Hunt for three Israelis believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants

Three youths failed to reach home after leaving Jewish seminary

 Israeli soldiers guard the area where a burnt-out car was found as they check it in connection with the case of the three missing Israeli teenagers, near the West Bank city of Hebron, yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Abed al Hashlamoun

Israeli soldiers guard the area where a burnt-out car was found as they check it in connection with the case of the three missing Israeli teenagers, near the West Bank city of Hebron, yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Abed al Hashlamoun

 

Israeli security forces were engaged in a massive manhunt in the West Bank last night for three young Israelis, presumed kidnapped by Palestinian militants.

The three youths, aged 16-19, left their yeshiva Jewish seminary south of Bethlehem on Thursday night but failed to reach their homes, at other West Bank settlements. The mobile phones of all three stopped broadcasting location signals at the same time.

According to a police spokesman one of the youths called the police to say they had been kidnapped.

A torched car was discovered close to the West Bank city of Hebron and one possibility is that the three were abducted after hitching a lift at a West Bank junction.

The security forces focused on gathering intelligence as thousands of troops carried out house-to-house searches in Hebron and surrounding Palestinian villages. Elite army units were put on standby for a possible rescue mission.

Roadblocks were set up on southern Israeli highways to prevent the potential transfer of the teens to the Gaza Strip or the Egyptian Sinai, a scenario which would complicate any rescue attempt.

Drones were also used extensively as part of the search operation.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from any Palestinian group.

The Israeli security forces have thwarted dozens of plans by militant Palestinian groups over the last couple of years to kidnap Israeli troops or civilians with the aim of forcing Israel to release Palestinian prisoners as part of an exchange deal. In 2011 Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive by Gaza militants for more than five years.

Hunger strike

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened a security meeting and declared that Israel held president Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority responsible for the safety of the three. One Israeli diplomatic source said the event was “a direct continuation of the escalation in the West Bank since Mr Abbas allowed the terrorist organisation Hamas to join the Palestinian government.”

Mr Netanyahu called the families of the missing teenagers promising Israel would do everything possible to bring their sons home safe.

One of the three also held American citizenship and Israeli officials updated the US ambassador to Israel on the search operation.