Israeli security forces have been scanning the Bais Lechem and Chevron area today after three yeshiva students, age 17- 19, went missing last night. Police was also checking whether there was a connection between a burnt car that was discovered near Chevron and the disappeared teens.
The Shin Bet and the IDF’s Central Command are treating the teens’ disappearance as a kidnapping by terrorists, because, among other things, their cell phones stopped broadcasting location signals at the same location they were last seen – between Kfar Etzion and the settlement Alon Shvut.
Large security forces were scanning open areas in Gush Etzion – on foot, by car and using advance observation devices.
The IDF also confirmed that Unmanned aerial vehicles were being used in the search on Friday afternoon.
Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that Israeli security forces were combing through southern Chevron. According to the report, the army set up roadblocks in several spots, and IDF forces raided some houses and made a few arrests. At the same time, Israeli drones were reportedly seen flying over the southern part of Mount Chevron.
Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu contacted the families of the missing teens assuring them that Israel will do everything possible to bring missing teens home. The prime minister also met at his Tel Aviv office with senior security officials where he announced that, “Israel sees the Palestinian Authority as responsible for the safety of the teens.”
The IDF spokesman made an official announcement of the massive on-going search warning the public not to believe rumors that spread around the country this morning. Such whisperings included that the IDF had broke into a home and rescued two of the teens, a claim that the spokesman denied.
“I’m asking everyone to behave responsibly. There’s no significance to rumors that have been spreading,” said the spokesperson. IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz instructed all relevant army units, including a unit dealing with hostage situations, to raise their level of alert and prepare for any scenario.
“The goal is to figure out what happened before they disappeared, to investigate our way backwards. So far, we haven’t found any items belonging to the two out on the field,” a senior army source said. He added that the search was now focusing on the intelligence front, and that the IDF, Police and Shin Bet were holding a situation evaluation every few hours.
Meanwhile, roadblocks were set up on southern Israeli highways in order to prevent the potential transfer of the teens to Gaza, which would greatly complicate any possible rescue attempt either military or political.
A spokesman for a settlement in which one of the missing teens resides said that during the night, when the son failed to return home and didn’t answer his phone, his father reported him missing to the police. At the same time, family members were searching for the teen at his friends’ houses.
“At 8 am we received texts. We were asked if we knew where the boy was and we were asked to wake up our children to see if he’s staying over at one of the homes,” the spokesman said. At first the family members thought the teen had just forgotten his keys and went to sleep at a friend’s house, as he had done before.
“As soon as we realized he was nowhere to be found, the atmosphere in the settlement became very grave. People were hiding in their homes… we opened an operations room to provide residents with information, and organized a mass prayer and read from the Book of Songs so this incident ends on a good side,” the spokesman continued.
The spokesman added that yeshiva students often make the journey from Alon Shvut to the Gush Etzion junction and from there to Yerushalayim, and onto the settlement via Shiloh junction.
The IDF is examining whether the teens tried to hitch a ride in the Etzion area, not far from the Gush Etzion junction, an area where many settlers hitchhike despite army warnings and repeated alerts on terror organizations planning to commit a kidnapping. In recent weeks, the Shin Bet exposed several attempts by terror cells to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians in order to use them as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail.
YNET NEWS ISRAEL, TAZPIT