Five days after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped, the European Union officially on Tuesday released a statement condemning the event and calling for the teens’ speedy return. The statement followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s implicit criticism of the union for rushing to condemn what it considers Israeli violations while delaying its denunciations of Palestinian terrorism.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the abduction of three Israeli students in the West Bank and call for their immediate release and safe return to their families,” a statement published Tuesday by the EU’s Brussels-based External Action Service read.
“Such acts can only undermine international efforts to encourage a resumption of peace negotiations. We are following developments closely and remain in constant contact with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. The EU encourages continued close cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services to ensure the swift release of the abductees,” read the statement, which did not quote the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, or any other official, by name.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frankel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16, were kidnapped late Thursday night south of Jerusalem. Israeli media reported extensively on the abduction starting Friday afternoon.
Speaking to the press Monday evening, Netanyahu chastised the EU for its failure to condemn the kidnapping, albeit without mentioning the union explicitly.
“I expect all responsible elements in the international community – some of whom rush to condemn us for any construction in this place or for enclosing a balcony in Gilo – to strongly condemn this reprehensible and deplorable act of abducting three youths,” he said after a security consultation at IDF Central Command in Jerusalem. “Whoever opposes terrorism needs to condemn terrorism wherever it is perpetrated. I expect other countries to join in these condemnations and to support the State of Israel’s legitimate and necessary acts of self-defense.”
The EU’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, had tweeted on Friday afternoon that he was “deeply concerned” about the youths and “[h]oping for their safe return.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel on Sunday, Faaborg-Andersen condemned the kidnapping “in the strongest possible terms. My thoughts are with the bereaved families of the three missing youths and my hope is that they will be found unharmed as quickly as possible.”
On Tuesday, Faaborg-Andersen visited Elad, Yifrach’s hometown. In a meeting with the town’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Malka, he expressed “the EU’s strong condemnation” of the teens’ abduction, according to a statement. “We stand with the Israeli people during these difficult days and offer our full support to Israel as the search for the three continues. The European Union has called for the immediate and unconditional release of these three boys – it is, frankly, despicable that children’s lives should be put in danger in this way.”
The EU diplomat asked Malka to extend his concern and support to the families and communities of the kidnapped teens. “Our thoughts are with the families,” he said, according to the statement. “We hope their prayers will be answered and that their children will return home soon.”
The United Nations and several Western countries have condemned the kidnapping and called for the young men’s immediate release, including Canada, Spain, the US, Britain, Germany, France and others.