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Posters showing a picture of Aharon Sofer, 23, a missing ultra-Orthodox Jewish student, were on display as volunteers searched for him in Jerusalem Forest on Thursday. / Sebastian Scheiner, AP

Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated what Hamas leaders said about the killing of three Israeli teenagers. The leaders said Hamas operatives kidnapped and murdered the trio but the leaders did not confess to ordering the killings.

Israeli police said Thursday they have found the body of an American student who went missing last week while hiking and do not suspect a crime was involved, media reports say.

The body of Aaron Sofer, 23, a Jewish seminary student from New Jersey, was positively identified after being found earlier in the day, The Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media reported. He vanished last Friday while walking in woods not far from the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

"Following a forensic examination, the body ... was identified as that of missing person Aaron Sofer. Tests showed that no criminal act was committed and the body will be transferred to the family in the coming hours," police said in a statement, Reuters reported.

No further details on the circumstances of his death were disclosed immediately.

In New Jersey, Sofer's family intends to bury him in Israel, according to friends who have spoken with them, the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press reported.

Township Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein said he spent the morning with Sofer's family after they received the news.

"They're overwhelmed," Lichtenstein said. "At the same time, there is some relief that Aaron has been found."

The Jerusalem Post reported that DNA tests confirmed the identity.

The body was found earlier Thursday, and police said initially that it appeared likely to be that of the missing American.

"There is a strong possibility" that the body is Sofer,, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, according to The Jerusalem Post. He said at the time that a forensic team was working to confirm the identity and cause of death.

Lichtenstein, said the family believes the death was accidental.

Sofer was "not the most experienced hiker" and may have had an "accident related to his walking in a rough terrain," Lichtenstein said, according to CNN.

The body was found a few miles from where the body of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was found July 2. Three Israelis were arrested in that slaying, which authorities said was a revenge killing after three Israeli teens were kidnapped and found dead in June.

Mohammed's killing, and Israel's subsequent crackdown on Hamas, whose leaders later said Hamas operatives kidnapped and murdered the Israeli teens, prompted 50 days of rocket attacks and cross-border incursions between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that ended with a cease-fire Tuesday. That conflict left 2,143 Palestinians dead, according to Palestinian health officials and U.N. officials. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers, six civilians were killed.

One of the first people to arrive at the site of the body was Yisrael Erlich, a United Hatzalah worker, who said the body closely matched the description of the student who spent the past year studying in Jerusalem.

"Soon after beginning our search we came across a man's body among the shrubbery that seemed to match the missing student's description," Erlich said, according to Israel's Arutz Sheva TV.

Religious news site Beharei Haredim reported that a suit and hat matching Sofer's clothing when he went missing were found nearby.

The Lakewood Scoop, a Jewish publication from Sofer's hometown in New Jersey, cited an unnamed Israeli source saying it appears the victim fell down a cliff, and that the death does not appear terror-related.

Contributing: William M. Welch in Los Angeles; the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Family 'overwhelmed' after U.S. student's body found in Israel

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