IDF soldiers search for a missing Israeli near the West Bank city of Hebron.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A massive search is under way for a 22-year-old Israeli man from Beersheba who went missing in the eastern Hebron area Thursday afternoon and whose life is believed to be in grave danger.
It remains unclear whether the man was abducted for nationalist reasons, or if his disappearance is linked to a criminal incident.
Judea and Samaria police said emergency operators received a call at 4:17 p.m.
from a young man saying he and his friend got a flat tire near Hebron, on the road between Kiryat Arba and the Palestinian village Beit Anoun. Police said the man told them his friend walked off to get tools to change the flat tire, but did not return.
Soldiers in extensive search for missing Israeli in West Bank
Hundreds of soldiers and security personnel began combing the area and blocking traffic on nearby roads in the hunt for the man. Security forces at the scene determined that the car did not have a flat tire. Several Israeli media reports said the missing man left his cellphone inside the vehicle.
Speaking Thursday evening amid the search, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz said: “The circumstances are not clear. We don’t know yet if this is terrorism or a criminal incident. We are treating this as a kidnapping on the ground.” He said large numbers of military forces were searching the east Hebron area. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) also launched an intensive intelligence effort in the region.
Maj.-Gen. Roni Numa, head of the IDF Central Command, has taken command of the search, Almoz said. Numa held an evaluation with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot in the Hebron area in the late afternoon.
Almoz contradicted the police report, saying the distress call about a flat tire was placed at 4:40 p.m., not 4:17 p.m.
“We caught this event sooner than the kidnapping that began Operation Brother’s Keeper,” said Almoz, referring to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last June by two Hamas terrorists. “We are at the start of the event, and we’re rolling out a big operation. All directions are being checked equally. I can’t confirm any direction at this time.”
Almoz told media that “there are signs that have not developed further yet. These are critical hours. I believe that in a few hours, we’ll know better what kind of event we are heading into. We are full of experience.
Incidents that look clear can turn out to be something else,” Almoz said, warning against drawing premature conclusions.
“Since we are on the eve of Passover, and forces are in the area in any case, we are closing the area of east Hebron, a rural area,” he said. “Forces are there now and they will expand their activities tonight, in accordance with intelligence.”
A senior security source told The Jerusalem Post soon after the kidnapping that, “we are viewing this incident with the utmost severity. We are carrying out all checks and taking all of the necessary steps at this stage.”
There is coordination on certain levels with Palestinian Authority security forces, security sources said.