Israeli security forces on Thursday dismissed their initial suspicion that a deadly stabbing attack earlier in the day in the West Bank was a failed kidnapping attempt, instead deeming it a premeditated murder.
In the predawn hours of Thursday morning, the lifeless body of Dvir Sorek, a yeshiva student just shy of his 19th birthday, 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’d lost contact with him after he traveled to Jerusalem, where he’d 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 the bus stop near the Gush Etzion Junction toward the back entrance of the Migdal Oz settlement.
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 attack on the side of the road. He had not been pulled into the vehicle, as was initially suspected. His body was found at approximately 3 a.m., some 200 meters from his yeshiva.
It was not immediately clear if the attack, which was believed to have been a premeditated act rather than a crime of opportunity, 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 itself, it was also not immediately clear if there were other people inside the car who assisted in the terror attack.
The Israel Defense Forces 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.
After Sorek’s body was found, the Shin Bet, assisted by the IDF and Israel Police, launched a massive search throughout the area, initially focusing efforts in the nearby Palestinian village of Bait Fajjar, which is adjacent to Migdal Oz. Palestinian media reported that soldiers confiscated surveillance camera footage from area businesses in an apparent effort to track the escape route of the assailants.
The initial hours of a manhunt are considered the most critical, as the more time that passes gives suspects more opportunities to hide.
Following the attack, the military brought additional infantry troops into the West Bank, both to assist in the search and to provide protection in case the assailants attempt to conduct another attack or if others attempt to carry out a copycat attack.
The IDF said it would not comment on how many troops were being brought into the area.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi visited the scene of the attack 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 demolitions carried out by Israel last month.
“The Etzion operation is the greatest response to the talk of attempts to annex the occupied West Bank to the occupation,” a Hamas spokesperson said in a statement.
“The heroic operation is a natural response to the occupation’s terrorism and crimes at the expense of our people, land and holy sites. It is the right of our people to push back against the destruction and demolition of citizens’ homes in Wadi Hummus, a crime that requires a painful and deterring response,” PIJ wrote in a statement on its website.
In recent months, the Shin Bet security service 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 who were operating under the instruction of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and who were 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.
“Security forces are now engaged in a manhunt to catch the reprehensible terrorist and settle the score,” said Netanyahu, who is also defense minister.
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.