The Israeli police received a call Thursday night at 10:25 p.m. about a kidnapping but failed to act for several hours, reports indicated on Saturday night.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, from Elad near Petah Tikva, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, from the settlement of Talmon, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, a dual Israeli-American citizen from Nof Ayalon near Modiin, who were last seen at a hitchhiking post near Hebron Thursday night, and whose kidnappings were confirmed Saturday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were last heard from around 10:00 p.m. Thursday night.
According to Hebrew media reports, the police sent a patrol unit to the area only an hour after the call came in.
Only after the parents of the three started making their way to police stations overnight Thursday did the full picture surrounding what had happened become clear to authorities, Channel 2 reported.
It was unclear at which point the police notified the army. If reports are accurate, the kidnappers had about seven hours to kidnap, transport and hide the abductees, reports said.
The feverish search by Israeli security forces for the three teenagers has been ongoing since early Friday morning.
Earlier Saturday, in his first statement since the disappearance of the three, Netanyahu confirmed that they were kidnapped by a terrorist group.
“Our boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organization. There is no doubt about that,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the press Saturday night, following a security meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz.
“We are in the midst of a widespread operation to locate and bring back the three young yeshiva students. I spoke with their parents, and I told them that we are doing everything possible and more to bring back their boys, who are also our boys,” said the prime minister.
Netanyahu said he gave the following instructions to all the authorities and services aiding the ongoing search for the three teenagers:
“1. [We must] use all tools at our disposal to locate the boys. 2. prevent the possibility of their transfer to Gaza or anywhere else. 3. prepare our forces for all eventualities. 4. demand from the Palestinian Authority, and from its leader Mahmoud Abbas, whence the kidnappers came, to do all that is necessary to make sure the boys return safely. This is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.”
Netanyahu harshly criticized the unity government between the Fatah-led PLO and Hamas, which was sworn in earlier this month.
“The pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results which are the exact opposite of advancing peace between us and the Palestinians,” said the prime minister.
“All of the terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations – are committed to the destruction of Israel and they draw encouragement from this pact. Their personnel are constantly trying to murder, attack and abduct Israeli citizens simply because they are Israeli citizens. Over the decades they have tried to perpetrate abductions and, to our regret, they occasionally succeed,” he said.
“There is no possibility of talking peace with Israel while, at the same time, establishing a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that aspires to destroy Israel. Those same elements in the international community that said that the Palestinian agreement with Hamas would advance peace now see the true results of this union,” he went on.
Speaking Saturday night just after the prime minister, Ya’alon vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We will know to lay our hands on those who planned the abduction and carried it out,” said the defense minister.
Israeli security forces conducted a massive manhunt overnight Friday and on Saturday as part of an ongoing investigation into the disappearances.
Ya’alon said Saturday afternoon that Israel’s working assumption was that the three were still alive. He admitted that their apparent abduction had slipped “under the radar” of intelligence gatherers who failed to thwart the attack.
Security officials believe that Shaar and Frenkel were kidnapped while trying to hitch a ride home from the yeshiva high school where they studied in Gush Etzion.
“We are in the midst of an intelligence (gathering) and operational effort,” Ya’alon told reporters early Saturday afternoon after holding a situation meeting with military brass. “I hope this effort leads us as soon as possible to the missing (teens) and to rescuing them alive.”
“As long as we don’t know differently, our working assumption is that they are still alive,” Ya’alon stressed. “This phenomenon of abductions, of abduction attempts, is nothing new,” he added. “In 2013 we successfully prevented over 30 such abduction attempts; this year, in 2014, around 14 such kidnapping attempts.”