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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 7th, 2014
06:35 PM ET

On the trail of the killers of the three Israeli teens

By CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper

Jerusalem (CNN) – This week, Israel announced an arrest in the kidnapping and murders of the three Israeli teens. Hussam Kawasme was a resident of Hebron in the West Bank, and a senior member of Hamas, the Israelis say.

"His arrest will lead, I hope, to further arrests, and we'll get to the bottom of the murder of the three teenagers," Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told CNN Wednesday.

The Israeli government has long maintained that Hamas was behind the kidnapping and murders. Hamas in Gaza, to this day, denies any involvement.

On that fateful June night, the three boys were coming from their religious school in the West Bank to the Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion, where hitchhiking is not uncommon. But the car, instead of picking them up and taking them north towards Jerusalem, took them in the opposite direction.

The boys were taken to Hebron, a town in the West Bank, where there is support for Hamas because of the Israeli occupation.

CNN traveled on the path that the kidnappers took that night as they drove the boys, who must have been terrified, past groves of olive trees and vineyards. It was a beautiful, idyllic setting for the ugly crime that awaited them at the end of the path.

At some point during the ride, one of the boys called the police for help. "They've kidnapped me," he said in a quiet voice.

Then, there were the sound of gunshots.

Some critics have suggested the police knew the boys were almost certainly dead given the gunshots on the recording, and the discovery of a burnt out car the kidnappers were driving.

But initially the police issued a gag order on the media reporting this information, because of the possibility that the boys were still alive. They did not want to not tip their hand to the kidnappers, the police said.

The Israeli military conducted intense search operations for the boys, interrogating, and arresting, and even getting into deadly confrontations with Palestinians in the West Bank.

The people of Israel were anguished, and then a Palestinian teen was murdered, in what many viewed as a revenge attack.

Hamas in Gaza resumed launching rockets into Israel. The drums of war began pounding.

On June 26, Israeli police announced they were seeking two suspects, Amer Abu Aysha and a relative of Hussam Kawasme, Marwan Kawasme from Hebron, both of whom remain at large.

On June 30, the bodies of the three teenagers – Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar – were found in Hebron.

Eight days later, the Israeli military launched its offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

Hussam Kawasme was arrested on July 11.

There is very little known about him, so CNN tried to find out more, meeting with Kawasme's father in Hebron.

The Kawasme family of Hebron is very large, and has had many members who participated in suicide bombings on Israeli civilians, according to the respected Middle East website Al Monitor.

Two of Ali Kawasme's sons have been killed in clashes with the Israeli military.

"We are considered a terrorist family according to the Israelis," the father said. "And of course we say that we are a resistance family against the occupation."

Ali Kawasme is proud that many members of his family are in Hamas, but he says in this case his son is being framed.

"My son was framed to make an excuse to attack Gaza," he said. "People told me that the Israelis in a helicopter dropped off three bodies which looked like they were from a traffic accident. They buried them on my son's land, and after a short while said they were killed."

This was "revenge to our family," he says.

Police sources tell CNN that under interrogation, Hussam Kawasme admitted he was commander of the terrorist cell, that for this brutal act he received funds from, and co-ordinated with Hamas in Gaza, buying weapons, co-ordinating where the three teens would be buried.

"Even if he confessed, it was probably under torture, and pressure, and beating," says his father.

Many are skeptical given the family's background.

"I have been covering Palestinian society for many years, and I have never encountered a family that has spawned so many sons with blood on their hands," a columnist for Al Monitor writes.

And now questions about whether the blood drawn in the kidnappings and murders of the three Israeli teenagers, prompted too much blood from too many other children.

CNN's Katie Hinman and Kim Berryman contributed to this report.

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