Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has moved Sunday morning's cabinet meeting from its normal Jerusalem location to his Tel Aviv office, as he continues to regularly liaise with the IDF - whose head offices are in Tel Aviv - on the ongoing search for the three kidnapped yeshiva students.
The boys - students at the Makor Chaim yeshiva high school in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion - were apparently waiting for a ride outside the nearby town of Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, when they were abducted by terrorists.
Security services have kept a tight lid on the ongoing operation to locate and free the students, and little is known about the circumstances of the kidnapping or who may be behind it.
Islamist terrorist group Hamas has celebrated the kidnapping, and on Friday a Hamas official called on Palestinian Arabs in Hevron to attempt to disrupt the IDF search - but the group has not claimed responsibility for it.
On Saturday evening, the Prime Minister confirmed that the missing trio: Eyal Yifrah (19), Naftali Frenkel (16) and Gilad Sha'ar (16) were indeed abducted by terrorists, saying that authorities were "in the midst of a wide-ranging operation to locate and return the three missing youths," and confirming their identities.
The following is a full transcript of the Prime Minister's speech:
"We are in the midst of a wide-ranging operation to locate and return the three missing youths. The three missing students are Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel."
"I spoke with their parents before the onset of Shabbat. I told them that we are doing everything that the State of Israel can do, and even more, in order to bring their children – who are our children – back home," the Prime Minister told reporters. "I must say that these parents showed admirable restraint and strength of spirit. In these difficult hours the heart of the entire nation is with the teens and their families.
"The IDF, ISA [Israeli Security Services] and all the security services are currently engaged in intensive operations in order to locate the missing youths. I thank them for this activity; they are working 'round the clock. Naturally, I cannot share everything we know, not at this time; however, I can say this: Our young people have been abducted by a terrorist organization. This is absolutely clear; there is no doubt about this. They were abducted by a terrorist organization.
"In consultations with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and ISA Director Yoram Cohen, I issued the following instructions:
"First, to use all means at our disposal in order to locate the abductees; Second, to prevent the possibility of their being moved to the Gaza Strip or any other place; Third, to prepare all forces for any scenario; and Fourth, to demand that the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], from whose territory the kidnappers came, to do whatever is necessary to assist in bring the abductees back home."
Netanyahu rejected claims by Palestinian Authority officials that they could not be held accountable for the kidnapping, given that it took place in "Area C" of Judea and Samaria, which is under Israeli control.
The claim is a rather weak one, given that all Palestinian terrorist attacks take place in areas under Israeli control.
"This is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. We hold Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority responsible for all attacks against Israel that originate from their territory, whether this is Judea and Samaria or the Gaza Strip," declared the Prime Minister.
"The claim that the Palestinian Authority is not responsible because the event occurred in an area under Israeli control is baseless," he continued. "When terrorist attacks were perpetrated, and you all remember this, in the center of the country, it was the authority that controlled the area from which the attackers originated that was responsible. This is exactly the case here. The attackers came from Palestinian Authority areas and the Authority is responsible."
Turning to the Hamas-Fatah unity pact, Netanyahu said it had served to embolden terrorists to carry out further attacks against Israel.
"To my regret, this event underscores what we have been saying – myself, the Defense Minister and the Government of Israel – for many months: The pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results which are the exact opposite of advancing peace between us and the Palestinians," he said.
"All of the terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations – are committed to the destruction of Israel and they draw encouragement from this pact. Their personnel are constantly trying to murder, attack and abduct Israeli citizens simply because they are Israeli citizens – women, youths and children. They shrink at nothing and need no excuse, reason or pretext to do so, and they are indeed trying to do so. Over the decades they have tried to perpetrate abductions and, to our regret, they occasionally succeed. Dozens of such attempts were foiled last year alone.
"My friends, we have all seen the terrorist base that was created in the Gaza Strip when Hamas and the terrorist organizations seized control there. Now, Abu Mazen's pact with Hamas has opened the door to a possible Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority areas in Judea and Samaria.
"I have said this before and I reiterate it tonight: There is no possibility of talking peace with Israel while, at the same time, establishing a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that aspires to destroy Israel. Those same elements in the international community that said that the Palestinian agreement with Hamas would advance peace now see the true results of this union."
"Citizens of Israel, in our region, states are collapsing and coming apart under the murderous assaults of extremist Islam and the terrorist organizations operating under its auspices. Only a strong and united stand by the entire nation is preventing – and continuing to prevent – their victory here. Again and again we have discovered that we can rely only on ourselves – on the IDF, the ISA, the security services and on your strength of spirit – soldiers and citizens of Israel."