The body of a yeshiva student who had been stabbed to death was discovered outside a settlement in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank in the predawn hours of Thursday morning, prompting a massive manhunt for the killer.
The victim, who was later identified Dvir Sorek of the Ofra settlement, was studying at the Machanayim religious seminary in the Migdal Oz settlement, and had joined the military while continuing his studies, in a program known in Hebrew as hesder. Though formally a soldier, he was unarmed and not in uniform at the time of the attack, nor had he undergone military training.
Authorities were treating the killing as a terror attack. As of Thursday morning, no Palestinian terror group took responsibility for the killing.
The 19-year-old had been missing since Wednesday evening. His family and people at the yeshiva where he was studying told authorities that they’d lost contact with Sorek as he was returning to the seminary after a trip to Jerusalem. Sorek’s body was found at approximately 3 a.m. along a road leading to Migdal Oz, a settlement south of Bethlehem.
“He went to Jerusalem to buy gifts for his rabbis and on the way back there was an attack. He was found clutching the books that he’d bought,” the principal of his seminary, Rabbi Shlomo Wilk, told Army Radio.
Initial findings indicated that the off-duty soldier was not killed where his body was found, but had been abducted elsewhere, as he was walking from the nearby Gush Etzion Junction to his yeshiva, and taken away in a car. He was apparently stabbed to death after being snatched and was then left along the road just outside his yeshiva in Migdal Oz.
In part, this assessment is based on the fact that there was not large amounts of blood found around the body, indicating that he had not been stabbed there.
The military was investigating if the attack was an attempted kidnapping, similar to the abductions and murders of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, in the same area of the West Bank in June 2014. That attack by the Hamas terror group sparked over a month of intensive searches and mass arrests in the West Bank and eventually snowballed into a devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Sorek was the son of Yoav Sorek, the editor of the influential Tikvah Fund’s Shiloach Journal. He was the grandson of Rabbi Binyamin Herling, who was killed in a terror attack on October 19, 2000, shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in the Mount Ebal area near Nablus.
Sorek was posthumously promoted from private to the rank of corporal, the army said.
His funeral was scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday in the cemetery at the Ofra settlement, the IDF said.
Large numbers of troops from the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Police and Shin Bet security service were brought in to conduct searches throughout the Etzion area south of Jerusalem, the army 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 account,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister.
In recent months, the Shin Bet security service has 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.