TWO Palestinian youths have been arrested for the murder in a West Bank settlement last month of five members of an Israeli family, including a three-month-old baby whose throat was slashed.
Israeli security authorities announced that the pair, Amjad Awad, 19, and Hakim Awad, an 18-year-old high school student, had confessed to the murders. According to interrogators, Amjad told them he would have killed two other children sleeping in another room had he known they were there.
The killings caused outrage in Israel and denial among many Palestinians, including Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki, who said last week: “The killing of an infant and the slaughtering of people in this way was never carried out by Palestinians.”
According to investigators, the Awads, distant cousins, walked on the night of March 11 from their village, Awarta, to the settlement of Itamar and entered an empty home where they found a rifle. Through the window of the house next door, home of the Fogel family, they saw two children, Yoav, 11, and Elad, 4, sleeping. Entering, they stabbed the boys to death. They then entered the parents’ bedroom and killed the father, Ehud, 37, and the mother, Ruth, 36, after a brief struggle, shooting the mother with the rifle, it was alleged.
The Fogels’ three-month-old baby girl, Hadas, began crying in her crib. Noticing her for the first time, Amjad cut her throat. He did not see two other children, Roi, 8, and Yishai, 2, who were sleeping in another room. Also spared was the oldest child, Tamar, 12, who returned from a youth group meeting after midnight to find the murder scene.
In the ensuing month, military and civilian investigators swarmed over Awarta, to which the killers had left a trail. About 7000 people live in the village, half belonging to the Awad clan. Hundreds were detained and homes closely searched.
According to an official of the Shin Bet security service, the pair “did not express regret over their actions at any stage”.
Many in the village refused yesterday to believe the charges. “It isn’t possible they committed this awful act,” said the head of the village council, Kais Awad. “They’re kids.”
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an claimed a Thai worker employed in Itamar was the murderer. Others speculated that it must have been a Filipino worker. But some accepted the Israeli account and condemned the murders. “People here are in deep shock,” said a villager who gave his name as Samir.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the murders as “despicable and inhuman”.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas Foreign Minister Mohammed Awad announced the closing of border crossings to prevent the escape of persons connected to the murder last week of Italian pro-Palestinian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, by an extremist Islamic group. He said four people were being questioned.
Palestinians were to hold a state funeral overnight for Arrigoni, who was found hanged in an abandoned house in the north of the Gaza Strip on Friday, hours after he was kidnapped by a radical Salafist group.
The West Bank is also undergoing a nine-day lockdown by the Israeli military over the Passover festival. Palestinians will not be permitted to enter Israel except in humanitarian cases or for medical treatment. Permits will be necessary for Palestinian Christians wanting to visit the holy places and Jerusalem during Easter.