OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Three Israeli teenagers have gone missing near a West Bank settlement, the army said Friday, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he held the Palestinian leadership responsible for their safety.
“The [Israeli army] confirms three teenagers are currently missing,” an army statement said.
“The individuals were last seen late last night in the area of Gush Etzion,” a Jewish settlement southwest of Bethlehem in the southern West Bank, it said, adding that security forces were trying to find them.
Netanyahu’s office held the Palestinian leadership responsible for the disappearance in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“Israel holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the well-being of the 3 missing Israeli teens,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman tweeted.
Israeli media speculated that the three may have been kidnapped by Palestinians. One has U.S. citizenship, and the American Embassy has been informed, public radio said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Abbas to talk about the missing teens and likely will call Netanyahu as well, a senior State Department official said. The official, not authorized to talk about the matter, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Military radio said they were all students at a Jewish seminary or yeshiva, and that they went missing late Thursday near a bus stop.
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, armed branch of Hamas, issued a statement warning that “the occupier will never have security,” but without referring specifically to the missing three.
Public radio said Netanyahu had been in touch with their families to reassure them that “everything” was being done to locate them.
“The main mission is to ensure their return,” said Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, a military spokesman.
Tsuri Tsuf, a spokesman for a settlement where one of the teens is from, told Israel’s Channel 10 TV that his community was “greatly worried” and gathered to pray for the safety of the youths. Authorities found a burned-out car during the search that investigators were examining.
Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency initially imposed a gag order Friday morning blocking local media from reporting on the incident.
Netanyahu told the teens’ families that Israel was “making every effort” to find them, his office said in a statement. He earlier said the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the teens’ safety.