Israel said it had identified two well-known Hamas operatives in the West Bank as the central suspects in the recent disappearance of three Israeli teenagers, the first sign of progress in a frantic two-week search for the missing youths.
Officials said the two men had been missing since the teenagers disappeared, and a large manhunt was under way for them.
In a statement on Thursday, Israel's Shin Bet security service identified the men as Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh. It said both men were activists from the Hamas militant group in the West Bank city of Hebron, the area where the youths disappeared on June 12.
Israel has accused Hamas of kidnapping the three teenagers, who disappeared as they were hitchhiking home. But until Thursday, it had provided no evidence to support the claim. It said both Qawasmeh, who was born in 1985, and Abu Aisheh, who was born in 1981, had served time in Israeli prisons.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who has condemned the kidnapping, to end a unity government he formed with the backing of Hamas this month.
"I now expect President Abbas, who said important things in Saudi Arabia, to stand by those words, to break his pact with the Hamas terrorist organisation that kidnaps children and calls for the destruction of Israel," he said.
Palestinian security forces were also searching for the teenagers, an official there said.
Following the disappearance of the teenagers, Israel launched its broadest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, rounding up nearly 400 Palestinians, most Hamas activists.
Frank Lowenstein, the deputy special envoy for Middle East peace, will be the acting special envoy, the department said.