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The Yellow Ribbon Project

amirmom

The mother of a decorated U.S. Marine vet held by Iran for 1,057 days appealed directly to President Obama for help on Friday, noting that her family “is constantly reminded” that her son’s case “is being raised, but there has been no real progress.”

Flagstaff, Ariz., native Amir Hekmati was seized by the Iranian government in August 2011 while on a trip, with proper visa documents from the Iranian government, to visit relatives in Tehran. He was originally sentenced to death in a quickie trial on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, retried last month and sentenced to 10 years behind bars for “collaborating” with the U.S. government.

The Flint, Mich., resident has now spent two birthdays in Iranian custody and has been held by the Islamic Republic more than twice as long as the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostages.

Behnaz Hekmati wrote to Obama “as a proud American” on the eve “of one of the most significant moments in history between the United States and Iran.”

The deadline for a final nuclear agreement was supposed to have been Sunday, but on Friday night the Obama administration extended negotiations for four more months.

“I ask you, Mr. President, to remember Amir. As you, Secretary Kerry and all the other hard-working Americans endeavor in what is no doubt painstaking and detailed work, please remember my Amir. He served his country during its times of peril and now needs his country to do the same for him,” wrote Mrs. Hekmati. “I know you have many challenges at hand, but I also know you read your letters every evening.”

“My family’s situation is made even worse, as my husband is gravely ill. He has been fighting terminal brain cancer for more than a year and recently had a stroke. He wants nothing more than to see his son once again.”

In March, Ali Hekmati’s doctor appealed directly to the Iranian government in a statement verifying the failing health of Amir’s father. “It is the family’s hope that Amir may be released to be reunited with his father, and to care for his family,” wrote Dr. Jami Foreback, an internist at McLaren-Flint hospital, stressing that “it is unclear how much time Dr. Hekmati has to live.”

Behnaz Hekmati told Obama that unlike Amir, she was not born in America but left her birth nation of Iran in 1979 “for the American dream.”

“While I am also proud of my Iranian roots and heritage (it is a great and beautiful culture and country), I cherish my U.S. citizenship. It has brought me and my family great opportunity and freedom,” she wrote. “But those freedoms have been unjustly and inexplicably torn from my son. It pains me to explain this to my grandchildren, Amir’s niece and nephew.”

“Amir was taken from me nearly three years ago, falsely accused of being a spy and sentenced to death. That sentence was later overturned due to a lack of evidence, yet still he languishes. This is a historic time for Iran and the United States. I plead that you do not forget Amir, his service, his beautiful smile and his zeal for life.”

She suggested that perhaps a furlough could be arranged for Amir to see her and Ali.

“Mr. President, the stress is nearly unbearable, but we persevere — just as I know Amir is strong. However, my husband’s situation is dire. He is weak. And he longs to embrace his son once more, to know Amir will be home to care for me and our family. Then he will be at peace, Mr. President.”

Secretary of State John Kerry last mentioned Hekmati in May. As the latest round of talks began in Vienna last month, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters that “whenever we meet bilaterally, which we have done several times this round, we always ensure a discussion about Robert Levinson, Saeed Abedini, and Amir Hekmati and our efforts to bring them home to their families.”

Amir took his case directly to Kerry in a letter smuggled out of prison and obtained by the Guardian in September. After thanking Kerry for lobbying on his behalf, Amir stressed that the confessions on false charges were “obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement.”

“This is part of a propaganda and hostage taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges. Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad,” Amir wrote in the letter confirmed authentic by his family. “I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition. I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future.”

“While my family and I have suffered greatly I will accept nothing but my unconditional release,” he continued. “The very same suffering that the 3 American hikers have recently suffered and many others by these unlawful tactics. My hope is that those individuals within the Iranian government who respect rule of law and international ethics will intervene in my case. As someone of Iranian heritage, I hope that the Iranian people will also support me and call on their government to respect my legal rights.”

Amir served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was preparing to begin graduate school at the University of Michigan before he was seized by Iran.

His sister Sarah told PJM how her brother would boast about making it through boot camp while a lot of guys got weeded out during the grueling 13-week process.

“He always was so proud as a first-generation American to be able to feel like he was contributing to his country,” she said, adding that his time in the Corps and tour of duty “broadened his horizons” as he served as a linguistic bridge between U.S. and Iraqi officials. “He really felt like he had an important role and he really valued it.”

“He’s very proud of his service — the license plate on the back of his car says ‘Marine,’” she added.

roycetahm

Andrew Tahmooressi meets with Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) June 21 in a Tecate prison.

Supporters of reserve Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi had hoped that Wednesday’s closed evidentiary hearing would result in the judge sending him back to the United States, but the Mexican ordered that he be returned to prison until an Aug. 4 hearing.

Tahmooressi, who served two combat tours in Afghanistan, was arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing the night of March 31 and is currently being held in the El Hongo II prison in Tecate, Mexico, for bringing guns into the country. Tahmooressi reportedly had a rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, a .45-caliber pistol and more than 400 rounds of ammunition in his truck.

Tahmooressi says he crossed the border by accident due to confusing signs that caused him to miss the last exit in the U.S. His family says he needs to be returned to the States to receive treatment for PTSD.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) staff met with Tahmooressi’s mother last week. “I am very dismayed by the judicial order to continue detaining Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi in Mexico. Sgt. Tahmooressi has been languishing in a Mexican prison long enough,” Rubio said in a statement this morning.

“It’s time for the Obama administration to wake up and advocate for his return home. The Obama administration’s virtual silence and inaction on Sgt. Tahmooressi’s case has been beyond troubling,” Rubio continued. “It’s sheer indifference. The Obama administration needs to step up our diplomatic efforts to bring this Marine home.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and the chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), traveled across the border late last month to visit with Tahmooressi.

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fowle

Ohio resident Jeffrey Fowle and his family

The State Department is offering little information on the circumstances surrounding two American tourists captured by the North Korean government, saying they’re concerned about the men as they face trial in Pyongyang.

“American citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle entered the DPRK as a tourist on April 29 and acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported on June 6. “A relevant organ of the DPRK detained him and is investigating him.”

Fowle, 56, is from Miamisburg, Ohio, and works in street maintenance. His family’s lawyer said in a statement last month that he “loves to travel and loves the adventure of experiencing different cultures and seeing new places.”

Matthew Miller, 24, was reportedly arrested earlier while  traveling with a private guide contracted by Uri Tours. “A relevant organ of the DPRK put in custody American Miller Matthew Todd, 24, on April 10 for his rash behavior in the course of going through formalities for entry into the DPRK to tour it,” reported KCNA at the time.

Miller allegedly ripped up his tourist visa and declared he would “seek asylum” and “shelter” in the DPRK, the KCNA claimed.

Little is known about Miller. Uri Tours said that they were not able to reach the emergency contact listed on his travel application, but eventually Miller’s family got in touch with the company.

“As of last month, we believed Mr. Miller was in good health, and we have not heard otherwise. In addition, Mr. Miller’s family has reached out to us. However, they have requested that we keep the details of our communications private,” the company said in a Tuesday statement. “We have no other specific updates at this time.”

Uri Tours staff last saw Miller in Beijing, where they “saw him off to Pyongyang.”

“We cannot speak to Mr. Miller’s motivations or mental state. He did not express any special intentions in his tour application,” the company said. “…Our local partners informed us immediately of the situation with Mr. Miller and have expressed a great deal of concern.”

The State Department warns against all travel to the reclusive communist country, but tour groups offer trips for the curious. New Jersey-based Uri Tours is the exclusive American ticketing agent for Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned carrier.

“Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizen tourists have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention. North Korean authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who entered the DPRK legally on valid DPRK visas as well as U.S. citizens who accidentally crossed into DPRK territory,” says the most recent U.S. government warning, issued in May. “The Department of State has also received reports of DPRK authorities arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens without charges and not allowing them to depart the country. In the past 18 months, North Korea detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.”

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BringBackOurBoys

President Obama urged “all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation” after the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens were found.

Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. Naftali was a dual citizen with an American passport.

The youths were walking home from their yeshiva about halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron, possibly hitchhiking as public transportation in the area is scarce. One of the boys reportedly got a call into Israeli police to say “we’re being kidnapped” at about 10:30 p.m. before the line was disconnected.

“With heavy grief, this evening we found three bodies. All signs indicate that they are the bodies of our three abducted youths – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of this evening’s security cabinet meeting.

“They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals. On behalf of the entire Jewish people, I would like to tell the dear families – the mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and brothers and sisters – we are deeply saddened, the entire nation weeps with you. We will give the boys a proper burial. ‘Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.’ Neither has vengeance for the blood of three pure youths, who were on their way home to meet their parents, who will not see them anymore,” Netanyahu continued.

“Hamas is responsible – and Hamas will pay.”

Obama said in a statement that “as the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States.”

“As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth,” he said. “From the outset, I have offered our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice, and I encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort.”

Less than a week ago, Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, was on Capitol Hill urging lawmakers and the administration to help Israel find the boys.

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israelteenmoms

The aunt of one of the three Israeli teens who went missing June 12 coming home from school was on Capitol Hill this week, standing with lawmakers to call on the White House to help Israel and to call on the world to stand united against terrorism.

Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. Naftali is a dual citizen with an American passport.

The youths were walking home from their yeshiva about halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron, possibly hitchhiking as public transportation in the area is scarce. One of the boys reportedly got a call into Israeli police to say “we’re being kidnapped” at about 10:30 p.m. before the line was disconnected.

Leehy Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, noted that her nephew has “a smile that brings light to the world” and a heart that loves to bake cookies for his five sisters. “He loves to bring happiness to others,” she said, adding that he’s an “extremely bright” youth who excels in his studies.

“We want him home where he belongs with his family,” Shaar told a news conference Tuesday while flanked by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Yes, this happened in Israel, but we all know that the terrorists can make this happen any place in the world and to anyone,” she said. “We must stand strong against all the terrorists and all the terrorist organizations… the terrorists will not break us, no matter what they try to do.”

Shaar met with committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), both at the press conference along with Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).

Royce said the kidnappings can be traced to “decades of demonization of Israelis by the Palestinian Authority” and the “genocidal aspirations of Hamas.”

“We as members of Congress feel that it is important to stand beside these three teens and call upon our government to work with the government of Israel in every way,” the chairman said.

Engel stressed that “as long as we don’t do anything to combat terror, we are in essence condoning terror.”

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alangrossjudy

The wife of an American contractor imprisoned by Cuba for 1,667 days pleaded with the U.S. government to do something now to bring her husband home, stressing that she fears he’s on the verge of doing something desperate.

Alan Gross, 65, a USAID subcontractor imprisoned by Cuba since December 2009, has lost more than 110 pounds in custody and is allowed out of his his tiny cell for only one hour per day. His 92-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after Cuba arrested her son, and was refused requests for one last visit before she passed away last week.

Gross was extremely close to his mother and spoke to her by phone twice a day before his arrest. He had wrapped up work on a project to increase Internet access and connectivity at Cuban synagogues when he was seized the night before he was to return home. He spent 14 months behind bars before any charges were filed, then in March 2011 was quickly tried and convicted of “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state” for distributing cell phones and other communications equipment as part of the USAID project.

Judy Gross visited Alan in prison this week, and emerged “extremely worried that Alan is going to do something drastic now that his mother is gone.”

“If we can trade five members of the Taliban to bring home one American soldier, surely we can figure out a path forward to bring home one American citizen from a Cuban prison,” she said.

“…My husband and I need President Obama to do everything in his power to end this nightmare and bring Alan home from Cuba now.”

Evelyn was laid to rest last Friday.

“We’ve urged the Cuban Government to grant Mr. Gross a humanitarian furlough so that he can travel to the United States and be with his family during this time of mourning, and we’ve made very clear that this is a strong priority for us,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week.

That request was refused by the Castro government, and Alan was denied the opportunity to go to the funeral.

“I am extremely worried that Alan is becoming more despondent every day. Both governments need to know that Alan plans to end his life in an effort to end this agony,” Scott Gilbert, the attorney representing Alan and Judy Gross, said in a statement.

The Gross family noted in May that Alan vowed his 65th birthday would be the last he spends behind bars.

“Our hope is that the United States government will recognize that no American deserves to be left behind, whether a soldier or a subcontractor like Alan, who was in Cuba on a US government mission,” Gilbert said.

Andrew-Tahmooressi

Mexico’s information minister in the U.S. insisted that the country is just following judicial procedure by holding Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi behind bars for bringing guns across the border.

The reservist who served two combat tours in Afghanistan was arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing the night of March 31 and is currently being held in the El Hongo II prison in Tecate, Mexico, for bringing guns into the country. Tahmooressi reportedly had a rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, a .45-caliber pistol and more than 400 rounds of ammunition in his truck.

Ariel Moutsatsos-Morales, the minister for Press and Public Affairs for the Embassy of Mexico in the U.S., told CNN this morning that Tahmooressi will have his next day in court on July 9.

“Mr. Tahmooressi is in prison for carrying weapons that are of the exclusive use of the armed forces in Mexico and for possessing ammunition and a shotgun without a license,” Moutsatsos-Morales said, adding that their prisoner is in “very good spirits.”

“He’s there in a prison under permanent medical observation. He suffers from PTSD. So he has declined to take medication,” the envoy said. “…From the very first moments of his detention, because he was carrying three weapons, two of which are of exclusive use of armed forces, which is a serious felony in Mexico. They were at his reach and they were loaded, so he was arrested and taken under custody by the Mexican attorney general’s office.”

“From that moment, he has received permanent assistance from the consulate of the United States in Tijuana, and he was transferred from one jail to another because he tried to escape twice and he tried to harm himself once. So the Mexican authorities in the jail tried — just took the measures necessary for him not to harm himself again, and not to try to escape again.”

Moutsatsos-Morales added that whether Tahmooressi crossed the border by accident, as he claims, can only be decided by a judge in federal court.

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tahmooressilawmakers

Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi is visited by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), left, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in Tecate, Mexico.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere traveled across the border to Tecate, Mexico, over the weekend to visit with Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi.

The reservist who served two combat tours in Afghanistan was arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing the night of March 31 and is currently being held in the El Hongo II prison in Tecate, Mexico, for bringing guns into the country. Tahmooressi reportedly had a rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, a .45-caliber pistol and more than 400 rounds of ammunition in his truck.

“The Committee has been following Sgt. Tahmooressi’s case quite closely. I found him to be in good spirits, but this visit confirmed my belief that Sgt. Tahmooressi, after serving two honorable tours in Afghanistan and now suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, needs to come home,” said Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

“While I remain respectful of Mexico’s laws, today after I thanked him for his dedicated service, I assured Sgt. Tahmooressi that I will continue working to secure his release so that he can begin needed treatment for his PTSD,” Royce added.

He recently appealed directly to Mexico’s foreign secretary, Dr. Jose Antonio Meade Kuribeña, urging a quick resolution to the case.

Salmon first visited Tahmooressi on May 31.

“After visiting with Sergeant Tahmooressi for the second time in two weeks, I remain confident that his situation is improving and will end with his release in the near future. His spirits remain upbeat and he has full confidence in his new attorney,” Salmon said after the weekend visit. “I once again expressed my heartfelt gratitude to Sgt. Tahmooressi for his military service, and relayed to him the overwhelming support he is receiving from millions across America.”

“It remains a top priority that Sgt. Tahmooressi return to the U.S. to receive treatment for the PTSD he suffered while serving in Afghanistan. I ensured him that I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure his case is heard quickly and fairly.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Royce’s predecessor at the helm of the committee, said Tahmooressi simply took “a wrong turn into the twilight zone.”

It was late at night when he was on Interstate 5 south, which takes you directly into the border checkpoint lanes unless you take the last exit in the U.S. to Camino de la Plaza, an area with duty-free shops and parking lots where visitors to Tijuana often park and walk across the border. Signs along I-5 warn that guns are illegal in Mexico, and yellow signage warns of the last exit to remain in the U.S.

“He has been chained. He has been treated terribly. He’s had some contact with the consulate. But, what about the higher-ups?” Ros-Lehtinen told Fox on Friday. “Well, I personally spoke to Vice President Biden about this case. He was not completely up-to-speed on it. I explained it to him. Handed him a letter. He said he’s going to look into it. This was now 8 days ago. What has he done? Well, the vice president today had a working lunch with the minister, the interior minister of Mexico. Did he bring up the case of this Marine hero? Also, the president of the United States spoke to the president of Mexico [Enrique] Peña Nieto. Didn’t we just ask about it? No, demand that he be freed immediately.”

“We are beyond the status quo of this Marine. We are in demanding that he be released immediately… He has suffered enough.”

Ros-Lehtinen noted that Mexican officials have made wrong turns into U.S. territory before, and “oh my golly we practically put the rose pedals before their feet; we let them go back with their guns and it’s no problem.”

She also stressed that the Mexican justice system is under the thumb of drug cartels, and therefore a U.S. Marine can’t be expected to get a fair shake under the law.

“It is not impartial — they see Marines especially as our heroes, as the enemies of the Mexican people. People who are trying to deport them back to their country. So, it’s not a level playing field,” Ros-Lehtinen added.

“But how sad that it’s almost like a bake sale at the school level when we have all these big forces working against you. The president should be advocating for his release. This shouldn’t be up to the moms to plead with elected officials to help them — it’s pathetic.”

Tahmooressi supporters have been using the hashtag #BringBackOurMarine on Twitter to try to rally grassroots support.

Hillary Clinton told Fox last week that if she were in charge “I can tell you what I would be doing, burning up the telephone wires, sending, you know, envoys not just our ambassador, but others coming in, talking to the highest level Mexican officials, making it clear that this is really important to us.”

“You know, we work with our counterparts, our friends in Mexico on a lot of issues. Obviously, it’s something that is in our interest to do it as it is in theirs. When this kind of action happens and somebody who as you say made an accident turn who is serving our country ends up in a prison, that is just unacceptable,” Clinton said.

“…I certainly expect everything is being done that can be done, but maybe we need to raise the decibels a little bit more.”

alangrossfamily

The mother of an American being held by Cuba has passed away, a “devastating blow” after the Castro regime refused requests for one last visit with her imprisoned son.

Alan Gross, 65, a USAID subcontractor imprisoned by Cuba since December 2009, has lost more than 110 pounds in custody and is allowed out of his his tiny cell for only one hour per day.

His 92-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after Cuba arrested her son. Evelyn’s last wish was to see her son before she died, but Cuban officials refused to give Alan a humanitarian furlough to visit his mother despite repeated pleas.

She passed away Wednesday in Plano, Texas.

“This is a devastating blow for Alan and our family,” said Judy Gross, Alan’s wife. “I am extremely worried that now Alan will give up all hope of ever coming home and do something drastic.”

“Surely, there must be something President Obama can do to secure Alan’s immediate release.”

The Gross family noted in May that Alan vowed his 65th birthday would be the last he spends behind bars.

Alan was extremely close to his mother and spoke to her by phone twice a day before his arrest.

Gross had wrapped up work on a project to increase Internet access and connectivity at Cuban synagogues when he was seized the night before he was to return home. He spent 14 months behind bars before any charges were filed, then in March 2011 was quickly tried and convicted of “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state” for distributing cell phones and other communications equipment as part of the USAID project.

He was sentenced to 15 years behind bars. His recent 9-day hunger strike in protest of his sentence came to an end at his mother’s urging.

“Evelyn Gross loved her son dearly, and it’s a shame on the Castro regime that she had to spend the final years of her life pleading for his freedom,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“This is a tragic example of just how cruel and heartless the Castro regime is. No son and no mother deserve the fate that Alan Gross and his mother faced over the last five years.”

Rubio stressed it’s a time to join the Gross family in solidarity as they grieve.

“But all decent people around the world should be outraged by the continued imprisonment of Alan Gross,” he said. “We should work for his immediate unconditional release and ensure that this already tragic story can at least end with Alan Gross’ freedom and reunification with his surviving family.”

The State Department did not issue a statement on Evelyn’s passing, but spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about the death of Gross’ mother at Wednesday’s press briefing — as well as the family’s concern that he might commit self-harm if not released soon.

“Well, I will say first that we of course express our deepest and sincerest condolences to Mr. Gross and his family on their loss. We obviously feel it is a tragedy that he was unable to be home in the United States at his mother’s bedside for her passing,” Psaki said.

“We’ve urged the Cuban Government to grant Mr. Gross a humanitarian furlough so that he can travel to the United States and be with his family during this time of mourning, and we’ve made very clear that this is a strong priority for us.”

She acknowledged that would entail returning Gross to Cuban custody. “That is what a furlough is. Yes.”

“I’m just not going to get into any greater level of detail on that front,” Psaki added.

eyalgiladnaftali

In London on Friday, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni pulled Secretary of State John Kerry aside with a special request: Help find the three yeshiva boys.

Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped Thursday night from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. Israel’s Army Radio reported that Livni pressed Kerry on the urgency of the matter — stressing that the hunt for the boys needed rapid action.

Naftali is a dual citizen with an American passport.

The youths were walking home from their yeshiva about halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron, possibly hitchhiking as public transportation in the area is scarce. One of the boys reportedly got a call into Israeli police to say “we’re being kidnapped” at about 10:30 p.m. before the line was disconnected.

The Israeli government quickly began using the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys, a gender variation on the hashtag that went viral after Boko Haram seized more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria. Supporters also have been using the hashtag #EyalGiladNaftali.

“Our goal is to find the boys, bring them home and strike Hamas as hard as possible,” Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said at an Israel Defense Forces press conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Jerusalem had established beyond a doubt that Hamas terrorists carried out the kidnappings.

“We know that for a fact. These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members. Hamas denials do not change this fact. And this attack should surprise no one because Hamas makes no secret of its agenda. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel and to carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians – including children,” Netanyahu said.

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