JERUSALEM (AP) — A terror group abducted three teens, including an American, who disappeared in the West Bank, Israel’s prime minister said Saturday, as soldiers searched the territory to find them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again blamed the Palestinian Authority for the Thursday night disappearance of the teens. Palestinian officials say they are assisting Israeli forces, who pored over surveillance footage Saturday and arrested more than a dozen Palestinians.
There have been at least three claims of responsibility for the abduction, though none could be immediately verified.
Netanyahu made a televised address Saturday night after meeting with top security officials, saying Israeli forces were conducting “intensive operations” to locate the teens and bring them home.
“Our children were kidnapped by a terror group,” he said. “There is no doubt about that.”
Netanyahu said he directed Israel’s security branches to use all means at their disposal to find the abducted teenagers and “prevent the possibility of their transfer to the Gaza Strip or anywhere else.”
The Israeli military identified the teens as Naftali Frenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. Israeli television station Channel 10 named Frenkel as the U.S. citizen that officials earlier mentioned. They were reportedly hitchhiking home when they were abducted.
Their kidnapping would be the biggest abduction of its kind by Palestinian militant groups in recent memory in the West Bank. Israeli-Palestinian tensions already were strained in part because of the recent formation of a Palestinian unity government that has the backing of the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Hamas, branded a terror group by the West for its attacks aimed at civilians, has been involved in kidnappings of Israelis in the past. The group routinely claims responsibility if involved in an attack, but has not claimed it took the teens.
Hamas ruled Gaza for seven years, after violently taking over the territory from the Palestinian Fatah group in 2007, and remains the de facto power there despite the unity deal.
Netanyahu said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must do everything necessary to help return the teens. He said Abbas is responsible for any attack on Israel whether it emanates from the West Bank or Gaza.
“It’s impossible to talk peace with Israel while simultaneously form a unity government with Hamas, a terror group committed to destroying Israel,” he said.
However, Palestinian officials have rejected Netanyahu’s contention that the Palestinian Authority, a self-rule government that administers 38 percent of the West Bank, was responsible for the fate of the teens. They noted that the three went missing in an area of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control.
Three different claims of responsibility for the kidnapping have emerged in the West Bank, though it’s not clear if any were authentic.
In one leaflet, a group portraying itself as a branch of an al-Qaida splinter group said it kidnapped the three to avenge the killing of three members in a clash with Israeli security forces in the Hebron area earlier this year. Another statement purportedly came from the Al Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.
Palestinians have been involved in other kidnappings in the West Bank. Last year, a Palestinian brought an Israeli soldier to a village in the West Bank and killed him in hopes of trading the body for his jailed brother. In 2001, a Palestinian woman lured an Israeli teenage boy over the Internet to the West Bank where he was killed by waiting gunmen.
The woman was released in 2011 along with over a thousand others for Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who had been held captive in Gaza by Hamas-allied militants for more than five years.