Missing N.J. hiker's body believed found in Israel

Aaron Sofer (Photo via Facebook)

Media outlets based in Israel are reporting that a body believed to be that of a missing New Jersey student has been found.

The Tel Aviv-based Haaretz said a body was found in the forested area near where the Jewish seminary student from Ocean County, 23-year-old Aaron Sofer, went missing during a hike last week.

Authorities have closed off the area and a forensic team was dispatched to the site, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the paper.

The body has been sent to a forensic institute for evaluation, though it is believed to be Sofer, the Times of Israel reports.

Israeli police said on a department Twitter account that a man's body was found in the forest, and tests are being done to identify the person.

Police were not sure if Sofer, of Lakewood, died in a hiking accident as he made his way up a hill with a friend or if a crime occurred. Sofer became separated from a hiking companion last Friday as they climbed down an embankment. The other hiker reportedly searched for Sofer for hours then reported him missing. 

N.J. State Sen. Bob Singer confirmed for ABC News that a body appearing to be Sofer's was discovered today.

Earlier this week, Sofer's family and public officials pressed authorities to search intensely for the missing student, who had recently moved to Israel for advanced Torah studies.

His prolonged disappearance, despite a massive manhunt, sparked fears that he had been kidnapped by Palestinian extremists. Israel and Hamas agreed to a tentative cease-fire this week in Gaza after weeks of conflict.

The forest area where Sofer and his friend were hiking was the site where a Palestinian teenager was killed last month by Israeli assailants in an apparent revenge killing for the slayings of three Israeli students.

"Please bring back my brother. Please bring back my brother," Sofer's younger broth, Yaakov, pleaded during a news conference in Lakewood this week.

Sofer's parents traveled to Jerusalem to aid in the search. They also released a video offering a reward for his safe return and implored anyone with information to call authorities.