(JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for the immediate release of three kidnapped Israeli teens and noted the “many indications” pointing to Hamas’ involvement.
In a statement released Sunday afternoon, more than 48 hours after the teens’ abduction, Kerry said he “strongly condemns” the kidnapping and reiterated that Hamas is a “terrorist organization.”
Kerry said Washington officials “continue to offer our full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens, and we have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services.” Along with calling for their immediate release, he said the United States hopes for “their quick and safe return home.”
He said the U.S. continues to “seek details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’ involvement.”
“We reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past,” Kerry said.
The three Israeli 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 missing teens were identified Saturday as Gilad Shaar, 16, from Talmon; Eyal Yifrach, 19, from Elad; and Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, the American citizen.
In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated, “These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members. Hamas denials do not change this fact. And this attack should surprise no one because Hamas makes no secret of its agenda. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel and to carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians – including children.”
Netanyahu said that “Israel holds the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas responsible for any attacks against Israel that emanate from Palestinian-controlled territory. The Palestinian claim that the Palestinian Authority cannot be held responsible for an attack that took place in an area under Israeli security control is patently absurd.”
Later, the Israeli leader said, “We will do whatever needs to be done to protect our people, our citizens, our children and our teenagers from the scourge of terrorism.”
In a letter Sunday to Netanyahu, the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America declared its “complete solidarity” with the prime minister, the families of the kidnapped teens and with “the entire people of Israel.”
“The three kidnapped teens are our sons too, and we join with Jewish parents around the world to offer our prayers, thoughts and solidarity with you as you stand up to terror and mount every possible effort to bring the boys home,” the letter said.