NEW: Operation to abduct the teens was not approved by leadership, Hamas official says
NEW: The death of the teens has been followed by weeks of violence
Palestinian death toll is 2,092, according to Gaza Ministry of Health, not including executions
Hamas executes 18 suspected informants for Israel, TV report says
A Hamas official admitted Friday that militants from his group abducted three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June, but the official said the kidnappers did not tell their leaders about the action.
The three teens were later found dead. Since then, violence has flared in the region.
Saleh Aruri, a Hamas Political Bureau member, said in a statement from Doha, Qatar, the operation to abduct the teens was not approved by the Hamas leadership or its military wing, the Qassam Brigades.
“At that time, the Hamas leadership had no knowledge about this group or the operation it had just carried,” Aruri said, referring to the abductors. “It turned out later, however, that they were members of Hamas.”
Tensions between Israel and Hamas ratcheted up June 30 after the bodies of the three were found in the West Bank. Friday’s statement included no comment on the teens’ deaths.
Israel blamed the disappearances and deaths on Hamas. “Hamas will pay,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, the Hamas-run Al Aqsa TV reported Friday that the group had executed 18 suspected informants for Israel in Gaza on Friday, the Hamas-run Al Aqsa TV reported.
The developments came one day after an Israeli strike in the Gaza city of Rafah killed three senior leaders of the Qassam Brigades.
Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel on Friday, and the Israeli Defense Forces kept up airstrikes on Gaza.
Ashraf el-Qedra, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, said 2,092 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began in early July. That figure did not include the reported executions. The United Nations estimates that around 70% of the dead in the conflict were civilians.
The fighting has killed 68 people on the Israeli side, almost all of them soldiers.
A 4-year-old boy became the latest civilian victim in Israel Friday, after a mortar shell exploded in the parking lot of a kibbutz close to Gaza, Israeli rescue services said. The boy is the first civilian casualty in Israel since the latest ceasefire collapsed, and the fourth in the recent fighting.
El-Qedra said Friday that 76 Palestinians have been killed since the two sides resumed hostilities on Tuesday after the collapse of a ceasefire and talks aimed at finding a lasting end to the fighting.
The truce fell apart after Israel reported that militants had started firing rockets again.
Since the fighting flared up again this week, 360 rockets have been fired from Gaza toward Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. They have caused some injuries but no deaths. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 56 of the rockets, the IDF said.
The Israeli military has attacked around 200 targets in Gaza during the same period, the IDF said.
Hamas, the militant group that holds power in Gaza, has warned that Israel will “pay the price” for killing three high-ranking leaders of its military wing, the Qassam Brigades, on Thursday.
Seven civilians also were killed in the bombing of the house in southern Gaza where the leaders were located.
The three members of the Brigades’ 15-member military council were killed in a bombing in Rafah in southern Gaza, according to Hamas.
“This morning’s strike sends a clear message to those responsible for planning attacks,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement. “We will strike those that have terrorized our communities, towns and cities, we will pursue the perpetrators of abduction of our soldiers and teenagers, and we will succeed in restoring security to the State of Israel.”
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Talal Abu Rahma reported from Gaza, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Amir Tal contributed to this report.