As a massive manhunt continued Friday morning for the perpetrators of a deadly terror attack in the central city of Elad a day earlier, police said they had identified the main suspects as two Palestinian young men from a village near the West Bank city of Jenin.
According to police, the security services believe that As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir, 20, both from Rumana, are the two terrorists who carried out the attack in Elad.
They called on the public to provide any information as to the whereabouts of the two men.
According to Army Radio, the two have not been previously involved in terror activities, have not served time in jail and are not thought to be affiliated with any terror organization.
Hebrew media reports said the two entered Israel illegally through a breach in the West Bank security barrier. They are believed to have been familiar with the central Israeli city and may have worked there.
The three victims of the terror attack were named early Friday as Yonatan Havakuk, Boaz Gol and Oren Ben Yiftah, all young fathers who between them leave behind 16 children.
According to eyewitnesses, two terrorists attacked several people with an axe and a knife on Thursday evening at a central park and a nearby road in the largely ultra-Orthodox city.
At least one of the wounded was in critical condition, and up to seven were hurt in the attack.
The attack came at the end of Israel’s Independence Day, and took place minutes after celebratory events had concluded, with the park crowded with Israelis enjoying the national holiday.
Police launched a manhunt for the two suspects and blocked off several roads in the area.
In a statement, a police spokesperson said a helicopter was being used to search for a vehicle that had fled the scene.
Central District Police Chief, Superintendent Avi Bitton, said Thursday evening that security services believed the terrorists were still in the area where they carried out the attack.
However, the mayor of Elad, Meir Porush, told the Kan public broadcaster on Friday that studies would go ahead as usual in the city, but that there would be increased security patrols.
One witness to the attack said he and a friend fought off the terrorists by throwing hot cholent, a traditional Sabbath stew, on them.
“I was sitting in the car with my friend and we were eating cholent,” the man, who identified himself as Dovid, told the Hebrew-language ultra-Orthodox website BeHadrei Hadarim.
“The terrorists, carrying huge axes, came on both sides of the car. My friend threw his boiling hot cholent on one of the terrorists and he got burned and stopped. In the meantime, I grabbed the end of his axe and managed to push him away,” he continued. “He flew back three steps. And then the second terrorist tried to hit my friend again but my friend pushed him back and they fled.”
“Praise God we were saved. The terrorists saw that we were fighting back and they fled,” Dovid added.
Cholent is a slow-cooked stew of beans and meat that is traditionally eaten on the Jewish Sabbath and is also a popular Thursday night meal in some sections of the ultra-Orthodox community.
Elad, a town of some 50,000 residents, is located a short distance to the west of the West Bank security barrier, which has been frequently breached by terrorists carrying out attacks.
In addition to the suspects in the Elad attack, the perpetrators of the recent deadly attacks in Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv also hailed from Jenin and its environs.
Thursday’s attack followed a wave of terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, and repeated threats by Palestinian terror groups over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
It brought the number of people killed in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank since March 22 this year, to 19.
In an attempt to crack down on the spiraling violence, the army has stepped up its West Bank activities with raids sparking clashes that have left at least 26 Palestinians dead. Many of those took part in the clashes, while others appeared to have been civilians.
Senior security officials held a number of situational assessments throughout the evening and overnight.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that security forces would get to the terrorists, no matter where they are.
“Our enemies have embarked on a murderous campaign against Jews wherever they are. Their goal is to break our spirit but they will fail,” Bennett said. “We will get our hands on the terrorists and those who aid and abet them and ensure they pay the price. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of those who were murdered.”
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.
Earlier Thursday, Palestinians clashed with police on the Temple Mount after the site was reopened for Jews after the two-week closure. Hamas had threatened to retaliate if Jewish visitors were allowed to “storm” the holy site.
Palestinian terror groups praised the attack, although none immediately took responsibility.
Islamic Jihad praised the Elad attack as a “heroic operation.”
The Hamas terror group also said the attack was “a heroic operation” in response to Jewish Israelis visiting the Temple Mount holy site earlier Thursday.
Hundreds visited the flashpoint hilltop, which is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third-holiest, for the first time since Passover. The site was closed to Jewish visitors for the end of Ramadan.
In a speech last Saturday, Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar threatened violent consequences should Israelis continue visiting the site.
He also urged Palestinians to strike Israelis with whatever they had — including axes. “Let everyone who has a rifle, ready it. And if you don’t have a rifle, ready your cleaver or an axe, or a knife,” Sinwar said.
Palestinians and Israeli forces have clashed repeatedly at the Temple Mount over the past few weeks. The violence echoed scenes from last year when rioting at the site helped spark a war between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups led by Hamas.
Ever since the May 2021 war, Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has threatened to fire rockets at Israel if it violated the organization’s “red lines” in Jerusalem. The terror group has hailed its “deterrence” against Israel in the contested capital as a key achievement of the war, which wrought widespread destruction in Gaza.
Emanuel Fabian and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.