Israeli Police Launch Manhunt for Killers of Two Girls

12-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker found dead in her home in south Tel Aviv ■ Body of 16-year-old Israeli-Arab girl found three days after she went missing

Yara Ayoub / Silvana Tsegai
Courtesy of the Tel Aviv Yafo Municipality

The body of a 12-year-old female Eritrean asylum seeker from south Tel Aviv was found late Monday, hours after police found the body of a missing 16-year-old Israeli Arab girl.

The police announced Monday that the body of 16-year-old Yara Ayoub had been found in the village of Jish in Upper Galilee, after she had been missing for three days. Police suspect she was murdered.

A 28-year-old male resident of Jish, a predominantly Christian town, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of involvement in the case and was remanded in custody. His 53-year-old father was arrested on Monday evening.

Police near the site where Yara Ayoub's body was found, Upper Galilee, November 25, 2018.
Gil Eliyahu

A lawyer representing the two suspects said they deny involvement in the case. "There are a lot of questions marks" surrounding the investigation, claimed the lawyer, Bassel Fallah, who said that "the father's arrest surprised us." According to him, the father had cooperated with the investigation, including the search for Ayoub's body, in the days leading up to his arrest.

Two additional suspects, a 50-year-old woman and a 21-year-old man, both Jish residents, were arrested on Tuesday. A gag order has been issued regarding the investigation and the identites of the suspects.

Tasafbaran Tsefsion

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In the Tel Aviv case, the body of the victim, Silvana Tsegai, showed signs that she had suffered a violent death. Uri Shertzky, a paramedic dispatched to the home in the Hativka neighborhood, said the girl was not breathing and had no pulse when he arrived and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police launched a manhunt for the former domestic partner of the girl’s mother, and said the mother was apparently not home at the time of the killing and only returned several hours later.

The suspect has been identified as Tasafbaran Tsefsion, 30, a Tel Aviv resident employed at a coffee shop in Ramat Gan. Police said they believe he beat Silvana to death in the afternoon on Monday.

According to the suspect's father, Taklab, the suspect and the victim's mother "broke up three months ago," adding that his son was angry at the mother, but he didn't believe he could hurt the child.

Police investigate the crime scene in south Tel Aviv, November 25, 2018.
Moti Milrod

“All possible directions are being examined at present, including domestic violence,” said Chief Superintendent Asaf Almog, of the police investigation and intelligence division. Neighbors and friends of the former couple said that a violent argument erupted last week between the two.

The police issued a statement on Tuesday saying that contrary to some reports, they had not received any complaints of "physical or verbal violence toward the girl." Several days ago, the girl did call the police to report that her mother's former partner had come to her home to collect personal belongings, the police said. In the course of the call, the girl was asked specifically about the man and said she had not been subject to any kind of violence, the police statement added.

As news of the killing spread, relatives of the girl, the principal of the school she attended and foreign migrants living in the vicinity came to her home. Police have received assistance in their investigation from members of the Eritrean community who are serving as translators.

Silvana Tsegai had been known to social welfare authorities since 2014, after a complaint was filed alleging that she had been a victim of violence and neglect. On Tuesday, Tel Aviv municipal officials said that the girl's mother was also in touch with city social welfare staff a year ago, but it was not clear what assistance was provided to her daughter or until when it was given.

Social welfare agencies don't generally provide services to foreign asylum seekers, including members of the Eritrean community, unless the situation poses imminent risk.

On Monday, two asylum seekers who helped the police collect information about Silvana Tsegai's family said her mother told them that several days earlier, the mother's former partner had threatened to harm her daughter in the mother's presence. 

A former neighbor of the family told Haaretz that Tsegai used to say that her mother's partner would hit her. "Once she said he beat her for taking money from him," said the neighbor.

Silvana's acquaintances described her as sociable and full of life. In 2014 and 2015, she attended a youth club run by the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel. Michal Shendar, who ran the facility at the time, said despite Silvana's social nature, it was clear that she was at great risk.

"We informed social welfare, which was already familiar with the case and said it was being dealt with," said Shendar, who added that the family's economic problems required that the mother work long hours, leaving her daughter alone. "She was exposed to very difficult things on the streets and raised herself," Shendar said of the mother. 

The director of the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Michal Pinchuk, alleged that "Silvana's murder could have been prevented if the doors of Social Service [Ministry's] offices were open to asylum seekers."

Several long-time neighborhood residents expressed dissatisfaction with the way the police handle problems in Hatikva. “Such a thing could happen anywhere, but the police have abandoned the neighborhood,” said one resident, who suggested that a special police unit be created to patrol the area.

“There is a lot of violence here. Last month, there was a targeted killing. There were stabbings last week,” he added.

The Israel Women’s Network noted that the killing in Tel Aviv on Monday came shortly after Ayoub's body was found in the northern part of Israel. Defining the incidents as “an emergency situation that can’t be accepted,” the civil society NGO called on the government to mobilize to protect women in the country.

In its response to the two deaths, the Israel National Council for the Child said: “Protecting children in a family setting and in general needs to be a top national priority. We call on the government to act to devote resources for early detection of distress and to address it, to provide immediate protection in situations of danger, for real-time warning in cases of risk and coordination of information among the authorities – social welfare, health, education and law enforcement.”