The Israel Defense Forces West Bank division commander, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, has warned Israeli settlers to be on alert for possible abduction attempts across the territory.
In a letter sent to Yesha Council leaders, Alon said that the warning is based on intelligence and interrogations of Palestinians arrested on involvement in plotting such kidnappings.
The IDF said intelligence has shown Hamas leaders in Damascus are pressuring followers in the West Bank to abduct Israeli settlers and citizens.
The IDF added tnat it believes such a kidnapping would be used by Hamas as a bargaining chip for short-term gains and not for major negotiations such as in the case of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity for four years and for whom Hamas wants hundreds of prisoners.
"The threat of kidnapping is significant," Alon wrote the settler leaders. "We must especially remind youths to take safety precautions when hitchhiking."
In the wake of Alon's letter, settler leaders held information session with youths to reiterate to hitchhike only within their settlements and not on main routes in the West Bank or late at night.
The Shin Bet Security Service has arrested a number of Palestinians suspected of involvement in alleged plots to kidnap Israeli settlers. In some of the cases, the Shin Bet said there was more than intent and that suspects had gathered intelligence leading up to an attempt.
During the second intifada, several Israelis were kidnapped in the West Bank: In 2003 a taxi driver was kidnapped and taken to the village of Bitunia, but was rescued by an elite IDF unit. In 2006, a youth from the settlement of Itamar was abducted and taken to Ramallah and then later murdered by his captors.
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