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article imageManhunt after Israeli off-duty soldier killed in West Bank

By Michael Blum with Mike Smith in Jerusalem (AFP)     Aug 8, 2019 in World

An off-duty Israeli soldier was found dead with stab wounds near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Thursday in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a "terrorist" attack, sparking a manhunt.

Details were still emerging of the killing, but it risked raising Israeli-Palestinian tensions weeks ahead of September 17 Israeli polls.

It occurred between Bethlehem and the flashpoint city of Hebron in the West Bank.

"Today in the early morning hours, a soldier's body was found with stabbing marks on it adjacent to a (Jewish) community north of Hebron," the Israeli army said in a statement.

It later described it as a "terror attack" and identified the man killed as Dvir Sorek, 19. An army spokeswoman said he was not in uniform at the time.

Israeli media reported that one possibility being investigated was that it was a botched kidnapping attempt.

Israeli forces carried out a house-to-house search in the nearby town of Beit Fajjar following the a...
Israeli forces carried out a house-to-house search in the nearby town of Beit Fajjar following the attack

Troops, police and the Shin Bet intelligence agency searched the area, notably the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Fajjar.

The army said it was sending reinforcements to the West Bank.

Netanyahu called it "a serious stabbing attack."

"Security forces are now in pursuit to capture the lowly terrorist and settle accounts with him," he said in a statement.

In a visit to the Israeli settlement of Beit El near Ramallah in the West Bank, Netanyahu again spoke of the attack and pledged more settlement building.

He later visited the site where the body was found.

The newly drafted soldier was a student at a Jewish seminary in the settlement of Migdal Oz, near where the body was found. He was from the settlement of Ofra.

The newly drafted 18-year-old soldier was a student at a Jewish seminary
The newly drafted 18-year-old soldier was a student at a Jewish seminary

He was in a programme that combined military service with religious study, the seminary head told Israeli public radio.

"The soldier left for Jerusalem during the afternoon to buy a gift for his teachers," rabbi Shlomo Wilk said.

"He was in contact half an hour before he was murdered. He was on the bus to the yeshiva.

"About 100 metres (yards) from the bus stop, before he entered the settlement, he was murdered."

His father Yoav Sorek, speaking to local media, said "Dvir had light in his eyes, and someone with murder in his eyes killed him."

Israeli media reported that the victim's grandfather was also killed in an attack in 2000.

- 'Dead or alive' -

Israeli police blocked access to the area around where the body was found on Thursday morning and medics were at the scene, an AFP correspondent reported.

The body appeared to have been found around 30 to 40 metres outside the gate of the settlement.

In Beit Fajjar, dozens of Israeli security personnel arrived in around 20 vehicles and went house-to-house while seizing security camera footage, an AFP correspondent reported.

Low-level clashes broke out between residents and the Israeli forces before they withdrew later in the day.

Palestinian attacks against Israeli security forces and settlers occur sporadically in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967.

Such attacks, and the Israeli arrest raids that follow, often stoke tensions.

Thursday's incident came at a sensitive time, with Israel heading towards a general election on September 17. It also occurred just ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

Israelis embrace near the site where the soldier's body was found
Israelis embrace near the site where the soldier's body was found

Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid a major flare-up in either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip before the election, but he is likely to face political pressure to act firmly.

His main challenger, ex-armed forces chief Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Alliance, spoke in stark terms.

"The (military) and Israeli security forces will know how to get their hands on these loathsome terrorists, dead or alive," he said in a statement.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, as well as its ally Islamic Jihad welcomed the attack.

"We salute our heroic people's fighters who carried out the heroic operation that killed a soldier in the occupation's army," a Hamas statement said.

Around 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem next to some three million Palestinians.

Netanyahu pledged in April to annex settlements in the West Bank, which would be a deeply controversial move.

Annexing settlements on a large-scale could be the death knell to already fading hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Earlier this week, Israel advanced plans for more than 2,300 settlement homes, leading to firm criticism from the UN envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nickolay Mladenov.

He said settlement expansion was a "flagrant violation of international law" and called for it to "cease immediately and completely."

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