Israeli security forces nabbed on Saturday a suspect in the sexual assault and murder of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher, who was found dead two days ago near Jerusalem.
The suspect, a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested in a joint operation by the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Border Police's counter-terrorism unit (Yamam) near Ramallah following intelligence security forces received.
Haaretz Weekly Episode 15
He has been identified by the Shin Bet as Arafat Irfaiya, a 29-year-old who was residing in Israel illegally. He was identified using DNA evidence found in the scene.
According to the Shin Bet, Irfaiya left his house on Thursday with a knife in his possession and made his way toward the Palestinian West Bank town of Beit Jala. He walked in the direction of a nearby forest, where he spotted Ansbacher and proceeded to assault her.
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The Shin Bet also revealed that during the extensive operation to locate the suspect, the latter hid in a mosque and later in a nearby abandoned building in Ramallah, where an Israeli SWAT team finally apprehended him. The knife he alledgedly used in the murder was found during the arrest.
Security officials say the Israel Police and Shin Bet are familiar with Irfaiya due to his inciting comments and criminal record. In 2009, he was arrested for possession of a knife and imprisoned for three months. In 2017, he was arrested for staying in Israel illegally and for possession of a knife, and served five months in prison. According to a security source, he is affiliated with Hamas.
Irfaiya has not been allowed to consult with an attorney, and is said to be cooperating in the investigation.
A gag order has been placed on the rest of the details of the investigation, which is focusing on the suspicion the murder was politically motivated.
Issa Irfaiya, the suspect's brother, told Haaretz that the family was surprised by the arrest, emphasizing that Arafat was in no way involved in political activity and had not worked with any Palestinian organizations or factions.
"He worked odd jobs at a building in the Hebron area and in the Ramallah area, and on Wednesday he was at home and left Ramallah for work while the parents left for Mecca, and no one sensed anything and nothing was suspicious," he said on Saturday. "Yesterday, military troops arrived and conducted a search in the house and asked us what happened and we didn't receive an answer. They told us, 'you'll hear about it in the news.'"
According to Issa, as of Saturday evening the family did not know where Arafat was being held or whether they could hire a lawyer for him.
Following various reports on social media regarding the circumstances of the teen's death, the Israel Police released a statement in which it denied the rumors and called on the public not to spread misinformation.
According to police, since the murder "people have been spreading reports, particularly on social media, regarding the circumstances of the murder. Those reports include gory and irresponsible information. We clarify that these are unfounded reports that dishonor the victim and her family while misleading the public."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son, Yair, published a Facebook post in which he referred to the murder but later removed several details from it.
Netanyahu himself extended condolences to the Ansbacher family on Saturday evening, stating that "on his behalf and on behalf of the people of Israel, I wish to extend condolences to the Ansbacher family and embrace them in their grief."
The premier also congratulated Shin Bet and Yamam forces who captured the suspect.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called for the suspect to be tried at a military court and handed a death sentence. "One need not hide the truth," Shaked stated. "He murdered Ori as a Jewish girl. We don't need to hide or blur the truth."
Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have so far failed to respond to the murder. The silence on their part is unusual, and contradicts the pattern of responses that usually follow terror attacks.
'A pure spirit': Hundreds pay their respects at Ansbacher's funeral
Ansbacher, who hailed from the settlement of Tekoa, was found naked, with stab wounds to her chest, at Ein Yael, southwest of Jerusalem.
Four people found near the body's location were detained for interrogation on Thursday. They were released under no suspicion.
A police source told Haaretz this was "one of the harshest cases we've seen in the past few years."
Ansbacher was laid to rest on Friday afternoon. Several hundred people gathered at the cemetery in the settlement to pay their respects.
Ansbacher was a national service volunteer and the daughter of a rabbi at a yeshiva in Tekoa.
Friends and family described Ansbacher as someone who took nothing for granted, "a person of truth," and someone who spread light wherever she went.
Ansbacher's parents said on Friday that she had "a pure spirit" with an endless desire to make the world a better place.
Speaking at the funeral, her mother, Naia Ansbacher, described Ori as "a child of words. Mainly poems. Words that expressed who you are and what you were. Now there are no words left, only thank you."
"Thank you, my Ori," she said, "that you chose to come into this world through me. Thank you for 19 and a half years of light and joy. I ask now, as you rise up to a world where there is only good, that you give us the strength from above to continue to believe in the good in this world. Send us your light from above so we can continue to put on a good face."
Her father, Gadi Ansbacher said, "I can hardly believe it when I think about the past year and a half - how you did so much. You were everything... you did it. You won. You lived a whole life. You are whole. You are whole. You are whole."
Noa Landau contributed to this report.