JERUSALEM – A Palestinian lured an Israeli soldier to a village in the West Bank and killed him with the intention of trading the body for his brother jailed for terror attacks, Israel’s intelligence agency said Saturday, in a slaying that casts another shadow on U.S. mediated peace talks that restarted this summer.
The killing further sours the atmosphere for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which resumed in July for the first time in nearly five years. The deaths of several Palestinians in Israeli raids in the West Bank intended to detain militants involved in attacks has also caused tensions, with the Palestinian side canceling one session last month in response. Israel has made its security concerns a top priority in talks.
The 20-year-old soldier was reported missing late Friday and Israeli forces began looking for him, the Shin Bet intelligence agency said. The search led the troops to Nidal Amar, a 42-year-old Palestinian from Beit Amin village near the city of Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank.
Amar was arrested and confessed to killing the soldier, whom he knew because they worked at the same restaurant in the coastal city of Bat Yam in central Israel, the agency said. The military identified the slain soldier as Sgt. Tomer Hazan from Bat Yam.
According to Shin Bet, the Palestinian recounted how he had picked up Hazan in a taxi on Friday after convincing him to accept a ride. He took the Israeli to an open field, killed him and hid his body in a well, the agency said.
Israeli forces raided Amar’s home early Saturday, interrogating and arresting Amar and his brother.
Shin Bet said Amar confessed to intending to trade Hazan’s body for another brother, in an Israeli jail since 2003 for his role in several terror attacks. He then showed the Israeli forces where the body was hidden.
The agency did not say how Amar convinced the soldier to join him on the ride Friday.
A senior military official said initial investigations suggested that Palestinian individuals planned the attack on their own, not on the orders of any militant groups. The official did not elaborate on who else may have been involved in the plot besides Amar. The jailed brother had been involved in shootings and bombings, the official said.
Hazan had a non-combat position in the air force and had an arrangement allowing him to hold a job outside the military — at the restaurant, where he knew the Palestinian, the official said. He was killed with a “cold weapon” — meaning, not a firearm — but the official would not disclose the exact weapon used. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Such cases are rare, but it is not the first instance of Palestinians abducting Israeli soldiers, sometimes killing them afterward. The military has a long standing campaign warning soldiers not to accept rides from strangers.
In 2001, a Palestinian woman lured an Israeli teenage boy over the Internet to the West Bank where he was murdered by waiting Palestinian militants.
The woman, Amna Muna, was released in 2011 along with over a thousand other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, held captive in Gaza by Hamas-allied militants.
That deal was the most lopsided prisoner swap in Israel’s history. The country was at the time torn between freeing Palestinians involved in bloody attacks like bus bombings and bringing a soldier back home. It still touches a raw nerve in Israel. Yitzhak Ilan, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, told channel 10 TV that by finding Hazan’s body quickly, a wider strategic incident was averted because it meant the soldier’s remains couldn’t be used as a bargaining chip, as in some past cases.
Ilan said Israel has thwarted dozens of abduction attempts by Palestinians in recent years.
Israel is holding about 5,000 Palestinian prisoners on charges ranging from rock throwing to deadly attacks. They are seen as heroes within Palestinian society, regardless of the crimes they were convicted of committing.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the military will continue “to battle the agents of evil wherever they are” to safeguard Israelis, adding that Hazan’s killing “was a horrific terrorist attack carried out by one murderer trying to free another.”
The latest deaths only increase the mistrust between the two sides as they hold negotiations after a hiatus of nearly five years. Talks collapsed in 2008, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent months early this year persuading the sides to get talks back on track again.
The Palestinians had initially refused and demanded an end to Israeli settlement building in areas they demand for a future state as a precondition for resuming talks. Israel insisted that settlements along with all other core issues like security arrangements should be resolved in talks.
Kerry managed to get the Palestinians to drop their demand in exchange for Israel’s release of long-time Palestinian prisoners involved in killing Israeli civilians and soldiers.