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Israel police find body of missing U.S. student

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police said on Thursday they had found the body of a 23-year-old American student who went missing last week near a forest in Jerusalem and that they did not suspect a criminal motive.

Aaron Sofer, a Jewish seminary student from New Jersey, vanished last Friday while walking in woods not far from the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. His body was found earlier on Thursday.

"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," a police spokeswoman said.

No details on the condition of the body or possible clues surrounding the circumstances of the death were revealed.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said earlier that Sofer had been hiking with a friend, making their way up a hill and had lost contact with each other.

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 had combed the entire Jerusalem forest, which spans 310 acres (125 hectares) at the outskirts of the city, along with volunteers for Sofer.

The Sofer family flew to Israel to be in contact with authorities as the search proceeded. Yoel Sofer said his brother had gone out for a day-long hike during a study break.

(Reporting by Herbert Villarraga, Ilan Nachum; Writing by Ori Lewis and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker)

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