Three Israeli high school students have been kidnapped by Islamist terrorists. They were last seen on Thursday night at around 10:30 near the Gush Etzion area south of Jerusalem. One of those kidnapped is an American citizen.
The names of the kidnapped students have been released. They are: Eyal Yifrah, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Frenkel, 16 (who holds duel American-Israeli citizenship).
Israel has detained at least 80 terrorist suspects as part of its investigation, including several high ranking Hamas members. Palestinian authorities estimated the number at over 100. Large numbers of infantry have been deployed and house-to-house searches were being conducted in the disputed territories west of the Jordan River. The operation is now entering into its third day. Palestinian Authority security forces have been coordinating with Israel in the search.
Meanwhile, in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip there were reports of celebrations at the news of the kidnapping of the teenagers. On Palestinian news sites pictures were posted of citizens passing out sweets to celebrate.
The Israeli army confirmed that Hamas was behind the kidnapping.
Yesterday Hamas fired four rockets at Israel from Gaza to which Israel responded with targeted airstrikes on Hamas' military infrastucture.
In a press statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday morning, "Today I can say what I refrained from saying yesterday ahead of the wave of arrests that captured Hamas operatives in Judea and Samaria. Hamas men carried out the kidnapping." When asked about Netanyahu's remarks, a Hamas spokesman would neither confirm nor deny Hamas involvement.
The Dawlat al-Islam group also issued a statement claiming responsibility for the abductions. They distributed flyers in Arabic boasting of their success in kidnapping the students. Dawlat al-Islam is a subsidiary of ISIS, the former al-Qaeda group seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Over the last few days ISIS has made sweeping gains across Iraq. Dawlat al-Islam signed the flyers as, "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Palestine, The West Bank."
An online petition on the White House website is calling on the American government "to use any and all means necessary to facilitate the safe return of these three innocent teenagers, including the withholding of all government funds from the PA." When the petition reaches 100,000, the government is required to issue a response. At press time the petition had reached 99,955 signatures.