Seven government ministers, led by Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene a cabinet meeting to reconsider the policy of releasing terrorists as part of ongoing peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, brokered by the United States.
A letter delivered Monday night to Netanyahu was signed by Bennett, Housing Minister Uri Ariel, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, Senior Citizens’ Affairs Minister Uri Orbach, and Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver, Channel 10 reported. Katz was the only signatory from Netanyahu’s own Likud party.
“In recent days,” the ministers wrote, “we witnessed two vicious acts of murder that took the lives of two IDF soldiers. In light of the above, we ask you to convene the cabinet as early as possible, in order to reconsider the continuation of the policy of releasing prisoners.”
An Israeli official said late Monday that Israel will submit a complaint to the US over insufficient action on the part of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in recent days.
The source said PA forces did not do enough to prevent the sniper fire that killed Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi in Hebron on Sunday, adding that the incitement against Israel in Palestinian media continues even as the sides sit down for talks. The official did not stress whether the complaint would include the fact that the Palestinian Authority has yet to condemn the recent murders.
Earlier, hundreds of people attended the funeral of Sgt. Kobi, 20, at the Haifa Military Cemetery. Mourners included his comrades from the Givati Brigade. Kobi hailed from the Western Galilee town of Tirat Hacarmel.
Bennett told the mourners that Israel must “stop giving the enemy the impression that Jewish blood is the cheapest commodity in the Middle East.”
“We will fight to get rid of the impression that killers can suddenly be released one day. Gal’s killers will be punished severely and I promise that we will act so that they will never be released,” he said.
“Don’t be mistaken,” Bennett warned. “We will not lay down our weapons, we will not blink. We will build house after house after house. The tears in our eyes, in Bat Yam, Hebron, or in Haifa, will not keep us from continuing to build on our land.”
The hunt continued Monday afternoon for the killer of the soldier who was fatally wounded in the neck by sniper fire in the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday. As the search narrowed to the neighborhood of Jabal Johar, security forces lifted the curfew that was imposed over the city .
The manhunt in Hebron has been ongoing since the shooting, which occurred during a Palestinian demonstration near Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. He died later that night in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the immediate resettlement of Beit Hamachpela, a disputed house, located near the spot where Kobi was shot, whose Jewish occupants were evicted in March 2012 with the government citing security and political concerns.
“Those who try to uproot us from Hebron, the city of our forefathers, will only achieve the opposite,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We will continue to fight terrorism with one hand, and strengthen settlement with the other.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon convened a meeting late Monday afternoon to look into the legal ramifications of resettling the building in the coming weeks, Army Radio reported. Last night, before Netanyahu’s order to return to the structure, the Prime Minister’s Office was already looking into how to proceed with the settlement initiative while remaining within the boundaries of Israeli law.
Kobi’s killing marked the second death of a serviceman at the hands of Palestinian attackers in three days. On Friday, Sgt. Tomer Hazan, 20, was lured to a village near Qalqilya in the West Bank by 42-year-old Nidal Amar, who allegedly kidnapped and killed him in the hope of trading the corpse for his brother’s release from Israeli prison.
Two suspects were reportedly arrested in Hebron overnight and two hunting rifles were confiscated in the course of the IDF’s operations in the city, although the army did not say whether they were suspected in Kobi’s shooting.
Ya’alon expressed his condolences to Kobi’s family and vowed to apprehend the perpetrators.
“The IDF and security services will lay their hands on the terrorist and those who sent him and they will pay the price,” Ya’alon said on Monday morning. “The State of Israel will not tolerate attempts by terror organizations or individual terrorists to attack its citizens or soldiers and disrupt routine life, and will act firmly and strongly against such attempts.”
The two killings came amid US-led peace efforts that resumed in July after a nearly three-year break in negotiations.
The IDF said it does not believe the attacks signify a change in the generally peaceful situation in the West Bank, which has been marked by security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in recent years.
“We don’t see a trend emerging,” said IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, and “we will work to ensure that it doesn’t become a trend.”
“Our assessment remains: These are local events. We don’t see a change in direction, but we will remain at high alert and won’t relax our efforts to protect the Israeli people,” IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio Monday morning.
Washington condemned the killing of the soldiers and called on all parties to denounce the slayings.
“Such violence and terror are unacceptable, and undermine efforts to establish the positive atmosphere the parties need to progress in peace negotiations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an emailed statement.
As of Monday afternoon, the Palestinian Authority had yet to condemn the killings.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.