JERUSALEM, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Israeli police and volunteers searched a forest on the southern edge of Jerusalem on Thursday for a 23-year-old American student who went missing last week while out for a hike.
Aaron Sofer, a Jewish seminary student from New Jersey, vanished on Friday while walking in woods not far from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
"He was hiking with a friend, making their way up a hill, and they lost contact," he said, adding that police were still trying to establish if Sofer had a hiking accident or if a crime had occurred, including whether he "might have been kidnapped".
In June, three Israeli seminary students, all teenagers, were kidnapped while hitch-hiking in the occupied West Bank, some 30 km (20 miles) south of Jerusalem, and later found dead.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas later acknowledged responsibility for the killings, which helped precipitate seven weeks of war between militants in Gaza and Israel that ended with an open-ended ceasefire on Tuesday.
Rosenfeld said police - including canine units, mounted officers and helicopters - were combing the entire Jerusalem forest, which spans 310 acres (125 hectares) at the outskirts of the city, along with volunteers for Sofer.
The student's family has flown to Israel to be in contact with authorities. His brother Yoel said Sofer had gone out for a day-long hike during a study break.
"He came to take a little walk. He had his shoes, his hat and jacket, he just needed a little fresh air," the brother said. "We just want him back. Whatever anyone can do to get him back. Please pray for him." (Reporting by Herbert Villarraga, Ilan Nachum and Ari Rabinovitch Editing by Mark Heinrich)