JERUSALEM (JTA) — Three missing Israeli teens were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a national address.
The teens, including one dual Israeli-American citizen, have been missing since Thursday night. They were last seen trying to get rides home from a yeshiva high school in Gush Etzion, a bloc of settlements located south of Jerusalem.
The three missing boys were identified Saturday as Gilad Shaar, 16, from Talmon, Eyal Yifrach, 19, from Elad, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, who is also an American citizen.
“In light of the situation I cannot say everything, but I can say the following: Our boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organization,” Netanyahu said in a nationally televised news conference just minutes after the end of Shabbat.
Netanyahu said that Israel holds the Palestinian Authority responsible; the Palestinians claim that the PA is not responsible because the kidnapping occurred in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli security control. “The terrorists originated from Palestinian territory and the PA is responsible,” Netanyahu said. “The claim that the PA is not responsible because the kidnapping took place in an area controlled by Israel is blatantly false.”
A massive national operation is underway to locate the youths, involving at least 2,000 troops. Security forces also have mobilized to ensure that the youths are not taken from the West Bank into Gaza.
“A kidnapping attempt is unacceptable,” said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Saturday night, adding that the kidnapping is a result of incitement by Palestinian terror groups, who have called on their followers to abduct Israeli soldiers and citizens.
Earlier in the day, Yaalon said that defense officials are working under the assumption that the boys are still alive. He said that the IDF has thwarted dozens of kidnapping attempts in the last two years.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni briefed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the situation on Friday evening in London where they are both attending a conference; Kerry also spoke by phone with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We are working with the Government of Israel and with the Palestinian Authority to try to ensure the situation is resolved quickly, and that the three teenagers are safely reunited with their families,” U.S. State Department spokesman Marie Harf said during a press briefing on Friday afternoon.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro also was briefed on the situation since it involved a teen with U.S. citizenship.