The three Israeli teenagers who went missing earlier this month in the West Bank have been found dead.
An Israeli military spokesman said their bodies were found in a pit near the town of Halhul, north of Hebron.
Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both aged 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach were last seen at a junction near Hebron as they hitchhiked home on 12 June.
Israel had accused Hamas militants of abducting the three teens, which the Palestinian militant group repeatedly denied.
The teenagers’ families have been informed, the military said last night.
Blockades have been set up and whole areas around Halhul are closed, just a few kilometres from where the teens were last seen.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night warned the Hamas militant group would pay a heavy price for the deaths.
In a statement issued last night he said: “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay,” and he said the teenagers “were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by wild beasts”.
Despite the dangers, hitchhiking is common among Israelis travelling in and out of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“The bodies are currently going through forensic identification. The families of the abducted teens have been notified,” an army spokesman said.
He said the bodies had been buried in a field near Halhul.
Binyamin Proper, who was among the civilian volunteers who found the bodies, said that a member of the search party “saw something suspicious on the ground, plants that looked out of place, moved them and moved some rocks and then found the bodies”.
He added: “We realised it was them and we called the army.”
Israel accused Hamas of being behind the abductions and launched a frantic manhunt throughout the West Bank, arresting nearly 400 Hamas operatives in the process.
Last week, Israel identified two well-known Hamas operatives as the chief suspects. The two men remained on the run last night.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnappings, and his forces coordinated closely with Israel during the search for the teens.
But Netanyahu has called on Abbas to dissolve a unity government recently formed with the backing of Hamas, saying it is impossible to be committed to peace while simultaneously sitting together with a group that kidnaps Israelis.
Abbas has so far refused the calls, saying his new government is committed to his political programme. Hamas is not part of his government, but has lent its backing from the outside.
The search for the teens captured the nation’s attention. The Israeli media delivered round-the-clock updates on the search, and the mothers of the three teens became high-profile figures as they campaigned for their sons’ return and Israelis held daily prayer vigils.
Yesterday, dozens of Israeli forces moved into the village of Halhul. There were no further details on the operation.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “We obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms violence that takes the lives of innocent civilians.”