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Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaer.
Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaer.
GPO
Netanyahu's press brief on the three missing teens. Photo by GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday held the Palestinian Authority responsible for the fate of three Israeli teenage yeshiva students missing since Thursday night. In a press briefing, the prime minister confirmed that they were taken by a terrorist organization.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad, Gilad Shaar, 16, from Talmon and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon went missing late on Thursday on their way home. Naftali Fraenkel is also an American citizen.

Two of the teens, students at the Makor Chaim yeshiva in the religious kibbutz of Kfar Etzion, were thought to be hitchhiking to Modi'in, a city halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The third studies at Shavey Hevron yeshiva in the West Bank city of Hebron. When the three failed to arrive home or make contact with their families, authorities were notified.

In his first on-camera statement on the issue, Netanyahu promised that Israel will do everything in its power to locate the three missing teens. The prime minister said he cannot go into specifics, but did confirm that the three were kidnapped by a terrorist organization.

Netanyahu says he expects the Palestinian Authority to do whatever it can to help locate the teens. "We hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for any attack coming from its territory, either the West Bank or Gaza… the terrorists originated from Palestinian territory and the PA is responsible," he said.

This incident, Netanyahu said, proves that the Palestinian reconciliation agreement between the PA and Hamas "will not bring peace," while criticizing some in the international community for supporting the pact between the two factions.

In an effort to locate the missing teens, Israel's security forces launched a large-scale operation in the West Bank, calling in the entire Paratroopers brigade, along with several other units, to conduct sweeps.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Saturday said that the security forces' working assumption is that the three are still alive. To prevent the kidnappers from leaving Israeli territory via Jordan, Israel said it will not allow Palestinian residents of Hebron between the ages of 20-50 to enter Jordan through the Allenby Bridge crossing.

The IDF's GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon also issued an order declaring the Beit Guvrin area, located west of Hebron, a closed military zone.

Security forces were also investigating whether a stolen Israeli vehicle, which was found burnt near the West Bank city of Hebron, is linked to the kidnapping. Palestinian firefighters were alerted about the burning car at 3 A.M. on Friday.

On Friday, Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the U.S. is working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to help resolve the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday spoke on the phone with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni informally met with Kerry in London.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird on Saturday issued a statement condemning the kidnapping.

"We urge the Palestinian security authorities, who have been trained through Canadian and U.S. leadership, to make every effort to investigate this incident and work diligently to ensure the safe return of these children to their families," the statement said. "We call for the immediate release of the three Israeli teenagers. Whoever has taken this action must be found and brought to justice.”

Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas' politburo, on Saturday said that if in fact the three Israelis were kidnapped, the Palestinians should make it a national issue in order to get the best result, and not let just a small faction negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners on its own. Hamdan, a member of Hamas based outside of Gaza, was the highest-ranking Hamas official to speak about the kidnapping.

Also on Saturday, the IDF struck the Gaza strip in response to morning's firing of rocket toward southern Israel. Another rocket exploded in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council on Saturday afternoon. No injuries or damage was reported.

The Shin Bet security service has warned in recent weeks of increasingly frequent attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers and citizens in the West Bank. According to Shin Bet data, The defense establishment identified more than 30 kidnapping attempts last year and has so far foiled 14 such attempts in 2014.

Throughout Saturday night, there will be a prayer rally for the safety of the kidnapped teens held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.