A massive manhunt is underway for two Palestinian terrorists who murdered three people in the central city of Elad yesterday evening amid celebration of Israeli Independence Day.
By Erin Viner
Security footage captured bloody scenes of the axe-wielding terrorists attacking residents in the largely ultra-Orthodox Jewish town about 15 km (9 miles) from Tel Aviv.
The victims were identified as Yonatan Havakuk, 44, Boaz Gol, 49, and Oren Ben Yiftah, 35. Elad residents Havakuk and Gol were each the fathers of five children, while Ben Yiftah who the father of six who lived in Lod.
Several other Israelis were seriously injured in the attack. One man in his 20s remains hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center in critical condition, while a 38-year-old man and another in his 70s are being closely monitored after undergoing emergency surgery overnight at the Rabin Medical Center.
Security forces immediately set up roadblocks to apprehend the assailants and prevent them from crossing into the West Bank, as Elad Mayor Israel Porush issued a televised appeal for residents to remain indoors. Helicopters also flew overhead as part of aerial searches.
Israeli police have already identified the suspected terrorists as As’ad Alrafa’ani, 19, and Sabhi abu Shakir, 20, from the Palestinian village of Rumana near Jenin.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened a security consultation soon after the incident with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, Israeli Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai, Israeli Security Agency Director Ronen Bar, Mossad Director David Barnea and other senior officials.
“Our enemies have embarked on a murderous campaign against Jews wherever they are. Their goal is to break our spirit but they will fail. We will get our hands on the terrorists and those who aid and abet them, and ensure they pay the price,” vowed Prime Minister Bennett in an official statement, as he offered his “deepest condolences to the families of those who were murdered.”
Following the situation assessment, Minister Gantz instructed the defense establishment to reinforce and support police forces in patrols and searches for the terrorists, conduct all relevant intelligence activities and operations, and utilize and means necessary at crossing points and other areas in order to prevent the terrorists from escaping and traveling to Judea and Samaria.
It was also decided that the closure enforced during Memorial and Independence Day commemorations – particular target dates for Palestinian terror – that had been set to be lifted at midnight last night should be extended until at least Sunday. Additional assessments on the matter will be held over the weekend.
Israel’s top defense official also stressed that the perpetrators will pay a heavy price for the attacks.
“The joy of Independence Day was cut short in an instant. A murderous attack in Elad that shocks the heart and soul,” Foreign Minister Lapid, who also serves as Alternate Premier, posted on Twitter, underscoring, “We will not give in to terror.”
President Isaac Herzog also posted a message on Twitter reading, “Three fathers were murdered last night with vicious cruelty by vile terrorists whom we’ll hunt down and capture and pay them and their senders in kind.”
The United States “vehemently” condemned the Elad murders in a statement issued by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “This was a horrific attack targeting innocent men and women, and was particularly heinous coming as Israel celebrated its Independence Day. Our hearts are with the victims and loved ones of those killed, and we wish those injured a speedy recovery. We remain in close contact with our Israeli friends and partners and stand firmly with them in the face of this attack,” said the statement, concluding with a traditional Jewish phrase of comfort for the dead, “May the memory of those who passed be a blessing.”
Last night’s attack brings the number of people killed in the recent surge of Arab/Palestinian terrorism to 18.
Palestinians clashed with Israeli police yet again earlier yesterday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, where Jewish visitation had been permitted after having been suspended for the last 10 days of Islamic observance of Ramadan. Violence at the holy site was rampant throughout the Muslim month.
The Al-Aqsa mosque is Islam’s third-holiest site, while the compound is Judaism’s holiest site and the vestige of the two Biblical Temples also revered by Christians.
While not claiming responsibility, the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza praised the Elad attack and said it was a response to Israeli actions at the Jerusalem holy site.
Last night’s axe attack comes just days after Hamas leader Yahyah Sinwar called on Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to kill Jews by any means.
“Our people in the Negev, the Triangle, the Galilee, Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Jaffa and Lod — each one of you take out your guns. And whoever does not have a gun — take out a knife or an axe. If they want a religious war, they have crossed all red lines,” Sinwar said in a fiery public speech.
In a rare act, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. The official Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted him as saying “the killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians will only lead to more deterioration of the situation.”