Israel Struggles to Locate Palestinian Attack Suspects, Arrests People Close to Them

Authorities now believe the suspects are still in Israel, as search continues after attack in ultra-Orthodox city of Elad that killed three Israelis and wounded four

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Security forces at the scene of the attack in Elad, Thursday.
Security forces at the scene of the attack in Elad, Thursday.Credit: Moti Milrod
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The search for two Palestinians suspected of killing three Israelis on Thursday has become focused on intelligence-gathering and the arrests of people with whom they were in frequent contact. Defense officials are still unable to determine with certainty where they are, but police assess the suspects had not returned to the West Bank, where they lived before the attack, and are still in Israel. 

The authorities suspect that As'ad al-Rifa'i, 19, and Subhi Abu Shakir, 20, from the village of Rummaneh, near Jenin, perpetrated the attack in Elad, which took place on Israel's Independence Day.

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The Defense Ministry said that following a security assessment, the ongoing closure of the West Bank and crossings at the Gaza border will be extended through Monday, with only approved cases being allowed to pass into or through Israel. Another assessment will be made Sunday, the ministry said. 

In a statement earlier in the day, the police asked the public to refrain from hiking and walking in the search area, saying it was using helicopters and drones to identify "suspicious figures." They also told the public to avoid sharing online messages with an unknown origin supposedly warning people of instructions to stay home or of military activity, saying these could cause panic and lead to emergency lines being overloaded.

The two suspects, in a photo released on Saturday by Israel Police.Credit: Israel Police

Defense officials meanwhile cast doubt on Hamas' announcement claiming responsibility for the attack, believing it to be a retroactive attempt to bolster its status. This assessment is based on the fact that the two suspects are not religiously observant, are not known to have links to the group, and had not spent a long time in Israel. 

Three people were killed and four wounded, two of them seriously, in the attack. Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva said on Saturday that there is no longer a threat to the lives of the two victims in serious condition.

According to a security official, one of the attackers worked next to the attack's location and was familiar with the area, and that both of the attackers crossed the West Bank separation barrier through a breach in the fence, apparently armed with an axe and knife. 

The police have said that an initial investigation shows one of the three victims, Oren Ben Yiftah, drove the two assailants to the scene of the attack. Officials believe Yiftah was acquainted with the suspects, and that they had spoken with him on the phone shortly before the ride. 

Meanwhile, the military said that it had informed the families of the two suspects in last week's deadly shooting in Ariel that their homes would be demolished. That attack in the West Bank settlement killed an Israeli, Vyacheslav Golov.

The attack in Elad has amplified the opinion in the military that security tensions in the West Bank may continue for a lengthy period. Over the past two months, a string of Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank have left 19 dead. Meanwhile, at least 27 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, some related to operations to locate suspects in the attacks. 

The military plans to replace drafted soldiers with reservists along the West Bank border area in light of the tensions. The string of attacks has also led to troops being diverted to holes in the fenced parts of the separation barrier, and the planned deployment of six reserves battalions is meant to allow them to return to their usual operations. 

In an announcement last week, the military stated that some of these battalions will be placed under the command of the military's Central Command, while others will replace units in the northern and southern commands. 

Ido Efrati and Ran Shimoni contributed to this report.

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