الخميس , يونيو 11 2020

Israel looks for 'kidnapped' teens

An Israeli soldier walks past a Palestinian man sitting on a street in the West Bank town of Hebron Israel has brought reinforcements to the area where the search is taking place

The Israeli army is conducting house-to-house searches in the West Bank, looking for three teenagers it suspects have been abducted by Palestinians.

The two 16-year-olds and one 19-year-old went missing on Thursday near an Israeli settlement north of Hebron.

Palestinian officials say Israel has arrested at least 12 people.

The search is being seen as the biggest strain on relations between the two sides since a Palestinian unity government was announced in April.

The fate of the teenagers has gripped Israel with rolling coverage on the main TV channels, says the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Jerusalem.

The three seminary students were last seen in the area of Gush Etzion, a bloc of Jewish settlement located between Jerusalem and the predominantly Palestinian city of Hebron.

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They were returning from lessons night when they disappeared. One is believed to have called the authorities to say they had been kidnapped.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the teenagers’ wellbeing.

However, Adnan Demeiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian security services, dismissed Mr Netanyahu’s claims, saying that the three went missing in an area under full Israeli control.

Palestinian officials say the arrests took place in the Hebron area.

In a statement on the operation, the Israeli army pointed to the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and said the three may have been taken to be traded for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Sgt Shalit was freed in 2011 after Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas agreed a deal under which more than 1,000 Palestinians were released.

In April, Israel suspended crisis-hit peace talks with the Palestinians when a Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government was announced.

Israel insists it will not deal with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas.

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