly responsible, for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths.
Encouraging restraint from both the Israeli government— livid over the finding of the bodies of the missing on Monday, vowing to exact justice on the perpetrators— and from the Palestinian leadership, some of whom are calling the trial an Israeli conspiracy, and all of whom are bracing for reprisal, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that the US is intimate with intelligence on the case, in part since one of the dead teenagers was American.
"There are many indications as part of this investigation that Hamas may have been involved," Harf said. "I am not at this point saying they were responsible."
Harf noted that Hamas has praised the kidnapping, which gripped Israel over 18 days as security forces searched for the boys. The US government lists Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The US has not yet commented on Israel Air Force strikes against Hamas in Gaza; 34 assets were targeted overnight.
In an evening statement on Monday, after the US formally notified next of kin of the death of dual Israeli-US citizen Naftali Fraenkel, US President Barack Obama walked a careful line, expressing empathy as a father, fury as an American and caution as a leader familiar with the nature of spiraling crises in the Middle East.
"As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing," Obama said. "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth."
The president also called on both sides to refrain from taking steps that might "further destabilize the situation."
Fraenkel was eulogized and buried Tuesday at a funeral attended by thousands, along with Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar. The three boys, all under 20 years old, will be buried side by side.
On Monday, Israel’s envoy to the UN released a blistering statement in which he criticised the international community’s relative silence on the whole affair, and called on the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon to condemn not only the deaths of the teenagers, which both he and Ban called “murders,” as well as to condemn the unity government and to call on Hamas to cease rocket fire.
“The people of Israel cannot – and will not – tolerate these acts of terrorism,” Prosor said in a statement. “We are prepared to take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from Hamas terror. Those who target Israelis with terrorism today will pay a very heavy price tomorrow….The international community can no longer remain silent as the citizens of Israel are mercilessly murdered and terrorized”.
A spokesman for the secretary-general reiterated the his statement released in the wake of the murders that “There can be no justification for the deliberate killing of civilians” and condemned them “in the strongest terms.”
“The Secretary-General believes this heinous act by enemies of peace aims to further entrench division and distrust and to widen the conflict. It must not be allowed to succeed,” Ban said in a statement. “He hopes Israeli and Palestinian authorities will work together to bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice, and extends his deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.”
Ban also called for restraint against “any actions that could further escalate tensions.”
Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric also said that the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry was especially concerned by statements made by members of Hamas that were supportive of the kidnappers’ actions.