Israel sends reinforcements to West Bank after soldier is stabbed to death
Weekend military leave is cancelled as troops carry out door-to-door searches in Palestinian villages around Bethlehem
Israeli soldiers conducting a search operation in the area around Bethlehem after Israeli soldier Corporal Dvir Sorek was found dead from multiple stab wounds. Photograph: EPA/Abed al Hashlamoun
Weekend leave for soldiers was cancelled as troops carried out door-to-door searches in Palestinian villages in the area around Bethlehem where the body of the soldier was discovered by the side of the road on Thursday morning.
He had signed up to an army programme that combines compulsory military service with religious studies, and was on his way back to his yeshiva religious seminary in the settlement of Efrat, south of Jerusalem, on Wednesday night but failed to arrive. He was wearing civilian clothes and was unarmed.
Security forces “are beginning to carry out steps on the working assumption that there is a terrorist cell in the area that carried out the attack”, an Israeli army spokesman said.
The dead soldier’s grandfather was killed 19 years ago when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a group of Jewish hikers near the West Bank city of Nablus.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking at the scene of the stabbing, expressed confidence that Israel would capture the perpetrators.
“Our answer to the murderers is double: they come to destroy and we are building. Our hand will reach them and we will settle our score with them.”
He also hinted at the possibility of applying Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements.
“We promised to build hundreds of housing units – today we are doing it, both because we promised and because our mission is to establish the nation of Israel in our country, to secure our sovereignty over our historic homeland.”
Settler leaders and right-wing politicians called annexation a “fitting Zionist response” to the attack, and said such a move should begin with the Etzion bloc, south of Jerusalem, where the stabbing occurred.
Hamas welcomed the stabbing as proof of Palestinian resistance. “The attack is the most powerful response to talk of an Israeli attempt to annex the occupied West Bank,” the group said in a statement.
The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad also praised the attack as “heroic”.
Thursday’s attack coincided with the five-year anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in 2014, an incident that precipitated the second Gaza War.