The search for the three kidnapped teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, entered its fourth day on Monday. The three teenagers were last heard from around 10pm on Thursday as they attempted to hitchhike home near the town of Hebron in the West Bank.
The army deployed special forces near Hebron over the weekend and called up a number of reserves to assist in the search for the students.
Israeli soldiers take part in an operation to locate three Israeli teens on June 16th. (Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Sunday that Hamas is behind the abduction and that he holds the Palestinian Authority (PA) accountable for the teens’ fate, especially considering the recent Hamas-Fatah unity government. However, members of the terrorist organization aggressively denied the charge made by the Israeli prime minister.
On Sunday, the IDF arrested 80 Hamas members in the West Bank in an attempt to put pressure on the Islamist group. Throughout the past several months, the IDF reported a rise in intelligence alerts, warning of Palestinian terror schemes to kidnap Israelis in the West Bank. According to the intelligence agency Shin Bet, security forces have prevented approximately 44 kidnapping plots since the start of 2013.
For the first time in a year, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone to discuss the abduction. Netanyahu told Abbas that he expected the PA to assist in returning the teenagers
The Obama administration joined Israel by indicating that Hamas was involved with the abduction. The State Department declined to confirm that one of the three kidnapped students is an American citizen, mainly due to privacy concerns. However, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and reiterated Hamas’ involvement in a press statement.