Israeli authorities have located a body they suspect to be an American student who went missing Friday in the Jerusalem Forest.
Aaron Sofer disappeared around noon nearly a week ago while he was hiking with a friend.
Search and rescue teams have been scouring the area since for the 23-year-old student from Lakewood, New Jersey, and his parents made a heart-breaking plea for any information that would lead to his whereabouts.
On Thursday, authorities reported that they found a body in the Jerusalem Forest.
There was no immediate confirmation whether the body found belonged to Aaron Sofer, though Israeli media is reporting that it does.
Local news outlets had earlier reported that some of Sofer’s belongings were found by police dogs.
The discovery comes after the family of the missing student called on the Israeli Defense Force to join the search on Monday, amid fears he could have been the victim of ongoing tensions with Palestinians.
Sofer failed to return home on Friday after becoming separated from a friend on a wooded slope in the Jerusalem Forest, near to where a Palestinian boy was found burned last month in a revenge attack for the murder of three Israeli students in June.
His parents, who have flown to Israel, believe he could have been the victim of a reprisal attack and have openly questioned authorities attempts to locate their son, especially in light of the current Gaza-Israeli conflict.
‘A physically, mentally and emotionally healthy young man does not go missing for 72 hours,’ Dov Hirth, a spokesman for the family told the Jerusalem Post on Monday.
‘The family is not satisfied with the way the search and rescue operation has been handled thus far.’
Hundreds of officers and volunteers joined the search for Sofer since the alarm was first raised on Friday after he split from his friend while they were climbing in the Beit Zayit area of the Jerusalem Woods.
‘The fact of the matter is we have a young man missing for no apparent reason, and it was on page 1 of all the newspapers and then the coverage just stopped,’ said Hirth to the Jerusalem Post on Monday.’This needs to continue to be a major story.’
Last month, three Israelis were indicted for the sickening murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, whose burnt body was found near to where Sofer disappeared.
‘This area is bordered by Jewish communities and by Arab communities, so it is very concerning,’ said Meir Lichtenstein who is a member of the Lakewood Council in New Jersey, the Sofer’s home town.
The details surrounding the body have not been disclosed.
Though concern was already rising amongst the Jewish community back in the United States before the grim discovery.
‘It’s scary to think what possibly could be the ramifications,’ said neighbor Tzvi Meth to CBS Local.
‘Great fear is that he was accosted; he was taken away, kidnapped.’
Sofer, who is an ultra-Orthodox, was a student at a yeshiva – a Jewish religious school named for its founder, Rabbi Tzvi Kaplan.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith and other New Jersey politicians attended a news conference Tuesday to draw attention to the missing student.
‘I want the community to know that I believe no stone is being unturned,’ Smith, a Republican who has written to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking for aid in the search, said at the time.
At Tuesday’s gathering in Lakewood, the missing man’s brother, Yaahkov Sofer, pleaded, ‘Please bring him back.’
He declined to speak further about his brother, who is one of 10 children in the family where the parents are a rabbi and a school office worker.
In Lakewood, there are growing worries about Sofer.
‘Is he abducted?’ asked Rabbi Yisroel Serebrowski, who leads a congregation in Cherry Hill and says he is a friend of the missing student’s parents. ‘Is he being tortured?’
‘This is a real person who has real parents who are suffering,’ Serebrowski said.
The crisis between Israelis and Palestinians has spiked in recent weeks with the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which erupted on July 8.
On Tuesday, Israel and Hamas announced that they had agreed to an open-ended cease-fire in the war that stemmed from the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank by Hamas operatives.