Israeli troops on Tuesday killed two Palestinians blamed for abducting and killing three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank in June, the military said, an incident that spiraled into a seven-week war in Gaza, Reuters reported.
Israel had spent months searching for Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, militants in their 30s from the Hebron area, after naming them as the killers of the Israeli teens, grabbed and shot dead near a Jewish settlement on June 12.
Hebron residents said troops had surrounded a house in the city before dawn and reported sounds of gunfire.
The forces were seeking to arrest Kawasme and Abu Aysha when a firefight erupted, in which the two wanted men were killed, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a telephone briefing.
"We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange," Lerner said. "We have visual confirmation for one. The second one, we have no visual confirmation, but the assumption is he was killed."
Palestinian officials have not confirmed the men were killed, however.
The two men were affiliated with the Hamas militant group which runs Gaza, and a group leader praised their deed in August, though other top officials denied any advance knowledge.
Israeli forces began West Bank sweeps and rounded up hundreds of suspected Hamas members after the three teens, Jewish seminary students Eyal Yifrach, 19, and 16-year-olds Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, went missing.
Their bodies were found in June near Hebron. After initially denying involvement in the killings, Hamas last month acknowledged responsibility.
The arrest of several hundred Palestinians in house-to-house raids across the West Bank stoked hostilities with Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, where Israel launched an offensive on July 8 after a surge of Palestinian rocket fire at its towns.
Gaza medical officials say 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were also killed.