Sgt.-Maj Yehoshua Sofer, 39, who had been serving in the Hebron region for 14 years, was shot in the stomach and died. He was due to marry his fiancee in about three months.
Haaretz quotes Israeli security sources saying the terrorists drove to the site on the road connecting Otniel to Beit Hagai. They walked to the ambush location where they took up positions and opened fire on the vehicle. Searches of the area after the attack resulted in the finding of a car that had been abandoned set alight. The nearby village of Dir Ibzah was placed under curfew because evidence suggests the shooters escaped through the area. In the nearby town of Dura, a force of Palestinian security is based; the exit roads from that town have also been shut down while searches go on.
Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayad condemned yesterday's attack saying variously (according to Haaretz) he is "opposed to violence" and (this source) it "harms the Palestinian cause". Ma'an News Agency quotes him saying such acts might bring back a "cycle of violence" that would only serve the "perpetuation of the Israeli settlement scheme."
Credit for the ambush and murder was claimed Monday evening by the Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the terror group that answers to Palestinian Authority prime minister Fayyad's boss, Mahmoud Abbas. Maan, a Fatah-connected news service, says the underlying cause was a need to exact retribution for the shooting deaths of nine Turkish nationals aboard an aid ship bound for Gaza.
A competing claim was put in (according to the Jerusalem Post) by an unknown group calling itself, absurdly, the Flotilla Martyrs. They released a statement saying they refuse to recognize any cease-fire and they vow to continue their attacks. [As if there has ever been peace during this ongoing war.]
We have mentioned the al-Aqsa Martyrs before. For the record, the predecssor of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, left little room for doubt about the affiliation when he said this six years ago:
"We have clearly declared that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are part of Fatah. We are committed to them and Fatah bears full responsibility for the group... The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, military wing of the Fatah movement will not be dissolved and Fatah will never relinquish its military wing."The Israeli assessment, according to IDF sources, is that the shooter is likely a lone operator or a local cell operating on its own, without direction or backing from a larger group. Terrorism in this area in recent years has trended towards attacks by individuals, but keep in mind this was the fifth major shooting assult in the West Bank, and Sofer is the first Israeli killed, so far this year.
In 2009, four Israelis were killed in attacks in the West Bank.
- In March 2009, two Judea and Samaria police officers, Yehezkel Ramazreger and David Rabinovitch, were shot dead in the Jordan Valley in a terrorist ambush. The policemen had stopped to provide assistance to a Palestinian terrorist who pretended that his car had broken down.
- An NCO in the Kfir Brigade was stabbed to death by a PA police officer as he sat in his car.
- And Rabbi Meir Hai, a resident of the settlement of Shavei Shomron, who was shot to death in December.
Beit Haggai is home to a youth village which has provided a home, education, and services for dozens of special-needs children. During the First Intifada, several residents of Beit Haggai were killed in shooting attacks near the village. Three residents were killed on the roads leading into and out of Beit Hagai during the far-more-deadly period of the Arafat War, misleadingly called the Second Intifada, that started on Jewish New Year in the year 2000. The population of the village doubled, and today it has some 95 families.