The kidnappers of three Israeli teens may be waiting to take responsibility for the act because they have still not reached their final destination, a senior IDF officer said Monday.
“They have not completed their escape route, or they are waiting for the situation on the ground to calm down in order to announce the kidnapping,” an officer from the Central Command told Israeli media.
Movement in and out of the city of Hebron, where IDF searches are focused, has been extremely restricted over the past 11 days as Israeli forces search for the three teenagers, last seen hitchhiking south of Jerusalem.
Over a thousand soldiers have scoured the area in intensive searches for the three, alongside nightly raids aimed at cracking down on the Hamas movement in the West Bank, which Israel has accused of abducting the three.
The officer indicated that the ongoing searches near Hebron would exhaust themselves in the coming days, but said the Israel Defense Forces “will continue the effort in other effective ways.”
There has been some progress in the investigation as Palestinian detainees continue to be interrogated, the officer said.
“The pressure is being applied in an intelligent and effective manner,” he said, “not only by the brigades carrying out the search, but also in other ways.”
Nearly 400 terror suspects have been detained since the start of the operation, mostly from Hamas.
On Monday, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar called on Israel to increase the pressure on Hamas, Ynet reported. He also said that Israeli spokesmen should emphasize that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is covering for Hamas, “a terror organization with which he struck a political deal.”
The three youths — Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel — were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking at a bus stop in the Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. An emergency call to the local 911 number, in which one of the teens whispered that they had been kidnapped, went unheeded for hours.
Over the ensuing days, nine brigades have been deployed to the West Bank, 361 Palestinians have been arrested, 1,701 sites have been searched, and five Palestinians have been killed.
Since Friday, the IDF has narrowed its focus to the Hebron region, with company commanders receiving maps of wells, caves, and stone terraces that the troops are tasked with searching.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.