The Palestinian Authority rejected over the weekend Israeli charges that it was responsible for the safety of three yeshiva students who went missing in the West Bank late Thursday.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah, meanwhile, confirmed PA President Mahmoud Abbas had instructed his security forces to assist in the manhunt for the youths.
The officials said Abbas issued his instructions even before he received a phone call from US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday evening regarding the latest developments surrounding the case of the missing students.
Gen. Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the PA security forces in the West Bank, condemned statements by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials to the effect that the PA was responsible for the safety of the students.
Damiri said the Israeli government alone bears full responsibility for “illegally bringing settlers into the territories of the State of Palestine.”
Damiri claimed the apparent kidnapping of the three students took place in Area C of the West Bank, which is under exclusive Israeli control.
He said Israeli authorities have been arresting Palestinian policemen and security officers who enter this area to arrest wanted criminals.
The spokesman also criticized Hamas for taking “illegal measures that could torpedo efforts to achieve reconciliation” with Fatah.
As of late Saturday, Abbas himself had not commented in public about the case of the missing students.
On Friday night, Abbas delivered a speech before Fatah officials who met in Ramallah, but made no reference to the case.
Abbas told the Fatah officials he was serious about ending the dispute between his Fatah faction and Hamas.
He said serious discussions are due to begin later this week to implement the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact signed in Gaza in April.
Abbas also held Israel fully responsible for the failure of the recent round of US-sponsored peace talks.
Most Palestinian officials in the West Bank also chose not to issue public statements about the missing students.
Mohammed al-Madani, a PLO official who heads a committee entrusted with maintaining contact with Israelis, announced Friday the PA security forces would spare no effort to help locate the missing students and return them to their families safely. He noted that in the past, the PA security forces had handed over to the IDF many Israelis who entered the PA-controlled areas both by mistake and intentionally.
His statements drew strong condemnations from Hamas and other Palestinians, who rushed to denounce the PA leadership for assisting Israel in the rescue efforts.
Yahya Musa, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, condemned the PA for reportedly helping Israel in its efforts to find the missing students.
Musa said the PA’s actions were in violation of the reconciliation deal.
The Hamas official urged Fatah to distance itself from the PA’s actions, particularly following reports that Abbas had ordered the arrest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials in the West Bank.
Netanyahu convened senior defense officials for a second meeting late Friday hours after authorities launched a frantic search for three yeshiva students who went missing in the West Bank on Thursday.
Israel says it holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the well-being of the missing youths.
Israeli defense officials probing the disappearance of three Jewish teens in the West Bank are operating under the working assumption that Palestinian militants kidnapped the youths in order to trade them for terrorists incarcerated in Israeli prisons, Channel 2 reported on Friday.
According to the report, defense officials are waiting for intelligence leads or indications from the alleged captors in order to determine the next steps.
An extremist Salafist organization in the West Bank claimed responsibility for kidnapping three missing Israeli youths, Channel 10 is reporting.
The organization, Dawlat al-Islam, released a statement saying that the abductions were aimed at taking revenge against Israel for the killing of three of their operatives in the West Bank months ago. There has been no official confirmation of the claim's veracity.
Security forces fear that three teenage yeshiva boys, all 16 years of age, were kidnapped in the West Bank after they went missing from a hitchhiking spot in the Gush Etzion area Thursday night.
The youths went missing during the course of Thursday night and security forces are conducting sweeping searches of the area.
Ben Hartman and Yaakon Lappin contributed to this report.