Israel soldiers search West Bank for missing teens

IAN DEITCH Associated Press Published:

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli soldiers searched the West Bank on Friday to find three missing Israeli teenagers after one called police claiming they had been kidnapped, authorities said, amid fears Palestinian militants abducted them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinian Authority for their disappearance without elaborating, saying he held the government responsible for their safety. Palestinian authorities could not be reached for comment and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the teens' possible abduction.

Two Israeli defense officials said authorities believed the teens likely were kidnapped by Palestinian militants, without elaborating. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not allowed to brief journalists.

Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said one of the missing teens called police to say the three had been kidnapped, without giving additional details.

Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, a military spokesman, said that military and intelligence forces were involved in the search for the missing teens.

"The main mission is to ensure their return," Almoz said. He refused to offer any other details, saying it would compromise the operation.

Tsuri Tsuf, a spokesman for a settlement where one of the teens is from, told Israel's Channel 10 television that his community was "greatly worried" and gathered to pray for the safety of the youths. The station reported the teenagers hitched a ride the night before from their Yeshiva, or religious seminary, and had not been seen since.

Authorities found a burned-out car during their search that investigators were examining, local media reported.

Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency initially imposed a gag order Friday morning blocking local media from reporting on the incident.

If Palestinians abducted the teens, it would be the first serious incident to challenge relations with Israel since the formation of a Palestinian unity government earlier this month, led by President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and backed by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Hamas frequently calls for the abduction of Israelis. The Israeli military has said it has foiled multiple Palestinian kidnapping attempts in recent years and warns soldiers and civilians not to accept rides from strangers. Despite the warnings, hitchhiking remains common in Israel.

While such incidents are relatively rare, it would not the first instance of Palestinians abducting Israelis.

Last year, a Palestinian lured an Israeli soldier to a village in the West Bank and killed him with the intention of trading the body for his jailed brother. And in 2001, a Palestinian woman lured an Israeli teenage boy over the Internet to the West Bank where he was killed by waiting Palestinian gunmen.

The woman, Amna Muna, was released in 2011 along with over a thousand other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, held captive in Gaza by Hamas-allied militants for more than five years.

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