The Israeli army launched a massive manhunt Thursday in the West Bank for a Jewish Israeli who went missing during the afternoon and may have been abducted, the military said.
The man, identified only as a resident of Beersheba in his early 20s, was driving home with a friend after visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron.
According to media reports, the friend called the police to report the man went missing after their car broke down with a flat tire on the way to the settlement of Kiryat Arba.
The friend told the police the man walked toward a nearby Palestinian village and did not return.
While the full circumstances of the disappearance were not immediately clear, Israeli security forces took the report seriously and launched extensive searches in the area of Beit Einun and other villages nearby.
The army is treating the case as a possible abduction. Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, scrambled for intelligence to determine whether the man was taken and by whom.
Troops were called to the area to conduct door-to-door searches in the nearby villages, with troops scouring the area and deploying roadblocks to check vehicles for the missing man.
Israeli media quoted unnamed Palestinian sources as saying there was cause for concern for the missing man’s life. Political relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority remain strained, but security coordination has continued despite warnings from the Palestinians that they might stop the cooperation that serves both parties’ interest in keeping the West Bank calm.
The incident occurred in the area where three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed by Palestinian militants last June, followed by a widespread Israeli military operation throughout the Hebron environs and a massive crackdown on the militant Palestinian group Hamas that enjoys strong popular support in that region.
The events surrounding the June kidnapping, the military operation and the mass arrest of Hamas activists in the West Bank sparked fierce tensions that preceded the deadly 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas last summer in the Gaza Strip.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.