Hunt for Abducted Israeli Teens Enters Fourth Day

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- A massive manhunt for three Israeli teenagers, one of whom is also an American citizen, entered its fourth day on Monday.

The three were abducted by terrorists Thursday night as they waited at a bus stop in biblical Judea (the West Bank) to hitchhike home from boarding school.

"Catching a tramp," as it's called, is a common practice here in Gush Etzion where public transport is sparse.

"I hitchhike all the time," Avital Lieberman, a Gush Etzion High School student, told CBN News. "I was actually at this bus stop here [across from the fated one] just a few hours before that happened, which is really kind of scary to think about, but also it makes me realize it could have been me."

"It could have been any of my friends," she continued. "It's just the way we live, the way we get around between communities 'cause there aren't buses that go around here."

The kidnapping has gripped the nation. It's believed the terrorists snatched the teens to obtain the release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails. The IDF has thwarted more than 60 kidnapping attempts over the last year and a half.

There are some 34,000 Israeli residents of Gush Etzion in biblical Judea -- an area the Palestinians want for a future state.

"We're surprised because …these areas are very, very secure areas. And we're used to walk[ing] here days and nights, kids and adults," Gush Etzion Mayor Davidi Perl told CBN News.

"We just thought about that all of Shabbat and we prayed. It was really emotional," Avital added.

"These three boys who were kidnapped are everyone's boys," Ruthi Lieberman, Avital's mother and a Gush Etzion councilwoman, told CBN News. "They're all of us. They're our children. It could have been anybody."

Authorities believe the teens are being held in the Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron, where security forces are concentrating their search. More than 150 Palestinians have been arrested in the last few days, most of them Hamas members.

Hamas denied its involvement.

Although he gave no reason for his statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the blame is clear.

"These teenagers were kidnapped, and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members. Hamas denials do not change this fact," he said.

In a phone call Monday, Netanyahu told Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas he expected the Palestinian Authority to help return the youths and apprehend the kidnappers. Earlier he said the kidnapping is a clear result of the recent Fatah-Hamas unity government.

"The P.A. cannot absolve itself of its responsibility," Netanyahu said. "You remember that Israel warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact. I believe that the dangers of that pact should be abundantly clear to all."

Councilwoman Lieberman said U.S. congressmen can do more.

"We want them to speak to the White House to have the White House speak to Abbas," she said. "The Palestinian Authority should not be able to just sit with its hands tied."

Meanwhile, 25,000 people gathered at the Western Wall Sunday night to pray for the safe return of the boys. As the security forces continue their search, Israelis are hoping for a good outcome.

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Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

CBN News Middle East Bureau

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