Israeli Prime Minister: Three Missing Teens Kidnapped by Terrorists

Image: Israeli soldiers patrol near Hebron
Israeli soldiers patrol near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 14, 2014. AMMAR AWAD / Reuters

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Israel's prime minister said Saturday that the three students who vanished while hitchhiking in the disputed West Bank were kidnapped by a "terror organization."

Israeli Defense Forces said the missing teens — Gilad Shaar, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 16 — were last seen Thursday night near Gush Etzion, an area that has several Jewish settlements. One of the students is an American, according to a source with the Israeli security force.

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"I can't say all we know, but I can say our boys were kidnapped by a terror organization," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the teens are assumed to be alive.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Sunday that 80 Palestinian suspects were detained in overnight operations. In an earlier statement the IDF said that since 2013, it had foiled about 60 kidnapping attempts by Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni Islamist organization.

"This incident makes the point that the unity with Hamas is the exact opposite from going to peace," Netanyahu said. "They want to kidnap and kill us."

"We again and again find out that we can count only on ourselves," Netanyahu added.

Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the abduction, but three other groups have, according to The Associated Press. In a leaflet, an al Qaeda splinter group said the kidnapping was retribution for the killing of three fighters by Israeli forces earlier this year.

Defense officials said Israeli forces were focused on finding the teens alive.

“We are concentrating all of our intelligence efforts on trying to track down the missing individuals,” said Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians before their collapse earlier this year, urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to help find the three teens.

Palestinian officials say they are assisting Israeli forces, regardless of the charged rhetoric, according to the AP.

— Paul Goldman and Elisha Fieldstadt

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.