Israeli forces search for three missing Jewish teens in West Bank
Israeli forces are searching for three Jewish teenagers who went missing in the West Bank late on Thursday, the military said on today.
As media speculated that the three youths might have been abducted, large numbers of Israeli soldiers scoured the countryside around the flashpoint city of Hebron, carrying out house-to-house searches in neighbouring villages and blocking roads.
Local media said the three youngsters had last been seen trying to hitch-hike home from a religious seminary in the Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion, to the north of Hebron.
"Forces are conducting a widespread operation to locate the individuals," the military said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a special meeting of security ministers and said in a statement that Israel held President Mahmoud Abbas's Western-backed Palestinian Authority responsible for the safety of the three.
But Adnan al-Dmairi, a spokesman for Palestinian security services in the West Bank, deflected Israel's criticism.
"Three settlers are missing - why is this the fault of the Palestinian Authority? We have nothing to do with this issue. If a natural disaster hits Israel, would we be responsible? This is mad and unacceptable. We have no knowledge about this," he said.
The military did not name the teenagers. The newspaper Haaretz said two were aged 16 and one was 19. Local media added that one of the three also held American citizenship, and that the US ambassador to Israel had been briefed.
US Secretary of State John Kerry "expressed grave concern ... and ... our commitment to working with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to try to ensure the situation is resolved quickly and the teenagers are returned to their families," a US spokesman said.
"Secretary Kerry has ... spoken to President Abbas to urge him to do everything possible to assist in the effort to find them. President Abbas assured him that he is doing so."
Kerry met Israeli chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni at a conference in London and later also spoke to Netanyahu, an Israeli spokesman said.
"The prime minister said to Kerry: Abu Mazen (Abbas) is responsible for the wellbeing of the missing (boys)," part of the Israeli statement about the conversation said.