JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli military court on Tuesday sentenced a Palestinian to life imprisonment over the killing of three Israeli youths, whose abduction in the occupied West Bank set off a chain of events leading to the 50-day Gaza war last summer.
The court found that Hussam Kawasmeh, a member of the militant Hamas Islamist group, planned the abduction in which Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, were shot dead while hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank in June.
Kawasmeh was arrested in August and charged with murder. A three-judge panel sentenced him to three life terms, according to a court document released to the media.
Two Hamas operatives suspected of having killed the youngsters after picking them up on a road near a Jewish settlement died in a firefight with Israeli forces at their West Bank hideout in September.
The bodies of the three Israelis were found in the West Bank nearly three weeks after their disappearance.
In an alleged revenge attack in July, a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khudair, was abducted and burned to death in Jerusalem by three suspected Jewish assailants, who have since been charged with his murder.
Khudair’s death and sweeping arrests by Israel of suspected Hamas men across the West Bank led to clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in East Jerusalem and cross-border rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
A seven-week-long Gaza war ensued in July and August in which, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were also killed.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Jeremy Gaunt)