A Palestinian terrorist who murdered a West Bank rabbi earlier this month was killed in an overnight raid Tuesday, as Israeli intelligence, police and army units united to track down the Hamas killer and other members of his cell.
Rabbi Miki Mark was killed in a July 1 drive-by shooting as he traveled on Route 60 with his family, close to the Otniel settlement where they lived. Mark’s wife, Hava, was seriously injured and two of his children were wounded in the attack.
The trail to Muhammad al-Fakih — who is believed to have fired the shot that killed Mark — ended at the West Bank village of Surif, north of Hebron. Fakih died there early Wednesday morning when the Israel Defense Forces fired anti-tank missiles before bulldozing the house in which he was hunkered down.
The army said the three other cell members — Fakih’s brother, Sahir; their cousin Muaz Fakih; and Mohammed Omaireh — all belong to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip and has seen growing popularity in the West Bank.
The hunt for the rabbi’s killers began proper on July 4, three days after his death, when Omaireh — a member of the Palestinian Preventive Security Services — was arrested. He told Shin Bet officials during questioning that that it was he who drove the car on the night of the attack, but that it was Fakih who had actually fired the shots.
The vehicle and gun were recovered by Israel, and the Shin Bet began tracking the cell, the Hebrew-language Ynet website reported.
Once intelligence agents pinpointed Fakih’s hiding place in the village, Border Police, SWAT and IDF undercover units moved in late Tuesday night, and surrounded the building. The Israeli troops called on Fakih to surrender, but he refused and instead began shooting with a rifle. The Israeli soldiers returned fire.
An elderly Palestinian woman, apparently Fakih’s grandmother, then emerged from the building. She was taken away to receive medical treatment for light shrapnel injuries.
But as Fakih still refused to surrender and continued to fire on the troops, the IDF applied its so-called “pressure cooker” tactic, a steady increase in intensity and power of weapons brought to bear on the building.
The stand-off continued for several hours, during which IDF troops directed intense gunfire as well as “Simon” door-breaching rifle grenades at the building, followed by a TOW anti-tank missile and five anti-tank rockets. The rockets caused significant damage to the building.
Finally, an IDF armored bulldozer was brought in to demolish the remaining walls of the three-story building. Fakir refused to emerge even as the structure collapsed around him and killed him.
In the pre-dawn hours, forces found his body as they combed the remains of the building. At his side was a weapons belt with an improvised hand grenade, a Kalashnikov rifle, and magazines of bullets.
Forces also stormed adjacent buildings and arrested others suspected of helping to conceal Fakih.
Kfir Brigade soldiers secured the area of the building during the operation, as hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets in protest. The protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the security forces, who responded with riot-dispersal measures. Officials from the Palestinian Red Crescent said six people were wounded by rubber bullets.
The Israeli troops finally left the area at around 6 a.m. No injuries were reported among the Israel forces.
Israel had previously jailed Fakih for planning terror attacks against its nationals. Although originally a member of the Islamic Jihad terror group, he switched his allegiance to Hamas while in prison.
The Mark family on Wednesday thanked the IDF for finding the rabbi’s killer.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.