JERUSALEM: Three Israeli teenagers have gone missing near a West Bank settlement, the army said yesterday, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he held the Palestinian leadership responsible for their safety.
“The IDF (Israeli military) confirms three teenagers are currently missing,” an army statement said. “The individuals were last seen late last night in the area of Gush Etzion,” a Jewish settlement southwest of Bethlehem in the southern West Bank, it said, adding that security forces were trying to find them.
The army gave no further details about the disappearance, but refused to say whether the three had been kidnapped.
“We do not give details that could hamper the investigation,” a military spokesman said, adding only that a “large scale” search was under way.
Israeli media speculated the three may have been kidnapped by Palestinians. One has US citizenship, and the American embassy has been informed, public radio said.
Netanyahu’s office held the Palestinian leadership responsible for the disappearance in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“Israel holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the well being of the 3 missing Israeli teens,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman wrote on Twitter.
The Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, armed branch of the Islamist Hamas movement ruling the Gaza Strip, issued a statement warning that “the occupier will never have security”, but without referring specifically to the missing three.
Netanyahu’s office later said he had spoken to US Secretary of State John Kerry by telephone and repeated he held Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the fate of the three.
“What is happening on the ground since Hamas joined the Palestinian government is destructive. It all results from the entry into government of a terrorist organisation,” Netanyahu said. The Israeli premier also telephoned Abbas, an official Palestinian source said.
A Palestinian unity government was sworn in on June 2 after a landmark reconciliation deal.
Israeli troops set up checkpoints in the Gush Etzion and Hebron areas on Friday to stop and search cars, a correspondent said. A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s security services, General Adnan Al Damiri, called Netanyahu’s suggestions “mad”.
Damiri said that the PA had no authority in the Gush Etzion area, which is under total Israeli civilian and military control.
“Even if there was an earthquake, Netanyahu would blame the Palestinian Authority,” he said. Another Palestinian official said the authority’s security services were “cooperating” with Israeli agencies to gather information on the teenagers’ disappearance.
Military radio said they were all students at a Jewish seminary or yeshiva, and that they went missing late Thursday near a bus stop.AFP