Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that the three teenage yeshiva students missing since Thursday night were kidnapped by terrorists.
In his first on-camera statement since Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad, Gilad Shaar, 16, from Talmon and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon went missing, Netanyahu said he could not elaborate on the search, but that the kidnapping shows the real results of the Hamas-Fatah unity government, and held the Palestinian government responsible for their fates.
Earlier, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that the security forces' working assumption is that the three are still alive. The IDF thinks the kidnappers may be attempting to leave Israeli territory, via Jordan. Security forces are 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.
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. When they did not arrive home or make contact with their families, the yeshiva informed the authorities. The third was a student at the Shavey Hevron yeshiva in Hebron. Naftali Fraenkel is an American citizen, according to Channel 10.
11:12 P.M. IDF strikes Gaza targets in response to rockets Saturday evening.
10:42 P.M. Prayer rally for the safety of the kidnapped teens to be held overnight Saturday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
10:40 P.M. Mohammad Madani, a member of Fatah's Central Committee and the chairman of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, denounced what he called Netanyahu's cynical attempt to place responsibility for the abduction on the PA and Abbas. Madani emphasized that the kidnapping took place in Area C, which is under exclusive Israeli control and completely out of the jurisdiction of the PA security forces. "Netanyahu is trying to pass the trouble of the government in Israel to the Palestinian Authority, crying crocodile tears over the peace process that he himself suspended," Madani said.
10:37 P.M. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau sends message to Pope Francis, asking him to urge Palestinian Authority leaders to help release the missing teens.
10:04 P.M. One of the missing teenagers, Gilad, called his parents on Thursday night and told them that he was on his way home. The family says that after he failed to get home, they thought that his phone probably run out of battery and assumed that he is staying with his grandparents. When they realized that no one had knowledge of his whereabouts, they tried looking for him and eventually notified the authorities at about 3 A.M.
9:50 P.M. Netanyahu is blaming Palestinian President Abbas for the suspected kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, but the fact remains, writes Haaretz analyst Zvi Bar'el, that Abbas is Israel's only strategic asset.
9:00 P.M. In his first on-camera statement, Netanyahu says Israel will do everything in its power to locate the three missing teens. Due to the nature of the situation, the prime minister says he cannot elaborate on the search, but adds that he "can only say that our boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organization."
Netanyahu says he expects the Palestinian Authority to do whatever it can to help locate them. "This is the PA's responsibility. We hold the PA 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."
The prime minister says that this incident demonstrates what he was saying in recent months, "that the deal with Hamas brings about serious consequences." He also says that contrary to what some in the international community are saying, "the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the PA will not bring peace. "
In face of the regional turmoil, Netanyahu adds: "Time and time again we find that we can only rely on ourselves."
Defense Minister Ya'alon says, "We won't accept a kidnapping attempt." He also says he wants to strengthen the families of the kidnapped teens, and added that Israel will "use any means as we do in order to prevent terror attacks."
IDF chief Benny Gantz says the military will do everything to bring the three youths back, while also keeping an eye of Israel's other fronts, whether in Gaza or Lebanon and Syria.
8:36 P.M. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issues a statement condemning the suspected kidnapping. “Canada is deeply concerned by reports that three Israeli teenagers may have been kidnapped in the West Bank, and condemns those aiming to instigate conflict. 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. We call for the immediate release of the three Israeli teenagers. Whoever has taken this action must be found and brought to justice.”
8:33 P.M. "Once we realized that Gilad was nowhere to be found, the mood became heavy… We held a prayer, adults and children, and laid tefillin (hoping) for the situation to end well," Gilad's uncle, from Talmon, told Channel 10.
7:32 P.M. Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas' politburo, says 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 is the highest-ranking Hamas official to speak about the suspected kidnapping. Haaretz correspondent Jack Khoury stresses that most of those in Hamas to speak on the matter are political figures based outside of Gaza.
7:01 P.M. Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said in a Facebook post that Israel's policy of trading abducted soldiers for terrorists only encourages more hostage-taking. In an implied criticism of Minister Naftali Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi party, the former top security service official says Israel is better off freezing construction in the settlements than freeing Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism.
6:30 P.M. A rocket fired from Gaza exploded in Hof Ashkelon Regional Council's jurisdiction, no injuries or damage reported.
5:29 P.M. GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon issues an order declaring the Beit Guvrin area, located west of Hebron, a closed military zone.
5:01 P.M. Netanyahu will visit the Shin Bet security service's situation room and the Kiryah, the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters, for a security briefing. Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ya'alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz will then give an on-camera statement about the suspected kidnapping. The statement is scheduled for Saturday at 8:45 P.M.
4:55 P.M. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Government coordinator in the territories, notified the Palestinian Authority that Palestinian residents of Hebron between the ages of 20 and 50 will not be allowed to enter Jordan through the Allenby Bridge crossing.
3:35 P.M.: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene the security cabinet tonight to discuss the three missing teens.
3:05 P.M.: IDF releases the names of the teens. They are Eyal Yifrah, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gilad Shaar, 16.
1:50 P.M.: The working assumption is that the kidnapped boys are alive, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon tells reporters. "The occurrence of kidnapping attempts is not new. We managed to prevent over 30 such efforts in 2013, and 14 to date in 2014. This incident managed to slip through our radars. But we will not rest until we get our hands on the terrorists behind this." Ya'alon did not take any questions.
1:10 P.M.: Top IDF brass end meeting in Hebron, decide to call in entire Paratroopers brigade, along with several other units, to area being sweeped.
11:27 A.M. IDF strikes south Gaza strip in response to morning's firing of rocket toward Israel.
11:36 A.M.: There is no indication of whether the teens who are thought to be kidnapped are alive or dead, a senior IDF officer says. Speaking to reporters, the officer adds,"We are heading toward a lengthy event, not an event that will last hours." The officer confirms that several arrests were made overnight in the Hebron area. "There are several leads being investigated following the arrests, but it is still very early."
11 A.M.: PM Netanyahu will shortly hold a meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Shin Bet security service head Yoram Cohen, and other top security officials, sources in the PM's office say.
10 A.M.: The IDF is reinforcing its presence in the Hebron region. Battalions from the paratroopers and Kfir divisions have been transferred to the area. IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, head of operations directorate Yoav Har Even, and GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon are conferring in Hebron.
8:30 A.M.: Palestinian civilians report that IDF forces have been conducting intensive sweeps throughout the Hebron region overnight, including several neighborhoods in the city of Hebron and in the villages of Tufah, Bnei Naim, Yata, Halhul, Beit Ayoun, and Doura. According to Palestinian sources, several arrests have been made in connection to the supposed kidnapping.
Several locations named by the Shin Bet security services as places the boys might be kept at have been discounted by the military overnight.
"Everything we are doing now, and in the coming hours, is an attempt to go back and retrace what happened there in that area, and understand where they are now and what happened to them," says a senior IDF official.
IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz said during a press briefing that forces have been searching for the teens since Friday morning, and cautioned against speculation and rumors that have been circulating all day on Israeli social media.
'PA responsible for well-being of the kidnapped'
Prime Minister Netanyahu held an emergency meeting Friday afternoon at the Kirya, the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters. Among the officials taking part in the meeting were Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharanovich, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
According to an official statement from the Prime Minister's Office, "Israel sees the PA as responsible for the well-being of the kidnapped," adding that Netanyahu spoke with the families of the three missing teens and pledged he would do all in his power to locate them.
"I know you are suffering," Netanyahu told the families. "Be strong, the State of Israel will make every effort for your sons, and I promise to remain in contact with you."
Netanyahu orders government ministers not to give interviews on the matter.
The Palestinian Authority responds to Netanyahu's statement, saying the PA "is not responsible for the security of settlers."
Adnan Dmeiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority security services, notes that the three are believed to have been kidnapped from Gush Etzion, an area "under Israeli security control," the Palestinian news agency Maan reports.
A senior Fatah official tells Haaretz the Palestinian security services will do everything they can to help find the missing Israelis.
"The three were kidnapped in Area C, which is under full Israeli security control. The Palestinian Authority returned in recent years dozens of Israeli citizens who entered Authority territory by accident or deliberately to prove the principle of the sanctity of life," said Mohamed Almadani, and adds: "I wish the Israeli government would show responsibility and commitment to human rights on the issue of the hunger-striking detainees."
Yeshiva forbids hitchhiking
Students at Mekor Chaim told Haaretz that the yeshiva has a clear policy forbidding hitchhiking. "The administration is very strict on this topic, it's a red line that every student knows. Students are forbidden from leaving without permission, and it is absolutely not allowed to catch rides outside of the Kibbutz's gate." Pupils caught hitching rides risk expulsion from the yeshiva, they said.
Some 300 pupils study at the yeshiva, which is a leading educational institution for Israel's national-religious public. Several rabbis and public figures send their boys there.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro has also been briefed that one of the missing teens reportedly holds U.S. citizenship.
An official from the U.S. State Department said, "We hope the three teens will be returned to their families safely."
Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the U.S. is working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to help resolve the crisis. Earlier on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on the phone with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Friday evening, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni informally met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. At the meeting, Livni asked Kerry to approach Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in order to bring about the release of the teens.
Livni is in London for the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, an international conference on war crimes and violence against women in conflict areas.
Netanyahu additionally spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, and told him that Abbas is responsible for the well-being of the missing teens.
"What has happened on the ground since the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian government is detrimental. This is the result of letting in a murderous terror organization," Netanyahu said.
Shin Bet warnings
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, in the past nine months there have been 11 cases of Palestinians incarcerated in Israel making contact with operatives in the West Bank in an attempt to carry out kidnappings.
In September, Israeli soldier Tomer Hazan was kidnapped and killed by two Palestinians who had invited him to the West Bank. Prosecutors say the kidnapping was part a plan to bring about the release of the killers' brother, in prison in Israel.
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