Police set up dozens of roadblocks across central Israel on Thursday as the military said it was investigating a report that one of its soldiers may have been kidnapped.
The alert was sounded after a female soldier reported seeing another soldier being forced into a car outside an army base, the army said. However, it said no further evidence of an abduction has been found.
Later, a little known Palestinian group calling itself Al Quds Army claimed responsibility for kidnapping a soldier, sending an e-mail to the Palestinian news agency Maan.
In the e-mail, they promised to release details of the soldier later, said Maan.
The army did not say where the alleged incident took place. However, police set up dozens of checkpoints on all roads leading to the West Bank and stopped and searched cars, causing long traffic jams across central Israel.
Israeli media reported that the army had confined soldiers to their bases and were checking for missing soldiers, but none had been found so far.
Fears of more kidnappings
The massive security operation highlights Israel's fears of having more soldiers kidnapped.
Winning the return of Israeli captives — or even their corpses — is a cardinal tenet of the Israeli military, and lopsided prisoner exchanges have been common in the past. Soldiers are trained never to abandon comrades on the battlefield.
The capture of two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border by Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamic militia allied to Hamas, was the trigger that set off the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon. Israel later swapped a notorious Lebanese guerrilla for the remains of the two soldiers, under heavy pressure from the servicemen's families.
Israel already has one soldier being held captive. Sgt. Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas-allied militants three years ago in a cross-border raid from Gaza. Schalit has not been seen since then, and the Red Cross has not been permitted to visit him.
Egypt has been mediating attempts to trade Schalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But negotiations for Schalit's release have been hobbled by Hamas' demand that among those to be freed are many convicts serving time for deadly attacks on Israelis.