Three teenagers missing in Israel
One is U.S. citizen; kidnapping feared
JERUSALEM – Israeli soldiers searched the West Bank on Friday for three missing teenagers from nearby settlements, one of them a U.S. citizen, feared kidnapped by Palestinian militants, authorities said.
Authorities offered little detail, with local media only reporting the hitchhiking teenagers left their yeshiva, or religious seminary, on Thursday night and had not been seen since. Soldiers near Hebron combed the rocky hills of the West Bank searching for them Friday.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the disappearances, which come after the formation of a Palestinian unity government following the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks.
Two Israeli defense officials said authorities believed the teens likely were kidnapped by Palestinian militants, without elaborating.
“The main mission is to ensure their return,” said Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, a military spokesman.
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. Authorities found a burned-out car during their search that investigators were examining.
Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency initially imposed a gag order Friday morning blocking local media from reporting on the incident. Later, an official familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press that one of the teens is an American and that Israeli authorities notified U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
The three teens are from settlements in the West Bank, territory Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and that Palestinians are demanding as part of their future state along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
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.
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.
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