Kidnapped youth

Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel

Israel’s military says it has arrested around 80 Palestinians in the West Bank, including members of Hamas, as part of efforts to locate three teenagers believed abducted while hitch-hiking.

Army spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said militants “will not feel safe” until the teenagers – Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach – return home.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the disappearance of the youngsters on Thursday night, and said: ”Our children were kidnapped by a terror group, (there is) no doubt about that.”

President Shimon Peres spoke last night with the parents of the three missing boys,During the conversations with the families, saying: “I know that these are difficult days for you, we are one nation, we are one family and I want you to know that all of Israel is with you during these difficult times.” He added: “All the branches of Israel’s security forces are doing everything to bring our dear boys home. You are exhibiting strength of spirit, I stand with you during this difficult time. The people of Israel are praying for their safe return.”

The parents of Eyal Yifrach thanked President Peres said: “We feel the embrace of the people of Israel and we know that everything is being done to bring them back home. We pray for their return and for good news.”

Their kidnapping is the biggest abduction by militant groups in recent memory in the West Bank.

Israeli-Palestinian tensions already were strained at the time of Thursday’s kidnapping, in part because of the recent formation of a Palestinian unity government that has the backing of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon said that Israel has thwarted more than a dozen kidnapping attempts by Palestinian militants so far this year.

“It appears this event slipped under our radar, but we will not rest until we free the youths and put our hands on the terrorists who are responsible for this operation,” Mr Yaalon said.

“As long as we don’t know otherwise, our working assumption is that they are alive,” he said.

Hamas, branded a terror group by the West, has been involved in kidnappings of Israelis in the past. The group routinely claims responsibility if involved in an attack, but has not claimed taking the teens.

Palestinian officials also rejected Israel’s attempts to blame Mahmoud Abbas, noting that Israel retains overall security control in the West Bank.

Despite the charged rhetoric, Palestinian security forces were cooperating with Israeli counterparts in trying to find the teenagers, a Palestinian official said.

Mr Abbas has said security coordination in the West Bank between Israel and the Palestinians, usually aimed at tracking down Islamic militants, will continue despite the unity government.

Meanwhile, three different claims of responsibility emerged in the West Bank, though it is not clear if any were authentic.