ELAD, (Israel): Israeli forces on Sunday arrested two Palestinians suspected of axing to death three Israelis, after a more than two-day manhunt, the latest in a spate of deadly attacks.
The security services — who previously identified the suspects as Assad Yussef al-Rifai, 19, and Subhi Imad Abu Shukair, 20 — said the pair were spotted hiding in a bush near a quarry, just outside the central town of Elad, where the axe attack took place on Thursday.
“We said we would get the terrorists, and so we did,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said ahead of his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
The deadly attack in Elad, populated by mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews, was the sixth in which Israelis have been targeted since March 22.
Witnesses said two assailants leapt from a car swinging axes at passers-by, leaving three dead and four wounded, before fleeing in the same vehicle.
The manhunt included the police, domestic security agency and the army, along with helicopters and drones, the security forces said.
An Israeli military official said bloody cash notes, presumably dropped by the suspects in flight, helped lead the trail to where they were hiding.
Forces scanning the area noticed a bush “that looked a bit different”, said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
“When they got closer they saw the bush moving up and down, like a breathing movement,” the official said.
The suspects surrendered and confessed during initial questioning, the official said.
Israel has identified the three dead as Yonatan Habakuk, 44, and Boaz Gol, 49, both from Elad, as well as Oren Ben Yiftach, 35.
The perpetrators had entered Israel from the occupied West Bank through the porous security barrier hours before the attack, the official said, calling their infiltration a “failure” of the army.
The bloodshed unfolded as Israel marked the 74th anniversary of its founding, which has previously been a tense day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For Palestinians, the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence marks the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, when more than 700,000 fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel’s creation.
The Elad killings followed a tense period in which the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter overlapped.
Tensions have boiled over into violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a highly contested site in Jerusalem’s Israeli-annexed Old City.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had condemned the Elad attacks, warning that the murder of Israeli civilians risked fuelling a broader cycle of violence.
But the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas praised the attack — as did the Gaza-based Islamic jihad armed group — calling it a consequence of unrest at Al-Aqsa.
The Islamic Jihad called the attackers “heroes” and said their arrest would not “discourage” people from continuing their violent resistance.
Hamas said the attack “demonstrates our people’s anger at the occupation’s attacks on holy sites”.
Last week Hamas threatened Israel with rocket fire and attacks on synagogues if its security forces carry out further raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
“Whoever has a rifle must have it ready, and whoever does not have a rifle must prepare their knife or their axe,” said Yahya Sinwar, Hamas chief in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.
A string of anti-Israeli attacks since March 22 have killed 18 people, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.
Two of the deadly attacks were carried out in the Tel Aviv area by Palestinians.
A total of 27 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.