The IDF confirmed on Friday afternoon that “three Israeli teenagers are currently missing. The individuals were last seen late last night in the area of Gush Etzion,” south of Jerusalem.
“He just disappeared, never made it home,” relative of one of the youths said, said, according to Ynet news.
“His parents are worried, praying, hoping for the best. We’re all praying this incident ends on the good side,” the relative said.
The three got on a hitch at about 22:30 Thursday night near the Israeli village of Alon Shvut, according to Israel Radio. One of the youths managed to send an alert to the local security hotline before his cellphone went dead, Channel 10 news said.
Army “forces are conducting a wide spread operation in order to locate the individuals,” apparently 16-year-olds who attend the Mekor Chaim Yeshiva High School in the area.
Special forces have arrested several Palestinian suspects in the villages of Halhoul and Dura, according to latest reports.
Massive Israeli forces are deployed in Palestinian villages the vicinity in an intelligence-based manhunt for the youths.
Palestinian media reported a firefight between Israeli and Palestinian forces in a village in the Hebron area. There are no reports of injury to Israeli forces.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened senior security officials at his office at army headquarters in Tel Aviv for an update, according to the IDF Spokesman.
Defemse Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, Shin Bet and other security officials updated Netanyahu as to the search for the youths, students at a hesder yeshiva.
Israel holds the Palestinian Authority directly responsible for the well-being of the youths, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Throughout the operation, until shortly after 5pm IST, no Israeli newspapers or radio stations reported the story, leading some to suggest coverage was under a gag order.
The religious “Srugim” website on Friday, however, led their page with a call for mass Psalm-reading by their readership, without posting any other details.
Watch a video of IDF forces involved in the search below: