UK & World News
Israel Searches For 'Kidnapped' Teen Settlers
Israel has deployed troops, helicopters and drones across the West Bank in a major operation to find three missing teenagers who may have been kidnapped by Palestinian militants.
The teenagers, one of whom is understood to be a US citizen, were students at a Yeshiva, or religious school, in Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement bloc in the West Bank, deemed illegal under international law.
They have been named as 16-year-olds Naftali Frankel, from Nof Ayalon, and Gilad Shaar, from Telman, as well as 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach, from Elad.
Local media reports suggest they left the Yeshiva on Thursday evening and were last seen hitch-hiking outside the settlement, just south of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
Checkpoints have been established on roads throughout the southern West Bank, in particular around the city of Hebron and the surrounding area, while Israeli soldiers are believed to have carried out raids in the nearby villages of Dura, al-Samu, Tarqumia, and Beit Kahil.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding crisis meetings with senior police, military and intelligence officials in Jerusalem.
Palestinian security officials say at least 14 people have been detained in relation to the search so far.
Reports that a salafist terror cell going by the name of Dawlat Al Islam have claimed responsibility for the incident as revenge for a raid that left three of their members dead earlier this year, have so far not been confirmed.
Another possible motivation for an abduction would be to negotiate the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, who are currently on lengthy hunger strikes protesting at being held without trial.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has quoted a military source saying it is possible the kidnappers may be trying to leave Israeli territory via Jordan.
Diplomatic sources have told Sky News they have received solid assurances that the security and intelligence forces of the Palestinian Authority are working closely with their Israeli counterparts to establish the whereabouts of the missing teenagers.
But despite the operational cooperation, Israel's Prime Minister has attempted to use the incident to score political points - saying it is a direct result of the recent establishment of a Palestinian technocrat unity government, bringing together Fatah and Hamas.
"This is the result of a murderous terror organisation entering the government" Mr Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Mr Netanyahu's claim was dismissed as "mad" by Palestinian officials, who pointed out that as a result of its occupation of the West Bank, Israel retains security responsibility for all but the major urban population centres in the West Bank, known as Area A.
The kidnap threat to Israelis is not new.
In 2013, an Israeli soldier was murdered after being taken to a West Bank village by a Palestinian who had initially hoped to use him to negotiate the release of his jailed brother.
In 2011, Israel released around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza by Hamas for five years.