Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said Israel’s security forces were hot on the heels of the terrorists who carried out a deadly stabbing attack in the West Bank on Wednesday night.
“We are going to catch these murderers,” Netanyahu said in a Facebook video message, referring to the assailants who fled the scene after stabbing to death yeshiva student Dvir Sorek, 18, in the Etzion Bloc.
“According to a briefing I received a short while ago, we are on our way. It won’t take very long,” added Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister.
Also on Friday, Palestinian media reports said that Israeli troops had found and confiscated the vehicle used in the attack in the village of Beit Fajar and arrested the car’s owner.
The Israel Defense Forces had no immediate comment on the reports.
In an effort to locate the terrorists who carried out the Wednesday night attack outside the Migdal Oz settlement, the Shin Bet security service, assisted by the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, launched a massive manhunt in the surrounding area on Thursday morning and the military deployed additional troops throughout the West Bank.
The military fears the terrorists may attempt to carry out additional attacks or serve as inspiration for other would-be attackers. These concerns were especially heightened in light of the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av on Sunday.
Initially, the search effort focused on the Palestinian village of Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem, which is adjacent to Migdal Oz. Palestinian media reported that soldiers confiscated surveillance camera footage from businesses in the town in an apparent effort to track the escape route of the assailants.
On Thursday night and early Friday morning, security forces expanded their operations to the Palestinian town of Halhul, north of Hebron, according to Palestinian media.
Security forces were also reportedly concerned the terror cell behind the deadly stabbing attack may have split up, making the search effort more difficult. The group is believed to be getting assistance in evading capture.
The lifeless body of Sorek, who would have turned 19 next week, was found covered in stab wounds outside the Machanayim religious seminary in the Migdal Oz settlement, near Bethlehem, where he was studying as part of a military program known in Hebrew as hesder.
On Wednesday night, Sorek’s family and people from the yeshiva told authorities that they lost contact with him after he traveled to Jerusalem, where he had purchased a number of books as end-of-term presents for his rabbis.
Investigators found that Sorek returned to the area from Jerusalem shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday and began walking from his bus stop near the Efrat settlement toward the back entrance of Migdal Oz.
As he was walking along the path, an assailant got out of a car and attacked Sorek. His body was found a short distance from the site of the stabbing, on the side of the road — and some 200 meters from his yeshiva — at approximately 3 a.m. on Thursday. He had not been pulled into the vehicle, as was initially suspected.
Sorek’s funeral was held in the Ofra settlement’s cemetery late Thursday night, drawing thousands of people, where he was eulogized by his father Yoav as “a gift that spread light and goodness both inside the family and outside it.”
On Thursday evening, Israeli security forces dismissed their initial suspicion that the deadly stabbing attack was a failed kidnapping attempt, instead deeming it a premeditated murder.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by members of a terror group or by unaffiliated terrorists.
Though only one person is believed to have carried out the stabbing, an as-yet unknown number of people were in the car and assisted in the attack.
The IDF refused to publicly comment on details of the case because it is still under investigation. A court also placed many details of the attack under a gag order.
Netanyahu and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi visited the scene of the attack on Thursday and spoke with the commanders leading the search effort.
As of Thursday night, no one had taken responsibility for killing Sorek. However, two of the largest Palestinian terror groups — Hamas and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad — praised the attack and indicated it was a response to a recent wave of East Jerusalem demolitions carried out by Israel last month.
In recent months, the Shin Bet warned that the Gaza-based Hamas has put considerable effort and resources into recruiting operatives to carry out attacks in the West Bank and Israel.
“A number of Hamas military cells have been uncovered in the Judea and Samaria area in recent weeks, operating under the instruction of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and planning to carry out terror attacks against Israeli and Palestinian Authority targets,” the Shin Bet said Tuesday.
“The operatives in the West Bank were instructed to form cells in order to carry out kidnappings, shootings and stabbings, purchase weaponry, and find and recruit additional operatives for terrorist activities,” the security service said.
The killing, which came amid a period of relative calm in the West Bank, drew swift and furious responses from Israeli leaders.
Sorek was the son of Yoav Sorek, the editor of the influential Tikvah Fund’s Shiloach Journal, and the grandson of Rabbi Binyamin Herling, who was killed in a terror attack on October 19, 2000 in the northern West Bank.