After 10 hours of searching for a missing Israeli in the Hebron area, 22-year-old Niv Asraf from Be’er Sheva who was feared kidnapped was found alive in Kiryat Arba on Friday overnight.
IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz said Asraf’s soldier friend made up the kidnapping.
Israeli security forces were first alerted to Asraf’s disappearance when his friend called the police at 4:17 pm, saying he and Asraf were stranded with a flat tire on their way to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs. The caller said Asraf went to find tools to replace the tire but never returned.
However, when the IDF arrived at the scene, troops found no flat tires in the vehicle and after other questions arose from the friend’s story, he was taken for questioning.
“At first the friend told us (Asraf) went in a particular direction, and then it turned out it was somewhere else, but it might not have been maliciously,” IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz said on Thursday night.
“The circumstances remain unclear on whether this was a criminal or nationalistically-motivated incident,” Almoz said.
The two stopped their vehicle near HaOkfim Junction on Highway 60 between Bayt Einun and Hebron.
Hundreds of policemen and soldiers from the IDF’s Judea and Samaria division were deployed to the area to search for Asraf, including Special Unit soldiers. The troops were searching houses and cars in Bayt Einun.
Forces were searching the area between Halhul north of Hebron and Bani Na’im south of Hebron. The IDF also launched drones and observation balloons into the air to for a bird’s eye view of the area.
The army closed roads around Bayt Einun on Highway 60 and Highway 35 as part of the search effort and declared the entire area a closed military zone.
“We didn’t suspect something like this could happen, it came out of the blue,” Meir, the missing Israeli’s cousin, said on Thursday evening.
“His mother is very upset, he must’ve gone there as part of a new job in the area,” he added, pleading with the people of Israel to pray for his cousin’s safe return.
A friend of the missing person, meanwhile, told that “this isn’t the first time he’s gone missing.”
“His girlfriend broke up with him several days ago and there’s a possibility he’s doing it to provoke. I think he’s hiding somewhere and he’ll turn up somewhere in the end,” the friend added.