Israel Arrests Two Palestinians Suspected in Elad Terrorist Attack
Two Palestinians suspected of killing three Israelis in a bloody ax attack on Israel’s independence day were captured Sunday after an intensive manhunt, Israeli authorities said.
The suspects, identified by a security official as Asad Al Refai and Subhi Sbeihat, were arrested in a wooded area adjacent to a quarry in central Israel not far from the city of Elad, where the attack occurred as independence day celebrations were ending on Thursday.
Video of the arrest circulated on social media and authenticated by Israeli police showed security personnel with guns drawn surrounding a large bush and yelling for the suspects to surrender.
Mr. Refai, 19 years old, and Mr. Sbeihat, 20, from Rumana, a Palestinian town near Jenin in the West Bank, were being interrogated by Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, officials said.
After the arrests, officers walked one of the two suspects to a location nearby where an ax could be seen lying on the ground covered by underbrush, another video released by police showed.
The Elad attack was the most recent in a wave of attacks against Israelis in recent months that have left at least 18 dead.
On Sunday evening, a 19-year-old Palestinian man stabbed a police officer near an entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, said Eli Levi, a spokesman for the police. The officer, 24, was transferred to the hospital in moderate condition, said Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical service. The assailant was shot and was in serious condition, Mr. Levi said.
In another deadly incident Sunday, Israeli security officials said a male armed with a knife tried to enter the West Bank settlement of Tekoa and was shot and killed by an Israeli civilian. Palestinian officials said the 17-year-old was from Tequa, a Palestinian village near the settlement with a similar name.
The Israeli army also said they shot a Palestinian man who was trying to illegally cross through an opening in the fence near the Tulkarem area in the West Bank. Palestinian officials identified the man, who they said died from his wounds, as Mahmoud Iram, 27.
The United Nations reported that a total of 29 Palestinians were killed between March 1 and April 24 during “demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest operations and in other circumstances.” Three of the Palestinians killed were accused of carrying out recent terrorist attacks in Israel, according to the U.N.
The gruesome attack on Israel’s independence day prompted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose fragile coalition government has been rocked by a wave of terrorist attacks and clashes at Jerusalem’s holiest site, to announce new security measures, including a proposed civilian guard force and a crackdown on Palestinians crossing into Israel illegally.
“We are at the start of a new stage in the war on terrorism,” he said in remarks to his cabinet Sunday. “Those who incite cannot rest easy. Those who throw matches cannot run away.”
An Israeli official said Mr. Bennett was referencing comments by Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, who called on Palestinians outside Gaza—days before the Elad attack—to prepare their guns, cleavers, knives or axes for battle, and told them “not to wait for a decision by anyone” before carrying out individual attacks.
Mr. Sinwar’s remarks are part of the militant group’s mass-media campaign urging Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel to attack Israelis, while it refrains from launching rocket attacks from its base in Gaza.
Some Israeli commentators have been pushing for the government to assassinate Mr. Sinwar. On Saturday, Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, warned Israel that killing Mr. Sinwar or other militant leaders would be tantamount to providing permission for “an earthquake in the region” and “an unprecedented response.”
No group claimed responsibility for the attack in Elad, and members of the suspects’ families said neither was affiliated with militant groups. Hamas said in a statement the arrests wouldn’t “deter our people from continuing to confront the occupation and to clash with it by all means.”
The attack in a largely Ultraorthodox town adjacent to the occupied West Bank sparked a massive search for the suspects around Elad and Jenin and closure of border crossings between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.
“The intensive efforts undertaken immediately following the incident, the deployment of hundreds of police officers and soldiers and the activation of the means we used forced them to hide and enabled us to find them,” said police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai in a statement.
The victims killed in Elad—Oren Ben Yiftah, 35, Yonatan Havakuk, 44, and Boaz Gol, 40—were buried Friday in funerals marked by a nationwide outpouring of grief.
One of the victims, Mr. Ben Yiftah, was a cabdriver from the city of Lod who was killed after driving the attackers to Elad, according to a security official.
In an interview, the father of one of the arrested men said his son had been working with a friend on electrical projects. “I know nothing about what happened or how it happened. I cannot read minds, but if I knew I would have forbade them,” said Yousef Al Refai.
The grandfather of the other arrested Palestinian said in an interview he did not believe that his grandson had anything to do with the attack.
“We were shocked with the news. He is a quiet man, not an extremist, even in his thoughts about the situation as a whole. I have no idea what happened,” said Subhi Nimer Sbeihat, adding that his grandson had vocational training as an electrician and was hoping to marry.
In response to the attack, Mr. Bennett said he was planning to create a civilian national guard to augment police and the army, arguing that more armed personnel could boost security especially in Ultraorthodox communities, such as Elad, where fewer residents carry weapons.
“Time and time again we see the difference between incidents in which there was a responsible armed civilian in the area and those in which there was not,” Mr. Bennett said.
Hassan Jabareen, the general director of the human-rights group Adalah, said that the proposed national guard force could have damaging repercussions for Arab citizens of Israel.
“This proposal appears to be aimed at arming Jews, including extremist ones, against Arabs,” Mr. Jabareen said. “It would lead to an increase in racial violence against the Arab community.”
The two suspected attackers had worked in Elad on construction and electrical projects, according to Haim Loria, a spokesman for the city. Neither had permits to enter Israel, according to Deputy Superintendent Mirit Ben Mayor, a police spokeswoman. Mr. Bennett said he had ordered a crackdown on Palestinians who illegally cross into Israel through gaps in the border fence separating the West Bank from Israel, as well as on “the entire industry” devoted to “smuggling, transportation and employment of people present in Israel illegally,” he said in his remarks to the cabinet.
Around 140,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have work permits, but tens of thousands of others don’t and routinely pass through openings in the fence to work in Israel. It will be difficult for Israel to close all the gaps in the barrier in the near future because many of its sections haven't been completed, especially in the Jerusalem area and the southern West Bank.