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Tense Shabbat in Elad sees armed synagogue-goers as terror suspects elude capture

Pair who killed 3 on Thursday are thought to still be in area surrounding central Israeli city; thousands of police officers deployed nationwide, with focus on entertainment venues

The scene where three people were murdered in a terrorist attack in Elad, on May 6, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
The scene where three people were murdered in a terrorist attack in Elad, on May 6, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Some worshippers with gun licenses heeded calls to bring their weapons to synagogue in Elad on Friday and Saturday, amid fears of further attacks by the perpetrators, still at large, of a deadly killing spree in the central city on Thursday.

Police officials have indicated that the two terrorists, who killed three men when they carried out the axe and knife attack at a central park and nearby road in Elad Thursday night, may still be in the area.

Channel 13 news reported those worries led some worshipers in the predominantly Haredi city to bring weapons to synagogue.

In a rare statement on a matter outside of religious law, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel on Friday called on Orthodox Jews to arm themselves when they attend synagogue over the weekend.

“Due to the tense security situation, those with a license to carry a weapon… should bring it to the synagogue and help secure the public,” Yosef said in a statement. The chief rabbi’s statement asked those with firearms to conceal them while in synagogues for “modesty” reasons. Many Orthodox Jews believe it is inappropriate to openly display weapons inside synagogues.

In March, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Israelis with gun licenses to carry their weapons with them following a deadly attack in Bnei Brak, and other officials have also encouraged civilians to arm themselves.

Security forces believe that Palestinian suspects As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir, 20, are still in the area surrounding Elad, with searches concentrating on forested areas.

Subhi Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir (L) and As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i named as main suspects in Elad terror attack on May 5, 2022. (Israel Police)

Specialized units are leading the manhunt, with support from the Shin Bet security agency, the Israel Defense Forces and police, Channel 13 said. Helicopters and drones are also being used in the operation.

Authorities believe al-Rifa’i and Abu Shqeir had worked in Elad before and were familiar with the area. The suspects had no history of terror activity or affiliation with terror groups, Army Radio reported.

Officials said Friday that the pair was transported from the West Bank barrier to the Israeli city by one of their victims — Oren Ben Yiftah, a 35-year-old driver from Lod.

Upon arriving, according to a statement from a security agency on condition of anonymity, the two attacked Ben Yiftah, killing him.

From there, they headed up Ibn Gvirol street where they killed Elad residents Yonatan Havakuk and Boaz Gol. All three victims were fathers in their 30s or 40s who left behind a combined 16 children. The three men were all buried on Friday.

The victims of the Elad terror attack on May 5, 2022, from left to right; Boaz Gol, Yonatan Havakuk and Oren Ben Yiftah. (Courtesy)

According to Hebrew-language media reports, Ben Yiftah did not know the pair were in Israel illegally. He had transported them at least 10 times in the past to work in the ultra-Orthodox city, and was unaware of their attack plans.

Though technically illegal, a number of Israeli drivers work transporting Palestinian day laborers who sneak in from the West Bank to job sites around the country.

Breaches in the West Bank security barrier used by workers have been utilized by terrorists responsible for a number of attacks inside Israel in recent weeks, leading to vows from defense officials that the gaps will be repaired and the wall better guarded. Several of the attackers have originated in the northern West Bank, leading the army to concentrate efforts near there.

Elad, a town of some 50,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox residents east of Tel Aviv, sits three kilometers (two miles) from the Green Line dividing Israel and the West Bank.

Police were also searching for the two in the nearby city of Rosh Ha’ayin, the city said in a statement.

And searches were additionally taking place in Rantis, a Palestinian town just on the other side of the West Bank security barrier, and in industrial zones in the area, where the two could be hiding in warehouses or factories emptied of people for the weekend, Haaretz reported.

Israeli security and rescue personnel work at the scene of a terror attack in Elad, on May 5, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Meanwhile, police have stepped up their presence across the country, Channel 13 news reported, with a particular emphasis on entertainment and leisure venues on Saturday.

The operation was announced by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and will involve thousands of officers deployed over the coming days. The report said it was expected the operation will continue indefinitely.

Police told the broadcaster that it was a “special and intensified concentration of effort” in the wake of a series of deadly attacks.

The three fatalities on Thursday brought the number of people killed in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank since March 22 this year, to 19.

The killing of the three men is part of a wave of terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, and came amid repeated threats by Palestinian terror groups over tensions surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The compound is considered the holiest place in Judaism, as it is believed to be the site where the first and second Jewish Temples once stood. It also houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

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.

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