The three boys – Gilad Shaer, 19, and two 16-year-olds, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach, were last seen on Thursday night while hitchhiking near Gush Etzion. According to Haaretz, one of the teens called an emergency line and said they were kidnapped.
“The United States strongly condemns the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers and calls for their immediate release. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families. We hope for their quick and safe return home. We continue to offer our full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens, and we have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services,” read the statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Sunday cabinet meeting that Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping and criticized Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for forming a unity government with Hamas in April. The U.S., Israel and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
"This morning I can say what I was unable to say yesterday before the extensive wave of arrests of Hamas members," Netanyahu said. "Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas."
He went on to hold President Mahmoud Abbas responsible for “any attacks against Israel from Palestinian-controlled territory.”
According to Associated Press, three separate organizations claimed responsibility for the abduction, including an al Qaeda-affiliated group that said the abduction was retribution for the killing of three of their members in an encounter with the IDF.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) accused Netanyahu of waging a “racist” campaign and called on the U.S. and “relevant international quarters” to step in and “stop further deterioration of the situation.”
Israel responded to the kidnapping by arresting 80 members of Hamas in the West Bank. Unconfirmed reports say Hamas co-founder and leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef was among those arrested.
“We’ll exact a heavy price from Hamas leaders anywhere, whenever we find necessary,” said Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Sunday. “and from anyone who thinks of hurting Israeli citizens …”
Racheli Frenkel, mother of one of the boys, told reporters she was hopeful they would be returned soon and expressed gratitude for the Israeli response to the abductions.
"(We trust they) will be with us here, and we'll hug them soon ... and God willing, we'll all be able to celebrate their return," she said.