Yehoshua Sofer
Yehoshua Sofer. Photo by Dudu Greenspan
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A police officer was killed yesterday morning in the southern Hebron Hills when his vehicle was shot at in an attack claimed by Palestinian terrorists. Advanced Staff Sergeant Major Yehoshua "Shuki" Sofer, 39, became the first Israeli killed in a terrorist incident in the West Bank this year.

Four other officers were injured in the incident, one moderately and three lightly.

The incident occurred when a routine transport of officers from Be'er Sheva to the police station in Hebron was ambushed by gunmen.

The driver of the vehicle was hit in his hand by a bullet but continued on his way and made it to the headquarters of the Hebron Brigade near Otniel. The injured were then evacuated to Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva and Hadasa Ein Kerem in Jerusalem.

Sofer died after two hours of life-saving efforts.

The vehicle the officers were using was equipped to withstand stone attacks but was not armored.

A terrorist group going by the name of "Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - Imad Mughniyeh Group" claimed responsibility yesterday for the attack. However, it is not clear who is behind the allegedly Fatah-affiliated group, and security sources are examining the possibility that the culprits belong to different groups.

Security sources explained that the terrorists drove close to the site of the attack, walked to the point of ambush, and then took up positions from which they opened fire on the vehicle carrying the five officers - on the road connecting Otniel to Beit Hagai.

Troops combing the area after the attack found a car that had been set on fire.

The security forces placed the nearby village of Dir Ibzah under curfew because physical evidence suggests that the shooters escaped through the area. Security forces carried out a search in the nearby area.

The nearby town of Dura, where a force of Palestinian security is stationed, was also closed to exit.

Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad condemned yesterday's attack and said that he is opposed to violence.

The incident was the fifth shooting attack in the West Bank this year, and Sofer is the first Israeli killed. In 2009, four Israelis were killed in attacks in the West Bank: two officers were ambushed in the Jordan Valley, in an unsolved case; an NCO in the Kfir Brigade was stabbed to death by a PA police officer as he sat in his car; and Rabbi Meir Hai, a resident of the settlement of Shavei Shomron, who was shot in December.

Killed before wedding

Sofer was planning to marry his fiance in the coming winter.

"Someone should explain to me how fair it is that Shuki is killed before our wedding?" asked his grieving fiance, Einav Bloom, who had come to the family's home in Be'er Sheva when they received news that he had been killed.

"He was a man with a good heart, a great deal of soul, who always helped his friends and family," Sofer's father, Yosef, said. "He was about to marry and everything was ready. He had been waiting for a long time to find someone, and was looking forward to his wedding."

Yosef Sofer said that at 8:30 A.M. officers came to his house and told him that his son had been seriously injured in an accident.

"I asked if he was alive, and we were told that he had been very seriously injured and taken to the hospital. When we got to the hospital there were senior officers there and the police chief," he said.