A 19-year-old Israeli soldier and yeshiva student was murdered in a stabbing attack in the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion on Wednesday.
He has been identified as Dvir Sorek, a resident of the settlement of Ofra. The Israeli military, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service are scouting the area in search of the assailants.
In response to the murder, the IDF said that it was increasing its presence of forces in the West Bank.
According to authorities, Sorek was returning to the West Bank from a trip to Jerusalem, where he went to buy religious books. The soldier's family contacted the authorities on Wednesday night and reported him missing after didn't answer his cellphone. Searches after him began, and at 2:30 A.M. his body was found on the roadside near the Migdal Oz settlement where he attended yeshiva.
The IDF, Shin Bet and the Israel Police have launched a joint investigation into the attack. The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court issued, at the request of the police, a gag order on all details of the investigation.
Security forces say Sorek was attacked and stabbed while walking from a square near the settlement of Efrat toward the entrance gate of Migdal oz, a distance of 200 meters [656 feet], which brings defense establishment officials to believe the killing was not part of a botched kidnapping attempt, but they have yet to unequivocally determine it.
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In addition, defense officials presume Sorek was not forcefully put into a vehicle by his attackers and that he may have reached the roadside in an attempt to call for help.
Earlier, security forces said they believed the killing might have been part of an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt.
It is still undetermined whether the assailant or assailants who murdered Sorek acted alone or were operated by one of the terror organizations in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
The defense establishment has recently warned in closed forums of terror cells that were exposed in the West Bank and operated by terror organizations.
In 2019, excluding Sorek's murder, 12 terror attacks were carried out by lone-wolf terrorists, while some 130 terrorists who were mainly operated by Hamas were captured and questioned.
According to the defense establishment, the past few years have seen a significant decrease in the activity of terrorists acting independently.
In 2018, 32 lone-wolf terrorists were arrested or killed, whereas in 2017, 54 terrorists who acted alone were arrested or killed. In 2016, 108 lone-wolf terrorists were apprehended or killed, and in 2015 — during the big wave of lone-wolf terror attack — 138 assailants were detained or killed.
The defense establishment is keeping track of this trend, which points at an increase of terror cells operated by organizations. The cells in question have more powerful means and bigger budgets to carry out the attacks, better planning and frameworks meant to absorb them after they carry out the attacks.
Palestinians warn of escalation
A Palestinian security source told Haaretz that the steps Israel is currently taking in order to find the assailants may have a major impact on the situation on the ground. With the current status of the economy in the West Bank, the source said, IDF operations will only increase tensions in the region.
Responding to the murder, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that security forces were "in pursuit now in order to capture the despicable terrorist and bring him to justice."
Evan Cohen, Netanyahu's international media adviser, attacked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Twitter in the wake of Thursday's stabbing. "Only yesterday, forty U.S. congressmen heard Abu Mazen lying again about his will for peace. And today, we wake up to the reality, a brutal murder," he wrote.
President Reuven Rivlin also offered condolences, saying that security forces are "pursuing the murderers and we will not rest until we find them."
"Our prayers this morning are with the family of the murdered soldier and our hearts grieve for the life cut short," Rivlin said. "We fight terrorism without compromise to ensure the security of our people," the president added.
A friend of Sorek's family said he was a talented boy who enjoyed nature. "We, the people of Israel, are facing very intense hatred that brings people to murder a person who goes to school to study, unarmed. Simply murder for murder and murder for Jews," he said.
Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz also released a statement offering his support to the soldier's family, adding that the "IDF and security forces know how to put their hands on vile terrorists, dead or alive."
Meanwhile, former Justice Minister and United Right leader Ayelet Shaked called for Israel to "exact a high price and strengthen deterrence in the face of Palestinian terror. The blood of our son is not the lawless one."
Education Minister Rafi Peretz expressed determination to find the attackers. "Count on the IDF and security forces not to rest until they catch the abominable murders who committed this heinous crime. The message must be clear: Jewish blood is not lawless," Peretz tweeted.
Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, called the attack "heroic" saying it "sends an important and courageous message, supping prisoners and detainees."
The funeral for Sorek will be held Thursday evening at a cemetery in Ofra, the IDF said.
In March, 19-year-old Staff Sgt. Gal Keidan died in a West Bank shooting attack, along with 47-year-old Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger. The Palestinian assailant, 19-year-old Omar Amin Abu Lila, was found and shot dead by Israeli forces near Ramallah two days after the attack.