Israel’s security forces combed through the West Bank for three Israeli teenagers last seen on June 12 as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held the Palestinian Authority responsible for their welfare.
The group went missing in the Gush Etzion settlement area south of Jerusalem, the army said in a text message yesterday. They had been hitchhiking and are feared kidnapped, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported, saying that one of those missing is a U.S. citizen.
Netanyahu spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by phone and attributed the situation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas, the prime minister’s office said in a text message. Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group. The Islamist group governs the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian militant on June 11.
Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for Palestinian security services, told Palestinian news agency Ma’an that the Palestinian Authority wasn’t responsible for the safety of Jewish settlers who disappeared in an area of the West Bank under Israel’s control.
Kerry called Abbas to express his concern about the missing teenagers, according to a State Department official who isn’t authorized to speak on the record.
“Abu Mazen is responsible for the wellbeing of the missing,” Netanyahu told Kerry, using Abbas’s nickname, according to the message. “What’s happening on the ground since Hamas entered the Palestinian Authority is a disaster. This is the result of allowing a murderous terror organization into the government.”
Southern Israel was hit earlier today by a rocket launched in Gaza, the army said in a text message to reporters. Israel’s air force later struck a weapons-storage facility in Gaza in retaliation, the army said by e-mail. The site in Gaza that was targeted was an empty training facility used by Hamas’s military wing, Hamas said in a statement to journalists.
The youths went missing amid rallies across the West Bank and Gaza in support of more than 100 Palestinians staging a hunger strike in Israeli prisons.
Israeli forces raided homes in the city of Dura, southwest of Hebron, in the search for the missing boys, Ma’an reported, citing unidentified officials.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel, speaking on Israel Radio, urged Jewish settlers in the West Bank to avoid hitchhiking and declined to say anything about the missing people.
In Gaza, Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh told followers that “kidnapping soldiers is the only means for releasing the prisoners.” Speaking at a prayer tent erected outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City, he said: “I don’t think we can get anything from the enemy without a swap deal.”
Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 for the return of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years by Hamas after being abducted from his tank outside Gaza.
Netanyahu met yesterday with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, as well as with Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Shin Bet representatives, according to an earlier statement. The prime minister was to continue consultations today, Ynet said.