As the hunt for the perpetrators behind the deadly terror attack in Elad on Thursday neared the 48-hour mark, security officials have reportedly begun expanding the search from the area immediately around the central city to also include a number of nearby Arab communities and the area of the West Bank security barrier.
A senior police official told the Ynet news site on Saturday that “as the hours go by, we are focusing more efforts on intelligence, even though we are still continuing our searches with large forces on the ground and in the air.”
The report said security services were hoping that Palestinian suspects As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir, 20, would soon make an error and expose their whereabouts. Both are from the village Rumana outside Jenin in the northern West Bank.
Suggested scenarios included the two moving to a new location, or seeking assistance from relatives or local residents.
The intensive search for the two terrorists who carried out the axe and knife attack at a central park and nearby road in Elad Thursday night comes amid concerns the pair may attack again.
Security forces initially said they believed the two were still in the area surrounding Elad, with searches concentrating on forested areas.
However, the manhunt has now been expanded to a number of Arab communities in the vicinity of the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city, the Ynet news site reported.
Unnamed officials told the site that it is still believed to be most likely that the two suspects had remained in Israel. Forces were now searching in the Wadi Ara region, where a number of Arab towns are located in the north of the country, according to the report.
The report said troops were also keeping a close eye on the so-called “seam zone” area along the security barrier in case the two Palestinians tried to return to the West Bank.
Police were also searching in the nearby city of Rosh Ha’ayin, the city said in a statement on Friday.
And searches were additionally taking place in Rantis, a Palestinian town just on the other side of the West Bank security barrier, and in industrial zones in the area, where the two could be hiding in warehouses or factories emptied of people for the prolonged holiday weekend, Haaretz reported.
According to reports, specialized police units are leading the manhunt, with support from the Shin Bet security agency and the Israel Defense Forces. Canine units, helicopters, and drones are also being used in the operation.
Authorities believe al-Rifa’i and Abu Shqeir had worked in Elad before and were familiar with the area. The suspects had no history of terror activity or affiliation with terror groups, Army Radio reported Saturday.
Officials said Friday that the pair was transported from the West Bank barrier to the Israeli city by one of their victims — Oren Ben Yiftah, a 35-year-old driver from Lod.
Upon arriving in Elad, according to a statement from a security agency on condition of anonymity, the two attacked Ben Yiftah, killing him.
From there, they headed up Ibn Gvirol street where they killed Elad residents Yonatan Havakuk and Boaz Gol. All three victims were fathers in their 30s or 40s who left behind a combined 16 children. The three men were all buried on Friday.
According to Hebrew-language media reports, Ben Yiftah did not know the pair were in Israel illegally. He had transported them at least 10 times in the past to work in the ultra-Orthodox city and was unaware of their attack plans.
Though technically illegal, a number of Israeli drivers work transporting Palestinian day laborers who enter Israel from the West Bank to job sites around the country.
Breaches in the West Bank security barrier used by workers have been utilized by terrorists responsible for a number of attacks inside Israel in recent weeks, leading to vows from defense officials that the gaps will be repaired and the wall better guarded. Several of the attackers have originated in the northern West Bank, leading the army to concentrate efforts near there.
Elad, a town of some 50,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox residents east of Tel Aviv, sits three kilometers (two miles) from the Green Line dividing Israel and the West Bank.
Meanwhile, police have stepped up their presence across the country, Channel 13 news reported, with a particular emphasis on entertainment and leisure venues on Saturday.
The operation was announced by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and will involve thousands of officers deployed over the coming days. The report said it was expected the operation will continue indefinitely.
Police told the broadcaster that it was a “special and intensified concentration of effort” in the wake of a series of deadly attacks.
The three fatalities on Thursday brought the number of people killed in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank since March 22 this year, to 19.
The killing of the three men is part of a wave of terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks and came amid repeated threats by Palestinian terror groups over tensions surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The compound is considered the holiest place in Judaism, as the site where the first and second Jewish Temples once stood. It also houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
In the wake of the attack, Israeli security officials extended until Sunday the closure of the West Bank and Gaza — which was put in place on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of Memorial Day and Independence Day, and had been supposed to end overnight Thursday-Friday.