Less than 48 hours after Rabbi Meir Chai was gunned down near his home in northern Samaria, IDF troops today shot and killed the three Fatah men behind the fatal attack, the first in the West Bank since April.
Rabbi Chai, 45, a teacher and father of seven who lived in Shavei Shomron, was laid to rest on Har Hazeisim yesterday.
At 2 a.m. Shabbos morning, soldiers from the Judea and Samaria Division’s Duvdevan special forces unit and the Kfir Brigade’s Nachshon Battalion – under the command of Samaria Regional Commander Col. Itzik Bar – surrounded two homes in the Nablus marketplace and a third home in the Ras el-Ein neighborhood.
In the homes were three Fatah Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades operatives – Raed Sarkaji, 38, Ghassan Abu Sharekh, 39, and Anan Subuh, 40 – who the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had discovered were members of the cell that murdered Chai. A fourth member of the cell gave himself up to Palestinian Authority security forces.
Defense officials raised the possibility that the cell was in contact with Hizbullah in Lebanon.
The troops surrounded the suspects’ homes and called on them to surrender.
Sarkaji left his house holding his wife in front of him. IDF troops, acting on intelligence information that he was armed, opened fire, killing Sarkaji and wounding his wife in the leg. Sarkaji, a known operative in Fatah’s Tanzim militia, was released in January 2009 from an Israeli prison after serving a seven-year sentence for terrorist offenses.
Abu Sharekh refused to surrender and troops entered his home, which was filled with other family members, located him and shot him dead as well. No one else was hurt.
Abu Sharekh served a stint in an Israeli prison in the 1990s and was the brother of Naif Abu Sharekh, one of the founders of the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, who was killed several years ago in an IDF operation.
In the third house, Subuh refused to surrender. Troops entered the home and went room-to-room searching for the suspect.
On the top floor, the soldiers heard noise from the attic and understood that Subuh was hiding there. He started yelling “Allah Akhbar,” the IDF said, and the soldiers called on him to relax and to surrender. He refused and the soldiers attached an explosive charge to the wall. The ensuing blast killed him.
The army said that it found two M-16 rifles and two pistols in Subuh’s hideout.
IDF sources said that the Shin Bet and the military were continuing to investigate Rabbi Chai’s murder. They noted that the three terrorists were relatively old and that Subuh had received a pardon from the Shin Bet as part of the deal under which fugitive terrorists hand in their weapons, promise to cease terrorist activity and in return stop being hunted by the IDF.
Subuh, the Shin Bet added, was a known arms dealer and together with Abu Sharekh, was a senior Al-Aksa operative in Nablus.
“These three are part of a radical faction within Fatah,” an IDF source explained.
The rights group B’Tselem said on Saturday that there was serious concern that troops acted as executioners in the operation.
According to the organization, evidence found in the homes of the slain terrorists indicated that in two of the three cases, soldiers apparently did not act as if they were conducting an arrest, but an “assassination.” The two dead men’s families said that they were unarmed and did not try to escape, but were simply shot by troops at close range after the latter discovered their identities.
There were no witnesses to the death of the third man, the group said.
IDF sources said that the troops acted in accordance with regulations and that there was intelligence information that all three were armed.
“We wanted to arrest them and called on all three to give themselves up,” one officer said. “The three had 60 years of terrorism together and are murderers. Soldiers have to be extra cautious in these cases. We do not wait for shots to be fired at us.”
Also overnight Friday, three Palestinians who were apparently trying to infiltrate Israel from the northern Gaza Strip were killed by IDF troops. Soldiers identified several people crawling near the Gaza border fence and alerted a helicopter, which opened fire and killed them. Weapons were discovered near the men’s bodies.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, and National Union MKs Ya’acov Katz and Uri Ariel were among the hundreds of mourners who attended Chai’s funeral on Friday.
Chai’s 16-year-old son, Eliyahu, eulogized his father and urged his fellow Samaria youngsters not to avenge the attack.
“Dad wanted to learn Torah and pray, and if we want to perpetuate his memory, we need to do these things, not take revenge,” said a tearful Eliyahu.
“The difference between us and them is that we are human beings, we do not just shoot them in the heads for no reason. We are Jews, holy.”
Yishai also spoke at the funeral, saying that “hundreds and thousands of children are crying over the loss of Rabbi Chai,” referring to the Jewish learning institutes Chai had set up.
Following Thursday night’s terrorist attack, hundreds of residents of Kedumim and other settlements marched from Shavei Shomron to the site of the shooting and held a prayer and protest rally.
They demonstrated against the removal of West Bank roadblocks.
One of the protesters, Menora Hazani, accused the government of abandoning Judea and Samaria residents.
“I already have several friends who are widows, and I am simply fed up of the fact that no one cares when roadblocks are removed and we pay with our lives,” she told Army Radio. “We have been abandoned and the government is busy fighting settlers instead of terrorists. I don’t know what the defense minister is doing, but he is certainly not handling defense.”
According to Army Radio, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has resisted calls for a cabinet debate on the issue of West Bank roadblocks.
“Past experience shows that the removal of roadblocks as part of the easements granted to Palestinians has led to attempts to carry out terrorist attacks against Jews,” Yishai was quoted as saying.