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Middle East

Israel intensifies search for teens feared abducted

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-14

Israeli security forces scoured the West Bank for a second day on Saturday, looking for three missing teenagers – including an American – who they fear have been abducted by Palestinian militants.

The three disappeared on Thursday evening as they reportedly tried to hitch a ride from a Jewish settlement where they were studying, sparking a dragnet around the nearby Palestinian city of Hebron.

A senior military official said the working assumption is that the teens were kidnapped by Palestinians. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing operation, said he could not confirm whether the three were alive or dead.

The incident has tested ties between Israel and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, which were already strained by a recent power-sharing deal with the militant group Hamas.

Netanyahu: Abbas responsible for teenagers’ return

The three missing teenagers were kidnapped by a “terrorist organisation”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday, placing responsibility for their safe return on the shoulders of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas .

"Our young people have been kidnapped by a terror organisation... there is no doubt about that," Netanyahu told reporters in Tel Aviv.

He demanded that “the Palestinian Authority, headed by Abu Mazen (Abbas) – from whose territory the kidnappers came – do whatever necessary to help the hostages get home safely. That is the Palestinian Authority's responsibility".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Israeli soldiers arrested at least 12 Hebron area residents, including two women, according to Palestinian officials. Locals said some of those detained were involved in car businesses like repair garages - indicating that the investigation was focusing on tracking down potential means of transport for a kidnapping.

Palestinian witnesses said the troops were also confiscating video from privately owned security cameras in Hebron and had prevented around 300 residents from leaving the area.

Hamas condemns Abbas

A Palestinian security source said Abbas’s forces were helping Israel in the search. That drew condemnation from Hamas - though the Islamist organisation has not claimed involvement in the disappearance of the Israelis.

“Security coordination between (Prime Minister Rami) Hamdallah’s and Abbas’s security services and the enemy to locate the heroes of the Hebron operation and arrest them is a stigma,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Palestinian militants have said in the past that they want to kidnap Israelis to win concessions from the Israeli government. More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were freed in 2011 in return for the release of an Israeli soldier held captive in the nearby Gaza Strip for more than five years.

Hebron is a Hamas stronghold whose militants have at times eluded Israeli crackdowns. An Israeli soldier was killed while patrolling the city last September. The army described that as an attack by a Palestinian sniper who has yet to be captured.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he held Abbas’s administration responsible for the fate of the missing three. Two of them were aged 16 and the third aged 19, according to media reports.

Netanyahu called off US-brokered peace talks with Abbas over his reconciliation with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has waged occasional shelling wars against Israel.

On Friday, the US State Department said that, at its urging, Abbas was “working closely together” with Israel in the search.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-06-14

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