Five Palestinians were arrested Friday in connection with a suspected terror attack in the northern Jordan Valley in which a retired IDF colonel was bludgeoned to death overnight.
The arrests came after several hours of searches and roadblocks by security forces in the area, following the early-morning killing.
IDF Chief Benny Gantz called the attack “serious” and President Shimon Peres said “no one will rest” until the perpetrators were caught.
Officials initially said they were not sure whether the attack was nationalistically motivated or criminal in nature. However, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, “We strongly believe this was a terror attack.”
Seraiah Ofer, 61, was beaten to death by men wielding metal bars and axes outside his home in the Brosh Habika vacation village, which he owned and operated, at about 1 a.m. Friday.
His wife, Monique Mor Ofer, 51, managed to escape. She was lightly injured on barbed wire before reaching a nearby highway, where she flagged down a car for help.
The attack, coming on the heels of a number of isolated incidents over the past month, drew harsh responses from politicians.
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, from the nationalist Jewish Home party, said in a statement Friday morning he would work to “enlarge and strengthen” settlement in the area.
“This is the proper Zionist response to a revolting murder,” Ariel said.
The vacation village, which was empty at the time of the attack, is located about five kilometers south of the settlement of Shadmot Mechola, in the northern Jordan Valley, a sparsely populated wilderness on the eastern edge of the West Bank.
Ofer and his wife reportedly heard noises outside the house, and when he went out to investigate, he was attacked by the men. Mor said the attackers, who used iron bars and an ax, spoke Arabic.
Ofer had served as commander of the Gaza district and in elite combat units, Mor said. He moved to the area in the 90s to invest money in tourism in the area, and became a popular local figure.
He built the Brosh Habika vacation village six years ago over an old Jordanian base, the news website reported.
Ofer’s brother, Yitzhak Ofer, a pilot, was killed exactly 40 years ago — on October 11, 1973 — while flying a mission for Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
Ariel said Ofer was a personal friend of his, and one of the best officers in the IDF.
“Ya-Ya was always the pioneer,” he said, using Ofer’s nickname. “He was like that in the IDF and he was like that in the settlement enterprise, leading many behind him to settle in the Jordan Valley, which he saw as of prime Zionist importance.”
Israel has responded to terror attacks by upping settlement activity in the past, most recently in late September, when the defense minister allowed settlers in Hebron to move into a disputed home following the killing of an Israeli soldier, Gal Kobi, thought to be from Palestinian sniper fire.
Ariel and other politicians also called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop Palestinian prisoner releases and rethink peace talks with the Palestinians in the wake of the murder, which came on the heels of a shooting of a 9-year-old girl in the Psagot settlement outside Ramallah on Saturday. Noam Glick was lightly injured in that attack.
“Again Palestinians are translating our desire for peace as weakness and are answering with murder,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud party said Friday morning.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told Israel Radio he blamed the attack on Palestinian incitement, and called on the government to reconsider peace talks and the freeing of prisoners.
On Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Palestinian television he saw any refusal to free prisoners as freeing him to go to the United Nations Security Council to lodge complaints against Israel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.