A world-renowned rabbi who heads a New York-based ultra-orthodox Jewish sect has blamed the parents of three Israeli teenagers who were killed in the West Bank for the death of their sons.
Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, a leader of the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidic sect said that the parents of Gilad Shaar, 16, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, should have not allowed them in the West Bank, which he described as a "lions' den".
"The parents are to blame," Teitelbaum told Yeshiva students in Monroe, New York. "They caused the deaths of their sons and must repent."
Shaar, Frenkel and Yifrach, who studied in the West Bank, were kidnapped as they were hitchhiking at night from the Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion in June.
The West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967 in the aftermath of the Six Day War, and has since become home to more than 500,000 Jews despite fierce opposition from Palestinians and the their supporters abroad.
"Who let them go there, among known murderers? Is there no place in Israel to live and study - only inside the animal cage?" Teitelbaum said.
"Who gave them permission to put themselves, their sons and their daughters in the lions' den, and abandon their souls?"
The Israeli military discovered the teenagers's bodies near the village of Halhul, north of Hebron, two weeks after they disappeared.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was responsible for the murders and authorities named two Hebron-based extremists, Marwan Kawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh, as the main suspects.
Teitelbaum, 66, also criticised the teenagers' parents for eulogising their sons at their funerals.
"They had better repent and confess, weeping, that they went to live and study in a place of brutal murderers," he said.
The ultra-orthodox Satmar, which has more than 100,000 followers worldwide, oppose the idea of a Jewish state of Israel on religious fundamentalist grounds. The sect is originally from Hungary.