Security forces feared on Tuesday that now that the bodies of the three slain Israeli teens have been located, the kidnappers will change their location and try to escape north - outside of the Hebron area, where the IDF and Shin Bet have been focusing their search for both the teens and the abductors.
For the first time since the teens had been kidnapped, the IDF hermetically sealed all entrances and exits to most villages north of Hebron. Security forces were also preparing for the possibility of clashes with Palestinians, who have been barred from driving on Highways 60 and 35, and therefore cannot move from one city to another in the west Bank.
The IDF said the arrests of hundreds of Hamas operatives were expected to help gather intelligence that would lead to more of the organization's cells.
"The goal is to find the kidnappers, and this is where the army and Shin Bet will focus most of their efforts now. We won't stop until we capture the kidnappers," a military source said.
In addition to the military activity around the homes of the two suspected kidnappers - at least one of which was partially destroyed
with explosives due to fear it was booby trapped - a situation assessment was scheduled to be held Tuesday night at the Central Command to decide whether to send some of the thousands of soldiers sent to the Judea and Samaria district back to training, and if so - when.
One of the possibilities being considered is for a large force to remain in the area in the coming days to combat any possible mass rioting and clashes with Palestinians.
Another move being considered is completely demolishing the homes of the two suspected kidnappers. The two have yet to be captured and did not confess yet, which would make it legally complicated to go implement this plan.
For 18 days three families, and an entire nation along with them, were hoping for a happy ending to the kidnapping of Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. But the three were likely shot while still in the abductors' car, a short while after one of them called the police and whispered "we've been kidnapped."
The bodies of the three Israeli teens, who disappeared on June 12 in the Hebron area, were found on Monday evening buried in a shallow grave.
Shaer, Frenkel and Yifrach got into the kidnappers' Hyundai car at the Alon Shvut hitchhiking post at 10:15 pm on the night of June 12. Ten minutes later, one of the teens realized this was a kidnapping and called the police.
Police did not take the call seriously enough, but the kidnappers feared the call could foil their plan and fired a gun at the back seat where the three sat.
Breaking away from their original plan, the abductors made a u-turn back to Hebron. An hour later they reached the edges of the town Dura, north of Hebron, where they burned the car and moved the bodies of the teens to an escape vehicle.
The kidnappers buried the boys several hours later in a terrace three kilometers west of Halhul and then went underground.
Several hours after that, Palestinian security forces found the burned car and reported it to the IDF. This report was made after the teens' relatives arrived at the police station to report them missing.
It was only on 5:50 am, seven hours after the abduction and many hours after they were murdered and buried, that security forces started fearing the three had been kidnapped.
It was then that the Shin Bet and IDF were first briefed on the kidnapping and Operation Brother's Keeper began.
Almost three weeks have passed since, and while the defense system identified the kidnappers as Amar Abu-Eisha and Marwan Kawasmeh almost immediately, the hunt for them has so far been without success.
The bodies of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali were found thanks to a bush that was out of place, troops who found the teens said.
"We split into teams and started searching water holes, caves and structures. There was a big ruin there. Suddenly, one of the guys looked and saw an agricultural terrace with some bushes that didn't fit the turf. The bush was half green-half brown, and looked as if it was uprooted from the ground. It seemed odd to him. He moved the bushes and saw a pile of rocks underneath. After clearing the rocks, the bodies were found."
Several days ago, security forces found Eyal Yifrach's shattered glasses, which helped focus the search.
The search team that found the bodies was compiled of five civilian rangers from the Kfar Etzion field school, soldiers and scouts.
"We started searching the area near the village of Beit Ummar at around 6:30 am, and moved to Halhul around noon time," said Binyamin Tropher, who described the moments the bodies were found.
"It was important not to make any changes to the area to not hurt the investigation, so we closed off the area."
The team, which called in the Shin Bet to help dig out the bodies, was also prepared for the possibility the kidnappers were near the bodies, or observing them from afar.
"All of the possible scenarios went through our heads while we were removing the rocks, including a close encounter with the abductors," he said.
Lavi Battalion soldiers carried the teens' bodies on stretchers to Air Force helicopters, which took them to the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir. There the bodies were officially identified at around 3 am. The bodies will remain in the institute for a few more hours for an autopsy that would confirm suspicions on the circumstances of the teens' deaths.