Hopes begin to bite the dust

Officials sceptical that kidnapped teens will be found alive as IDF winds down manhunt

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 26, 2014

The Israeli operation that began following the kidnapping of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach was scaled down this week.

The emphasis has shifted from a widespread manhunt and mass arrests of Hamas members to intelligence-gathering and more focused searches.

While Hebron remains the main area of interest, the IDF has started to ease the pressure on local Palestinian residents by removing some roadblocks and travel restrictions.

In a briefing on Tuesday, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said: "It's a matter of time until we get to the abductees and kidnappers. Forbearance and patience are needed here."

IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz addressed the concern over the fate of the three teenagers, saying: "As time goes by, the worry increases, but the working assumption is that they are alive. Its a large area and there are many possible hiding places."

Frenkel talks to the press

Frenkel talks to the press

However, off the record, security officials are sceptical that the three teenagers will be found alive. In no abduction case in the West Bank in the past decade did the kidnappers keep their victims alive.

On Tuesday, the three mothers of the abducted teenagers, Rachel Frenkel, Bat-Galim Shaer and Iris Yifrah, travelled to Geneva to a session of UN Human Rights council.

"I come here today as a mother," said Ms Frenkel. "Every mother's nightmare is waiting and waiting endlessly for her child to come home. We wish to express our profound gratitude for the waves of prayers, support and positive energy, pouring in from around the world."

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Mahmoud Abbas's express condemnation of the kidnapping last week. "I appreciate the statement made by President Abbas, these were important words," he said, but added: "If he really means them and is truly committed to peace and to the war on terror, reason dictates that he dismantle the alliance with Hamas."

On Monday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal said in an interview with Al Jazeera that he could not confirm or deny his organisation was behind the kidnapping but "in any case, I bless the kidnappers, because we must free our prisoners from the occupation jails".

● Asaf Yifrach, the brother of Eyal Yifrach, spoke to the JC at a Zionist Federation solidarity event on Wednesday evening.

He said: "When I heard the news I didn't really believe it because usually Eyal would always come home after two days. It took some time for it to sink in. In the days immediately afterwards, it was hard for me to drink or eat. But now I feel much stronger."

He added: "I prefer that it is Hamas who have him instead of another more extreme group."

Last updated: 3:52pm, June 26 2014