The Israeli military said Sunday that troops were operating in the West Bank town of Rummanah, the hometown of two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a deadly terror attack late last week, in order to map out their residences ahead of a potential demolition.
As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Sbeihat, 20, were arrested Sunday morning in a forested area near the central Israeli city of Elad, about a kilometer from the scene of the attack.
Al-Rifa’i confessed to security forces that he committed the axe attack with Sbeihat, killing Oren Ben Yiftah, a 35-year-old driver from Lod, and Elad residents Yonatan Havakuk and Boaz Gol, both in their 40s.
A Rummanah resident said in a phone call with The Times of Israel that there were dozens of soldiers in the town. “The whole town is full of jeeps and dozens of soldiers. They’ve encircled the whole area. The atmosphere is tense,” he said.
The two are accused of hacking three Israelis to death with an axe in Elad, a mostly ultra-Orthodox city on Thursday. A knife was also believed to have been used in the attack.
Over the course of the manhunt, troops followed bloodstains believed to have been from injuries the pair sustained during the attack. Several of the victims fought with the terrorists, according to medical and security officials.
“We identified a clump of weeds in the thicket, moving at a breathing rate. We realized the terrorists were there. We surprised them, pulled them out, and they did not resist,” said Second Lt. Yud — who can only be identified by his first Hebrew initial — a deputy commander of a company in the IDF’s elite Maglan unit.
Yud said their camouflaged hideout was “not bad at all, but they still stood out to us.”
“They were in total shock and completely exhausted,” he said.
Officials had said they believed the terrorists were still in the area and had not managed to flee to the West Bank. On Saturday evening, forces found an item soaked in blood and a tree with evidence that it had been hit with an axe, further strengthening their assessment that the pair were still near Elad, Channel 12 news reported.
An axe apparently used in the attack was located near where the pair were arrested.
Israel regularly demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out deadly terror attacks as a matter of policy. The efficacy of the policy has been hotly debated even within the Israeli security establishment, while human rights activists denounce the practice as unjust collective punishment.
Tensions have risen sharply between Israel and the Palestinians in recent months against the backdrop of repeated terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank that have left 19 dead.
The Israeli army stepped up its West Bank activities in an attempt to crack down on the spiraling violence. The ensuing raids sparked clashes that left at least 27 Palestinians dead since mid-March. Many of those took part in the clashes, while others appeared to have been civilians.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.