As security forces continued to scour villages in the Hebron area for the perpetrators of the Passover attack that left an Israeli father dead and his wife and child injured, a Palestinian man was arrested on Tuesday afternoon on suspicion of planning to stab an IDF soldier stationed at the Tapuah Junction, in the West Bank.
The man was arrested after his behavior aroused police suspicions that he might be armed. Upon closer scrutiny, it was discovered that he was carrying a knife in his pocket.
The man, a native of Beit Fauqa, in the northern West Bank, was taken in for questioning by Israeli security forces. During the interrogation, he admitted that he had planned to stab a soldier.
Meanwhile, security forces were searching extensively for the perpetrators of a terrorist attack Monday near the West Bank Tarqumiyah crossing, in which a 40-year-old Israeli was shot dead and his pregnant wife and son were injured on their way to a holiday Seder in Hebron.
Searches were focused on the nearby Palestinian village of Idhna, from which officials believed the gunman or gunmen originated, Channel 10 reported.
Citing Palestinian sources, Ynet reported late Tuesday afternoon that a man, Mahmoud Ahmad Nimr, had been arrested in the village.
Idhna was closed off by IDF troops throughout the night as they combed its streets and houses for suspects. The closure was removed Tuesday morning, though roadblocks were set up at the village entrances and soldiers were checking residents as they came and went. Searches inside the village were also ongoing.
Security officials told Channel 10 they believed the attack to be an “independent” act, not one sponsored by one of the Palestinian terrorist groups in the region. Though Hamas and Islamic Jihad both praised the attack, they did not take credit for it.
The IDF’s initial investigation of the attack found that the shooter approached Route 35, near Idhna, on foot, and opened automatic gunfire on passing cars from a distance of several meters.
The victim, a father of four, was killed when the family’s car was struck by several bullets. The man’s pregnant wife was in stable condition after the attack, and was evacuated to the Sha’arei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem with broken bones, but no life-threatening injuries. She was informed of her husband’s death.
One of the couple’s children, aged 9, was lightly injured.
The family was traveling from their home in Modi’in to Hebron to participate in the Passover seder meal with the mother’s family.
Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, on Tuesday visited the wounded at a Jerusalem hospital.
“A harsh incident, I have been updated that everybody is making the efforts to capture the terrorists, the murderers. I assume that the security forces will get their hands on the murderers,” he said.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem “strongly condemned” the shooting, adding that “attacks against civilians within Israel’s borders are no different from attacks against settlers living in the West Bank.”
“The argument that there is justification for killing settlers as part of the struggle against Israeli occupation is both legally and morally groundless,” it said, adding that all civilians must be protected.
In Gaza, meanwhile, the prime minister of the Hamas-ruled territory praised the shooting, saying the attack outside the city of Hebron “brought back life to the path of resistance” against Israel and warned of more attacks in the Palestinian territory.
“We tell the enemy and anyone who thinks he is able to tame the West Bank … the West Bank will be the future point of our struggle with the enemy,” Haniyeh said.
He also declared that kidnapping Israeli soldiers remained among the organization’s chief objectives.
“As long as there are still Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisoners, the policy of kidnapping soldiers is the most important method utilized by the resistance [towards Israel],” Haniyeh said.
Monday’s attack could further complicate US attempts to salvage the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan and Egypt.
Two decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed to settle the conflict, and the latest US mediation attempt, launched last year by Secretary of State John Kerry, also seems on the verge of collapse.
Kerry has said he wants to see a deal, or at least the outlines of one, by the end of April. But the two sides remain locked in a dispute over the terms of extending talks, without having made any apparent progress on issues such as borders and security arrangements.
Attacks like Monday’s were common in the West Bank during Israeli-Palestinian fighting last decade, but the level of violence dropped significantly in recent years.
In 2002, at the height of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at a Passover Seder at a hotel, killing 30 people and wounding over 100.
Itamar Sharon and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.