WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama condemned Monday the "senseless" murder of three Israeli teenagers and warned against actions that could further "destabilize" the situation, amid threats of retaliation against Hamas.
"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth," Obama said in a written statement.
The president expressed "deepest and heartfelt condolences" to the families of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, who was a dual Israeli-American citizen.
Israel earlier found the bodies of the missing teenagers in an isolated spot outside Hebron on the West Bank after they were kidnapped nearly three weeks ago. Israeli officials have blamed Hamas for their murders and vowed to make the Islamist group pay.
Obama said that as a father himself, he could not imagine the "indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing."
He also urged "all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation."
Secretary of State John Kerry, who earlier this year suspended his fruitless bid to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, condemned the "despicable terrorist act."
"As a father, there are no words to express such a horrific loss that shakes all people of conscience," Kerry said.
News that an American citizen was among the three dead boys was "an especially heavy blow not just to Israel, but to the United States," the top US diplomat added.
"The killing of innocent youths is an outrage beyond any understanding or rationale, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice."
There was also condemnation from rights groups and Jewish lobbyists.
"Terrorist barbarism cannot be tolerated," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said.
"We have once again witnessed that Hamas is an enemy of peace, reconciliation and fundamental human decency. For the sake of peace, all people of goodwill should distance themselves from this terrorist body."
Israel has been angered by the US administration's decision to continue to work with the Palestinian interim unity government set up this month under a deal between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned acts of violence against Israel and reiterated that no Hamas members were included on the Palestinian technocratic government.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has been "a cooperative partner" in the hunt for the teenagers, the spokeswoman added.
The Anti-Defamation League also condemned "all those who engage in and support terrorism" and reiterated its "support for Israel's right to self-defense."