“The two terrorists who murdered three Israeli civilians in the deadly attack in the city of Elad have been caught,” the police, Israel Security Agency (ISA, Shin Bet) and military said in a joint statement.
By Erin Viner
The two axe-wielding assailants were found hiding in a forest yesterday – only 60 hours they carried out the deadly attack in nearby Elad on Israel’s Independence Day last Thursday. The predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish town is located about 15 km (nine miles) north of Tel Aviv.
“The hunt for the terrorists is over,” declared Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai from the scene.
Israeli forces had mounted an extensive search for the terrorists, who were identified as as As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Sbeihat, 20.
According to the joint the statement, both suspects confessed. When asked what he had done, Rifa’i responded, “an attack in Elad,”adding “[We] hit people… my friend, Subhi and I.”
The two are residents of a village near the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin, who appeared uninjured as they were taken into custody by armed ISA, Police and IDF soldiers of the Maglan, Egoz and Mirol units.
An estimated 800 troops, including special commando and counterterrorism forces, participated in the manhunt. Israeli leaders swiftly hailed the security forces for the arrests.
“We will continue to work to stop terrorism and strengthen the security and sense of security of the citizens of the State of Israel,” said IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev vowed, “We will continue to determinedly pursue those who wish evil upon us — all the time and everywhere,” while Defense Minister Benny Gantz thanked “the security forces who worked around the clock” to capture the “despicable” suspects, underscoring that Israeli security forces will also “track down anyone who had assisted the assailants.”
The attack was the latest in a recent upsurge of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has raised fears of a slide back to wider conflict. Arab/Palestinian terrorists have murdered 18 people in Israel, including three police officers and a security guard, in attacks in Israel and the West Bank that have mostly targeted civilians since March.
Israel has responded with arrest raids in Palestinian towns and villages which have often sparked clashes and brought the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of the year to at least 40. The casualties include armed members of terrorist groups and lone wolf assailants.
“We said that we would apprehend the terrorists and we have done so,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting.
“We are at the start of a new stage in the war on terrorism,” said Bennett, announcing that as part of the government’s “supreme mission” to restore “personal security to the citizens of Israel,” a new National Guard will be established.
Bennett said he “instructed the National Security Council, in coordination with the Public Security Ministry, to present the government with an orderly and budgeted plan to establish a civilian national guard by the end of the month,” that will include Border Police, trained units of volunteers and IDF reservists who “will be activated in emergencies and disturbances, and in routine times as well, as necessary.”
In addition, said the Israeli leader, the police will launch an operation to with what he called “an entire industry” to smuggle, transport and employ illegal aliens, which he said resulted in the most recent terrorist attack when one of the victims in the attack apparently unwittingly drove the terrorists into Elad.
Palestinian terror groups praised the suspects and pledged that their arrests would not obstruct more attacks against Israel.
The Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza called the murders as a so-called response to Israeli actions at al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Palestinians and Israeli police repeatedly clashed at the site during the recent observance of the Islamist month of Ramadan.
“Our Palestinian people and their heroic youth will not stand idly by in the face of the occupation’s crimes and its violations against our Jerusalem holy sites and the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque,” the Hamas in a statement.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group also lauded the attackers as “heroes.” PIJ Spokesperson Tariq Izz al-Din claimed the pair “revealed the frailness of this monstrous entity and the weakness of its security apparatus.”
The al-Aqsa Mosque was built atop the two Biblical Temples. It is the holiest site for the Jewish People and revered by Christians, and the third-holiest in Islam. According to a “status quo agreement” after Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, while Jews and Christians are only allowed on scheduled visits under heavy security presence.
During his Cabinet remarks, Prime Minister Bennett once again underscored that, “Of course, Israel will continue to respect worshippers of all faiths in Jerusalem. This is what we have done and this is what we will do. The united Jerusalem is the capital of only one country – the State of Israel.
In related news, an Israeli 24-year-old Border Police officer was moderately hurt in by a knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist last night at the Damascus Gate entrance into Jerusalem’s Old City. Despite stab wounds to his neck, the officer and other officers stationed opened fire at the attacker and neutralized him.
About an hour later, the IDF announced that an Israeli civilian shot and killed another Palestinian armed with a knife who had infiltrated from the West Bank near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem after he broke into the Jewish town of Tekoa in the Gush Etzion Regional Council. A manhunt was launched in search of three additional suspects believed to have assisted him.
“The soldiers operated to stop the suspect in accordance with standard operating procedures, using live fire,” said an IDF Spokesperson.
Following an assessment of the security situation, the Spokesperson’s Office of the Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that it was decided last night to re-open crossings in the Judea and Samaria area – with an exception for residents of the Rumana village in the Jenin district where the terrorists who committed the terror attack in Elad lived. In addition, the Erez Crossing into Gaza will remain closed until further notice, said COGAT, with the exception of humanitarian, medical, and exceptional cases subject to approval from the head of COGAT.