Israeli officials on Saturday released for publication the identities of three Israeli youths who went missing near Hebron Thursday night. The three are 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.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Saturday afternoon that Israel’s working assumption is that the three, who are feared to have been kidnapped, are still alive. He admitted that their apparent abduction had gone “under the radar” of intelligence gatherers who therefore failed to thwart the attack.
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.
“We are in the midst of an intelligence (gathering) and operational effort,” Ya’alon told reporters early Saturday afternoon after holding a situation report with military leaders. “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 managed to prevent over 30 such abduction attempts; this year, in 2014, around 14 such kidnapping attempts.”
“Apparently this incident went under the radar,” he said. “But we will not rest until we release the missing (boys) and until we lay our hands on the terrorists who are responsible for this action,” he added.
Earlier a senior military official told Channel 10 news the search for the three missing youths will not be over within a matter of hours, and could last many days. He also said it was not clear the three were still alive.
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.
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, and 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.