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IDF, police widen search for Israeli man missing near Hebron

22-year-old entered West Bank village after car broke down, friend says; security forces fear terror incident, mistrust friend’s account

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

IDF soldiers outside the West Bank village of Beit Anun, near Hebron, searching for an Israeli man who went missing on April 2, 2015. (screen capture: Channel 2)
IDF soldiers outside the West Bank village of Beit Anun, near Hebron, searching for an Israeli man who went missing on April 2, 2015. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Israeli security forces were engaged in a widespread manhunt Thursday evening for an Israeli man who was missing, feared kidnapped in a terrorist attack, near the West Bank city of Hebron.

The IDF and police began combing the area shortly after the 22-year-old man’s friend called police just after 4 p.m. and reported that he entered the Palestinian village of Beit Anun and hadn’t returned.

The Shin Bet security agency was investigating that possibility that the missing man was kidnapped. A Palestinian security official told Ynet, however, that the PA didn’t suspect the incident was a terrorist attack, but were investigating the possibility.

The PA was assisting with the search for the missing man, Channel 1 reported.

His identity was not immediately released.

The missing man left his cell phone in the vehicle with his friend, who also wasn’t immediately named. The police interrogated the man’s friend.

The army set up roadblocks on Route 60, the main north-south artery connecting Jerusalem and Hebron, and Route 35.

The two, both residents of the southern city of Beersheba, got a flat tire while driving on the road between the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, outside Hebron, and the village of Beit Anun, the friend said.

Israeli security forces outside the West Bank village of Beit Anun, near Hebron, searching for an Israeli man who went missing on April 2, 2015. (screen capture: Channel 2)
Israeli security forces outside the West Bank village of Beit Anun, near Hebron, searching for an Israeli man who went missing on April 2, 2015. (screen capture: Channel 2)

The missing man went to go get tools to fix the flat from the nearby Arab village and disappeared, said the friend.

Unnamed police sources told Channel 2, however, that the car had no flat tire, raising suspicions as to why the two had stopped where they did.

The car was stopped precisely at the bottom of a path leading into the village.

The TV report said that the friend, a former Border Policeman who had served in the area, had given “at least three versions” of what had happened, and was not considered credible.

It made no sense for the missing man to have chosen to enter a potentially hostile Palestinian village when the entrance to the settlement of Kiryat Arba was only 300 meters away from the spot where their car was stopped, the report added.

The missing man’s father was being questioned by police on Wednesday evening. The missing man was said to be an employee of the Jewish National Fund, who had started a new job on Wednesday morning.

His cousin, named only as “Meir,” said Wednesday night that the man had gone to work and then phoned his mother to say he was going to pray at Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs. “This has hit us like thunder on a clear day… I ask all of Israel to pray for him,” Meir said, “that he should return home safe and well.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkott held an emergency meeting with senior officers about the situation.

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There was some speculation that the man had some criminal motive for being in the area, Israel Radio reported. But the security forces were now treating his disappearance as a potential terrorist act, the report stressed.

As night fell, it was feared that the missing man was no longer in Beit Anun, and the security forces widened their search.

Last June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by a Hamas cell at a junction in the Etzion Bloc, north of Wednesday’s incident, and subsequently found murdered. The incident led to a drastic upsurge in tension between Israel and Hamas, ultimately leading to the 50-day Operation Protective Edge conflict last summer.

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