The IDF on Saturday released edited footage of the search for Gil-ad Shaar (16) from the settlement of Talmon, Naftali Frenkel (16), a dual Israeli-American citizen from Nof Ayalon near Modi’in, and Eyal Yifrach (19) from Elad, near Petah Tikva.
Security officials believe the three were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists while trying to hitch a ride home from the Yeshiva High School where they studied in Gush Etzion. Since early Friday, security forces have led a massive search effort for the three in the Hebron region, but have yet to make any significant progress.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to give his first statement on the situation Saturday evening, after an emergency security cabinet meeting.
Defense Minister Moshe (Bougie) Ya’alon said Saturday afternoon that Israel’s working assumption is that the three are still alive. He admitted that their apparent abduction had gone “under the radar” of intelligence gatherers who therefore failed to thwart the attack.
The IDF released the following footage from the search overnight Friday-Saturday.
A senior military official said Saturday that the search for the three will not be over within a matter of hours, and could last many days.
The unnamed official said some progress had been made overnight, though he would not give details. “There are a number of lines of inquiry,” he said. “This is not an incident of several hours, we are preparing for days. This isn’t going to be short.”
The official confirmed that security forces had made several arrests in the Hebron region overnight, explaining that they were made in hope of getting closer to “the inner circle” of the kidnappers.
Hamas said 16 of its members had been arrested, including several former prisoners. It was unclear what connection, if any, these men had to the youths’ disappearance. Palestinians also said troops confiscated security camera tapes in the area, apparently to scan their footage for clues.
The army official added that the IDF has deployed its elite Paratroopers Brigade and other special units to the Hebron region to aide in the hunt for clues.
He said that it was not clear whether the missing boys were still alive, though he noted that it would be difficult for a terror group to keep live hostages hidden in the West Bank for any extended period of time due to the IDF’s heavy presence there.
Israeli officials have expressed concern that there may be an attempt to smuggle the teens to the Gaza Strip or another location through Jordan. Security forces have set up roadblocks and increased inspection throughout the West Bank to prevent this.
“The IDF’s intelligence capabilities in Judea and Samaria are very good,” veteran military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai told Ynet, using the Biblical name for the West Bank. “There are many sensors deployed in the field, in addition to the human intelligence and agents Shin Bet uses. We’ve seen that they’re using drones and (observation) balloons from the air to prevent any movement with the abducted (youths).”
The military official said there was good coordination with the Palestinian Authority over the search efforts on all levels. He added that the PA understood very well that this was not “just another terror attack” and recognized its possible impact and repercussions.
Hamas, which has hailed the “success” of the kidnapping without taking responsibility, lambasted the PA over its coordination with Israel. The Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fauzi Barhum, said on Saturday that the security cooperation between the two sides to locate the “heroic kidnappers” was a “mark of disgrace.”
Netanyahu met with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Ya’alon Saturday morning to assess the situation.
Israeli security forces have been conducting a massive manhunt since early Friday to find them.
Various local reports indicated overnight that Israeli military officials increasingly believe that a torched car, a Hyundai i35, found by Palestinian police near Hebron early Friday was used in the presumed kidnapping.
Palestinian Islamists have repeatedly called to kidnap Israelis, including to use them as bargaining chips to extract the release of Palestinian security prisoners.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Friday that, since the beginning of the year, the Shin Bet has foiled 14 attempts to kidnap Israelis.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.