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June 13, 2014 10:33 am

IDF Launches Massive Manhunt for Three Israeli Youths Feared Kidnapped in West Bank (VIDEO)

avatar by Dave Bender

Photo of the search. Photo: Tazpit News Agency.

The IDF confirmed on Friday afternoon that “three Israeli teenagers are currently missing. The individuals were last seen late last night in the area of Gush Etzion,” south of Jerusalem.

“He just disappeared, never made it home,” a relative of one of the youths said, according to Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.

“His parents are worried, praying, hoping for the best. We’re all praying this incident ends on the good side,” the relative said.

Army “forces are conducting a widespread operation in order to locate the individuals,” apparently 16-year-olds who attend the Mekor Chaim Yeshiva High School in the area.”

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The three got on a hitch at about 22:30 Thursday night near the Israeli village of Alon Shvut, according to Israel Radio. One of the youths managed to send an alert to the local security hotline before his cellphone went dead.

One of the youths holds American citizenship, and the government has alerted the US Embassy.

Terror group Hamas is calling the trio “Israeli soldiers.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad have called for kidnapping Israelis as bargaining chips to gain the release of Palestinian convicts incarcerated in Israeli prisons.

Special forces have arrested several Palestinian suspects in the villages of Halhoul and Dura, and other villages in the southern Hebron Hills area, according to latest reports.”

The army has received 50 intelligence warnings of plans to kidnap Israelis, and security forces have foiled several such attempts in the recent past, an official said.

Massive Israeli forces are deployed in Palestinian villages in the vicinity in an intelligence-based manhunt for the youths.

Palestinian media reported a firefight between Israeli and Palestinian forces in a village in the Hebron area. There are no reports of injury to Israeli forces.

It is unclear if an abandoned and torched Israeli vehicle discovered in the vicinity overnight was connected to the kidnapping.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, Shin Bet and other security officials updated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the developing search for the youths, at his Tel Aviv office at the army’s headquarters.

Israel holds the Palestinian Authority directly responsible for the well-being of the youths, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Netanyahu called the families of the youths, in order to comfort them and tell them that the government and security forces were doing everything possible to find and rescue the children.

Throughout the operation, until shortly after 5pm IST, no Israeli newspapers or radio stations reported the story, leading some to suggest coverage was under a gag order. However, the social networks were buzzing with spurious initial reports and rumors.

The religious “Srugim” website on Friday, led their page with a call for mass Psalm-reading by their readership, without posting any other details, and a haredi radio station broke into regular programming to recite Psalms.

Both chief rabbis have called on the public to pray for the safety of the youths, and to keep them in mind when lighting Sabbath candles. The rabbis advised reading Psalms 121 and 130, for the teens’ sakes.

Watch a video of IDF forces involved in the search below:

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