The Mystery Behind the Killings That Started the Gaza War

The three Israeli teens allegedly killed by Hamas in West Bank on 12th June, 2014. Their dead bodies were found on 30th June, 2014 in a field north-west of Hebron.

Talmon, West Bank: In his home in the Jewish settlement of Talmon -- an hour north of Jerusalem -- Ofir Shaar shows us a picture of his son Gilad in happier times.

A month ago, 16-year-old Gilad, along with two other boys Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel, had called his parents before hitching a ride back home from their boarding school.
That's the last they heard of him.

"I spoke with him last time on the phone at about 9 pm," Mr Ofir said. "At 10 in the morning, when he didn't come, we found it very strange because he is very responsible."

A week later, the bodies of all three boys were found with bullet wounds.

On the same day, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Palestinian organisation Hamas guilty, saying 'they will pay', even though the boys were killed in the West Bank, where Hamas is a weak entity. 

As proof, Israel produced a call Gilad managed to make to the police while he was in custody, in which he is heard calling out for help, before the call is cut off by the sound of gunshots.

Israel went ahead and launched arguably its biggest military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

But Ihab al Ghosain, spokesperson of Hamas, told NDTV the outfit had nothing to do with the incident.

"Israelis said that two Hamas members were behind this but till now, nobody knows this. It happened in West Bank. Why did they come to Gaza and do all these things in Gaza?"
As the war raged, fresh controversy broke: Mickey Rosenfeld, Israel police's spokesperson for the foreign press, told the BBC that the killers were not from Hamas, but from a rogue outfit with possible links to Hamas.

According to Allan Sorensen, Jerusalem-based correspondent for Berlingske, one of Denmark's biggest newspapers, Israel kept changing its story. 

"There are a lot of question marks about it because we haven't seen any evidence. That's been the main thing since the kidnapping. I remember, as I have been covering this case, first the army came out and said it was Islamic Jihad. And within hours, they changed the version to Hamas."

But the army's chief spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner is clear, and says that it was Hamas without a doubt.

Could answers to the mystery of the boys' killing lie elsewhere, maybe in the landscape of conflict in which the boys lived: Jewish settlements along the hills of the West Bank that are gradually eating into Palestinian territory?

The United Nations deems these settlements illegal. But as we drove up towards the Shair residence, construction was proceeding at a brisk pace.

Rochelle Penkower, a neighbour of the Shair family in their settlement of Talmon, doesn't agree that these settlements are illegal.

"I pay my taxes and I live here, just like everyone else," she says.

But the fact is that each new Jewish settlement only increases friction between the settlers and their Palestinian neighbours. 

It is unclear whether this friction led to the killing of the three boys. We know this: the tragedy that started a war, in which nearly 1,900 have already been killed, is still shrouded in mystery.
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