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3 Israeli teens taken by terror group

Israeli soldiers searched Saturday for three teens who disappeared near a settlement in the West Bank town of Hebron.

HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty

Israeli soldiers searched Saturday for three teens who disappeared near a settlement in the West Bank town of Hebron.

JERUSALEM — A terror group abducted three teens missing from the West Bank, Israel’s prime minister said Saturday, as soldiers combed the rocky terrain and searched homes to try to find them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again blamed the Palestinian Authority for the Thursday night disappearance of the teens, one of them a US citizen. Palestinian officials say they are assisting Israeli forces, who pored over surveillance footage Saturday and arrested more than a dozen Palestinians.

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Netanyahu said an ‘‘intensive operation’’ was underway to prevent the teens from being taken to the Gaza Strip or elsewhere.

‘‘Our children were kidnapped by a terror group,’’ he said. ‘‘There is no doubt about that.’’

The Israeli military identified the teens as Naftali Frenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19. Israeli television station Channel 10 named Frenkel as the US citizen whom officials had mentioned earlier.

Their kidnapping is the biggest abduction by militant groups in recent memory in the West Bank.

Israeli-Palestinian tensions already were strained at the time of Thursday’s kidnapping, in part because of the recent formation of a Palestinian unity government that has the backing of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saturday that Israel has thwarted more than a dozen kidnapping attempts by Palestinian militants so far this year.

‘‘It appears this event slipped under our radar, but we will not rest until we free the youths and put our hands on the terrorists who are responsible for this operation,’’ Yaalon said.

‘‘As long as we don’t know otherwise, our working assumption is that they are alive,’’ he said.

Hamas, branded a terror group by the West for its attacks aimed at civilians, has been involved in kidnappings of Israelis in the past. The group routinely claims responsibility if involved in an attack but has not claimed taking the teens.

Israeli soldiers detained more than a dozen Palestinians in the West Bank on Saturday as they searched for three students from a Jewish seminary who disappeared late Thursday.

HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty

Israeli soldiers detained more than a dozen Palestinians in the West Bank on Saturday as they searched for three students from a Jewish seminary who disappeared late Thursday.

Palestinian officials also rejected Israel’s attempts to blame Abbas, noting that Israel retains overall security control in the West Bank.

Despite the charged rhetoric, Palestinian security forces were cooperating with Israeli counterparts in trying to find the teens, a Palestinian official said.

Abbas has said security coordination in the West Bank between Israel and the Palestinians, usually aimed at tracking down Islamic militants, will continue despite the unity government.

Meanwhile, three differ-
ent claims of responsibility emerged in the West Bank, though it’s not clear whether any were authentic.

In one leaflet, a group portraying itself as a branch of an Al Qaeda splinter group said it kidnapped the three to avenge the killing of three fighters by Israeli security forces earlier this year.

Hamas, along with other militant Palestinian groups, frequently calls for the abduction of Israelis.

Israel’s military has warned soldiers and civilians not to accept rides from strangers, but hitchhiking remains common.

An Israeli intelligence official said more than 50 kidnapping attempts were thwarted at various stages of execution in 2013 alone. Palestinians have kidnapped Israelis before, but this would be the first time they abducted three civilians at the same time.

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