IDF still combing Hebron for sniper who killed soldier

Defense minister vows to apprehend culprits; Netanyahu approves settler return to controversial property in the city

Israeli soldiers stand near the scene of a shooting in the city of Hebron on September 22, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers stand near the scene of a shooting in the city of Hebron on September 22, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli security forces searched Hebron throughout Sunday night and into Monday morning in a hunt for a sniper who shot dead an IDF soldier, the second serviceman to die at the hands of Palestinian attackers in the West Bank in as many days.

Two suspects were reportedly arrested overnight and two hunting rifles confiscated in the course of the IDF’s operations in the city.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon expressed his condolences to the family of Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi, 20, from Tirat HaCarmel, who was shot in the neck at an IDF checkpoint near Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs on Sunday night and succumbed to his wounds in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Ya’alon vowed to apprehend the perpetrators of the shooting.

“The IDF and the 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.”

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. The attacks came amid US-led peace efforts that resumed in July after a nearly three-year hiatus in negotiations.

The IDF said it does not believe the incidents show 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.

“Our assessment remains: These are pinpoint 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 Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio Monday morning.

In the wake of the killing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the immediate resettlement of Beit Hamachpela, a building settlers claim near the Tomb of the Patriarchs which was previously sealed by order of the Defense Ministry.

“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 settlements with the other.”

An Israeli source in Hebron had said earlier in the evening that the city’s Jewish community was pressuring politicians to approve the resettlement of Beit Hamachpela. The building made headlines in March 2012 after settlers made a clandestine move to occupy it.

Gan Gabriel Kobi (photo credit: Facebook)
Gan Gabriel Kobi (photo credit: Facebook)

At the time, settlers produced paperwork showing that the building was purchased from local Palestinians, but the Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry demanded the eviction of the occupants. In July, a military appeals committee ruled that the disputed building had indeed been legally purchased and that there was no reason to prevent the Israelis from living in it.

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.

The controversial Beit Hamachpela in Hebron (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The controversial Beit Hamachpela in Hebron (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As part of the renewed talks, Israel agreed to release more than 100 Palestinian terror convicts from its jails in four phases. A first phase of releases went ahead last month, and another is due shortly.

The West Bank settler lobby Yesha Council called on the government to cease talks with the Palestinian Authority immediately, and stop releasing Palestinian terrorists.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) argued, however, that negotiations are the best response to extremists from either side. He deplored that what he called the attempt by right-wing radicals to take advantage of the pain of Kobi’s family.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton responded to Kobi’s death Sunday, saying, “The EU regrets the loss of life, urges for maximum restraint and reiterates its call to all parties to refrain from actions that could undermine the negotiation process and the prospects of peace.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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