June 14 (Bloomberg) -- Israel sent more than “a few” forces into the West Bank area of Hebron today as a search for three Israeli teenagers last seen June 12 entered its second day, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in broadcast remarks.
“We won’t rest until we free the youths and get our hands on the terrorists responsible for their disappearance,” Ya’alon said, adding that soldiers are carrying out arrests and intelligence units are working on leads.
A division of paratroopers was sent to the Hebron area and 16 Palestinians have been arrested, Channel Two said, without saying where it got the information. An army spokeswoman declined to give details of the military operations.
The youths’ disappearance, and apparent kidnapping, came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shunned the new Palestinian government that includes the Islamist Hamas group, seen by Israel, the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist organization.
In a call with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late yesterday, Netanyahu linked the situation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to reconcile with Hamas.
“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.”
The youths went missing in the West Bank 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 one of those missing is a U.S. citizen.
Danny Yatom, former head of Israel’s Mossad security service, said the youths may have gotten into a car thinking the driver was friendly and realized they were being kidnapped as they drove away. He said he expected the kidnappers to offer to free them in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
“It seems likely this attack is one intended to be used as a bargaining chip, as history has taught terrorists that they can have great achievements this way,” Yatom said on Israeli television broadcaster Channel Two.
Kerry called Abbas yesterday to express his concern about the situation, according to a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
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.
The youths went missing amid rallies across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, held yesterday in support of more than 100 Palestinians staging a hunger strike in Israeli prisons.
“Kidnapping soldiers is the only means for releasing the prisoners,” Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said in Gaza yesterday. 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 held consultations today with security officials and was to convene senior ministers this evening.
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