US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, and said “many indications” pointed to the involvement of Hamas.
“The United States strongly condemns the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers and calls for their immediate release,” Kerry said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families. We hope for their quick and safe return home. We continue to offer our full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens, and we have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services. We understand that cooperation is ongoing.
“We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’ involvement,” he continued. “As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past,” he said.
Also on Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague strongly condemned the abduction.
“My thoughts are with their families and I hope for their safe return home soon. I appeal to those who are able to bring about their release to take urgent action to do so,” he said in a statement.
Hague said that he was deeply concerned by the escalation in violence on the ground, referring to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and IDF air strikes carried out in retaliation. “The rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza into Israel must stop; it is tragic that the Israeli airstrikes in response led to civilian injuries and the death of a child. I call on all parties to respect in full the November 2012 ceasefire,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly accused Hamas of the kidnapping.
The teenagers, students at Jewish seminaries in the West Bank, were believed to have been kidnapped Thursday night while hitchhiking in an area between Bethlehem and Hebron.
Their disappearance came 10 days after the establishment of a new Palestinian government of technocrats pieced together by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas following a unity agreement between rival leaders in the West Bank and Gaza.
The US, along with the rest of the international community, said it would work with the Palestinian unity government, despite the inclusion of Hamas, which it considers a terror organization.
On Sunday, a right-wing Israeli minister accused the Obama administration of facilitating the attack through its support for Palestinian unity.
The kidnapping of the yeshiva students — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 — has prompted a huge search operation by Israeli security forces. On Sunday the IDF shut down all movement in and out of Hebron security forces continued to sweep the area.
A State Department official told The Times of Israel Sunday that the US was aware of reports that Fraenkel was a US citizen, but could not confirm them due to privacy considerations. US citizens must waive their right to privacy in certain cases in order for the State Department to be able to speak publically about their cases.
The official added that generally speaking, when a US citizen is reported missing or kidnapped, the State Department works closely with local authorities and cooperates fully in their search efforts.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, in Washington, and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.