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JERUSALEM — A senior Hamas leader has said the group carried out the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June — the first time anyone from the Islamic militant group has said it was behind an attack that helped spark the current war in the Gaza Strip. Saleh Arouri told a conference in Turkey on Wednesday that Hamas's military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, carried out what he described as a "heroic operation" with the broader goal of sparking a new Palestinian uprising.
"It was an operation by your brothers from the al-Qassam Brigades," he said, saying Hamas hoped to exchange the youths for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Hamas has repeatedly praised the kidnappings, but Arouri, the group's exiled West Bank leader, is the first member to claim responsibility. Israel has accused Hamas of orchestrating the kidnappings and identified two operatives as the chief suspects. The two men remain on the loose. Arouri's admission shows "Hamas has no qualms whatsoever about targeting innocent civilians," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.