(photo credit: Channel 10)
Judea and Samaria Division commander Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan asked the Council of Judea and Samaria (Yesha) head Benzi Lieberman on Thursday night to call on settlers not to hitchhike in the West Bank.
[For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here]
Lieberman refused the request, saying that due to the current state of public transport in the region there was "no other way for young people to travel." He added that even if such a request was made the settlers would not heed to the call.
The two concluded that the Yesha security officer would meet with IDF officers in the West Bank to decide which hitchhiking posts would be manned by IDF troops.
They also said that the leaders of the area's Jewish communities would ask people to refrain from using isolated hitchhiking posts, Israel Radio reported.
Lieberman said that in recent months the IDF had significantly reduced security on West Bank roads and on hitchhiking posts on the area.
"The issue is infuriating in the light of the recent warnings of kidnapping attempts," said Lieberman.
On Thursday afternoon, two teenage girls escaped a kidnapping attempt at a hitchhiking post at the Rehalim Junction not far from the West Bank city of Nablus. The girls sustained light injuries and the three Palestinian kidnappers, from Jenin, were apprehended by security forces.
As the two girls sat on the curb and waited for a ride, a white Chevrolet Cavalier, carrying three Palestinians from Jenin, pulled over and tried to force the two into the car at gunpoint.
One of the girls, Emuna Shahar, a 15-year-old Jerusalem resident, fought against the men, who tried taking her into the vehicle by force. Shahar suffered light injuries, including blows to her face, while struggling tooth and nail to stay out of the vehicle. Speaking to reporters a few hours after the attack, Shahar said that the assailants beat her while she screamed out "Shema Yisrael," certain that they would kill her.
The other hitchhiker, Hadas Mann, 14, of Beit El, managed to escape without injury. She told reporters that she crawled into nearby bushes and stopped moving so she wouldn't be noticed.
"It all happened too fast. It was scary," she said, "I prayed and prayed and prayed to God." Mann succeeded in placing a telephone call to the police, saying that she thought that her friend was being kidnapped.
Fortunately for Shahar, a Nahal Brigade company commander who had just passed the intersection observed what was happening through his rear-view window, and immediately made a U-turn. When the three would-be kidnappers saw the car with the officer approaching them, they fled the scene.
The officer picked up Shahar, and she told him that Mann had been kidnapped. The two called the police emergency hotline to report the kidnapping.
The officer pursued the Palestinian vehicle as police and IDF forces set up roadblocks. Four detectives from the Samaria Sub district heard reports of the incident over the police radio and apprehended the fleeing car at a roadblock on Route 60 north of Shilo 10 minutes after the incident occurred. Upon searching the vehicle, the detectives recovered a loaded handgun. When Mann was not found in the vehicle, she was searched for at the site of the incident and found unharmed.
The driver and both passengers did not resist arrest and were taken for interrogation by security forces. No terror organization took responsibility for the kidnapping attempt and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which took the suspects into custody, refused to release any details about the investigation.
Binyamin Brigade Commander Col. Amir Abulafia told The Jerusalem Post that Palestinian terror groups were anxious to kidnap Israelis, who could be exploited for prisoner exchange deals with Israel.
Palestinian terror groups had been making efforts in recent weeks to kidnap Israelis, security officials said, adding that the kidnapping threat was most grave in the Nablus and Jenin area, where an American Hebrew University student was kidnapped recently and released within 12 hours.
"This is not a new threat," Abulafia said. "We have dealt with this threat in the past and we are trying to thwart kidnapping plans from materializing." Israelis, he added, needed to be alert to the threat and should do their best to refrain from using unguarded hitchhiking posts in the West Bank. While not all of the posts were dangerous, most of them were, Abulafia said, especially at night and in isolated parts of the country.
"My recommendation would be to not stand at hitchhiking posts," he said. "Some places inside or just outside communities are safe. But people should not stand at isolated places in the middle of the night."
Referring to the kidnapping and subsequent release of Benjamin Bright-Fishbein at the beginning of the week, Abulafia said that the terror groups were certainly escalating matters. "This is an attack of a different level," he said. "This is a more complicated attack and requires a more developed infrastructure, since they also need a place to hide the abduct