Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the three teenagers kidnapped in the West Bank on Thursday were taken by a “terrorist organization.”
The teens — Gilad Shaar, 16; Naftali Frenkel, 19; and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — were taken while hitchhiking home from school in the highly volatile West Bank region. Frenkel is an American citizen going to school in Israel, his family lives in New York. Frenkel’s mother told CBS, “We know everybody is doing everything humanly possible to bring Naftali, Eyal and Gilad home safely, and as soon as possible. We have tremendous gratitude.”
Israeli police revealed they received a call from one of the teens Thursday night after they were taken, in which one of the boys said, “We are kidnapped.”
The Palestinian media are celebrating the kidnappings, referring to the boys as the “Three Shalits,” referencing Isreali soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped and held for five years until he was freed in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. A cartoon was also released showing three mice with the Star of David on them dangling from the end of a fishing pole.
Netanyahu has “confirmed” that it was Hamas, a terrorist group backed by the Palestinian government. Although Hamas released a statement saying that Netanyahu’s claims were “stupid and baseless,” it didn’t stop him from saying, “The incident makes the point that the unity with Hamas is the exact opposite from going to peace. They want to kidnap and kill us.”
Several organizations have claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. One of the groups is al-Aqsa, a Fatah-linked organization that says the boys are safe and will be exchanged for thousands of Palestinian prisoners, however some doubt their credibility. An ISIS-linked organization called Dawlat al-Islam has also taken responsibility, saying they abducted the boys to take revenge against Israel for the killing of three of their operatives in the West Bank.
Israeli defense forces have said they are concentrating all their efforts on finding the missing boys, and believe that they are probably alive. “As long as we don’t know differently, our assumption is that they are alive” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a news conference. He later added, “We’re at the peak of our intelligence and operational efforts … troops are conducting arrests … and I hope this effort will bring us as soon as possible to the missing as to rescue them alive.”
Defense Forces reported that 150 Palestinian suspects have been detained in overnight operations. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Netanyahu and U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about the missing teens Friday night. According to the Associated Press, Palestinian forces are assisting Israel in the search for the boys, allowing them to review security footage recorded by cameras in the area they were taken.
Netanyahu’s anger highlights the troubles between the two countries regarding the West Bank. “We again and again find out that we can count only on ourselves” Netanyahu said regarding the territorial dispute.