Security forces arrested three Palestinians from Hebron in connection with the bludgeoning to death of an Israeli man last week in the Jordan Valley and two of them confessed to having committed the crime.
A joint investigation by the Shin Bet security service, the IDF, and the Israel Police were able to identify the three suspects, who were arrested on Saturday night, the Shin Bet said in a statement on Sunday.
Officials, though, are still unsure whether the motive was terror-related or criminal in nature.
During questioning Udah Frid Talab Harub, 18, and Bashir Ahmad Udah Harub, 21, both from the village of Dir Tsamat near Hebron, confessed to the murder of Seraiah Ofer, a retired IDF colonel in his 60s who was beaten and hacked to death late on Thursday night.
The pair revealed that they had also been to the scene of the crime two weeks ago but decided not to take any action. This information matched statements from Ofer’s wife Monique in which she said that young men from Hebron had come to their home under suspicious circumstances.
The Shin Bet did not provide any details about the third suspect or clarify if the two named men are related. It noted that, with the investigation still underway, the motive is unclear.
Earlier on Sunday the Ynet news site reported that investigators were looking into the possibility that the Ofers interrupted a group of men who were stealing equipment from the Brosh HaBika vacation village in the West Bank where he lived with his wife.
At about 1 a.m. last Friday, Ofer, 61, and his wife Monqiue, 51, heard noises outside their house in the resort, which he owned and operated. When Ofer went out to investigate, he was attacked and beaten to death by men wielding metal bars and axes, his wife said following the attack.
Five Palestinians were arrested Friday in connection with the attack. Those arrests came after several hours of searches and roadblocks by security forces in the area during which the murder weapons were recovered.
Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said after the killing that there was strong suspicion that the incident, in the northern Jordan Valley, was a terror attack. Officials, however, have refused to describe it as such, and said they were investigating the killing.
“We are looking into the latest incident in the Jordan Valley, the murder of Seraiah Ofer,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday morning.
Netanyahu recalled his memories of Ofer, whom he knew in childood.
“I remember him as boy. He was in the same year as my brother Ido. He would come over to our house a lot, a mature, serious boy who went on to contribute enormously during his service in the IDF and to the security of the country, and we send condolences to the Ofer family and its members,” Netanyahu said.
Ofer’s wife Monique called Saturday for Israel to respond to the killing with “extreme force.”
She escaped the killers by running from the house and flagging down a passing car on a nearby highway after injuring herself on barbed wire.
Her daughter said her mother had escaped through the bushes, and that “she crawled there for two hours, with no phone, no nothing.”
Over the last several weeks there has been an uptick in the number of isolated suspected terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank.
Last week two Palestinian men were arrested in connection to an October 5 terror attack in the West Bank settlement of Psagot. In that attack, a gunman infiltrated the settlement and shot a 9-year-old girl, Noam Glick. She was lightly wounded.
In September, two IDF soldiers were killed in separate incidents. Off-duty soldier Tomer Hazan was murdered by a Palestinian coworker at a Bat Yam restaurant who lured him to a village near Qalqilya. A second soldier, Gal Gabriel Kobi, was killed by what the army said was a sniper shot outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Ofer was buried on Sunday afternoon.