Two suspects were arrested Friday overnight in the West Bank murder of Israeli soldier Dvir Sorek, security forces said Saturday evening.
The two have been identified as 24-year-old Nseir Asafra and 30-year-old Kassem Asafra. The two are cousins, and both hail from the Palestinian town of Beit Kahil, situated northwest of Hebron. Kassem's wife Enas was also arrested, as was a third man, Akrama Asafra.
While neither Nseir nor Kassem Asafra were detained in the past on suspicion of carrying out any security-related offenses, one is known to be a Hamas operative.
Their arrests were carried out in a joint operation by a special Shin Bet security service task force, the Israeli military and the Yamam counter-terrorism unit of the Border Police. They took place as part of an investigation that was launched immediately after the attack, which was carried out on Thursday morning near the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion.
The two suspects were passed on for further interrogations by the Shin Bet. The Israeli army also confiscated the vehicle that the two are suspected to have used in the attack. The military said that during the arrests, clashes broke out between security forces and some 100 Palestinians who hurled rocks at the troops. Forces used riot dispersal means to disperse the protesters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement in which he extolled security forces for locating and arresting suspects within 48 hours of the attack. "In recent years, our forces reached all the Palestinian murderers who have hurt Israelis, and today they did it again," he wrote. "We will continue to forcefully fight against terrorism on all fronts."
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Sorek's body was found marked with stab wounds in the early hours of Thursday morning, near the settlement of Migdal Oz. The 19-year-old was a resident of the Ofra settlement, and drafted to the Israel Defense Forces through a yeshiva program. On Wednesday, he left for Jerusalem wearing civilian clothing, and was supposed to return to his yeshiva near Migdal Oz. After yeshiva personnel were unable to reach him, security forces began searching for Sorek. The IDF believes he was stabbed to death when he walked from the bus station in Efrat to the yeshiva, a distance of 200 meters.
On Thursday, security forces apprehended a different suspect as part of efforts to locate the perpetrators of the attack, and released him on Friday. The man, aged 26, was arrested in the Palestinian village of Beit Fajjar, near Migdal Oz.
Israeli security forces also confiscated several cars from Beit Fajjar. Residents told reporters that their homes and businesses were searched as part of the manhunt, and that security cameras were confiscated.
Thus far, Israeli security officials do not know if the attack was perpetrated by an individual or a group, but believe that the assailants were aided by local residents in the Hebron area.
Contrary to earlier assessments, defense officials do not believe the killing was part of a botched kidnapping attempt.
Noa Landau contributed to this report.