JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that three teenage students who disappeared in the West Bank on Thursday night were "kidnapped by a terrorist organization," and he said Israel would hold the Palestinian government accountable.
Netanyahu, speaking in a nationally televised address, did not blame the Palestinian Authority for the kidnapping of the teens, but said he would hold it "responsible for any attack coming from its territory."
Netanyahu's comments came as Israeli forces deployed more soldiers and intelligence agents to the West Bank on Saturday in an intensive search for the teens, all students at a religious school known as a yeshiva. One of them, 16-year-old Naftali Frenkel, is a dual Israeli-American citizen.
Investigators are working under the theory that Frankel and the other teens, ages 16 and 19, were hitchhiking when they disappeared Thursday night outside the city of Hebron near the Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion, in an area of the occupied West Bank that is controlled by the Israeli military.
Israeli officials said there have been dozens of kidnapping attempts of Israelis, including soldiers, in the past two years, adding that the abductors' goal has been to trade hostages for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinian security forces are cooperating and assisting in the search for the teens, said an Israeli military official.
The case of the missing teens has attracted an enormous amount of attention in Israel, where all three television news stations interrupted regular broadcasting and have devoted all coverage since Friday to the story.
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Israel's justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and expressed grave concern over the missing boys, said a senior State Department official who declined to be named while briefing reporters in Washington. Kerry also spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to urge him to do everything possible to assist in finding them, the official said.