Israel launches manhunt after soldier stabbing in occupied West Bank
Israel has launched a manhunt in the occupied West Bank after an Israeli soldier was found stabbed to death near a settlement, in what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decried as a "terrorist" attack.
The 18-year-old soldier was found dead on Thursday near the settlement of Migdal Oz, located in the Gush Etzion bloc sandwiched between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Hebron.
The incident threatens to inflame tensions in the coming weeks as the right-wing premier attempts to win another electoral victory in the 17 September general election.
Troops, police and the Shin Bet intelligence agency were scouring the area following what Netanyahu called a "serious stabbing attack", the army said.
"Security forces are now in pursuit to capture the lowly terrorist and settle accounts with him," the prime minister said in a statement.
The Israeli army did not state whether the newly drafted soldier was in uniform at the time.
The recruit was also a student at a yeshiva in Migdal Oz in a programme that combined military service with religious study.
"The soldier left for Jerusalem during the afternoon to buy a gift for his teachers," seminary chief Rabbi Shlomo Wilk told Israeli public radio.
"He was in contact half an hour before he was murdered. He was on the bus to the yeshiva. About 100 metres from the bus stop, before he entered the settlement, he was murdered."
Israeli police were blocking access to the area around where the body was found, AFP reported.
The body appeared to have been located just 30 to 40 metres outside the gate of Migdal Oz.
Attacks against Israeli army forces and settlers occur sporadically in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Netanyahu's main electoral challenger, ex-army general Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Alliance, sent condolences to the soldier's family and called for retribution against those who had perpetrated the attack.
"The [military] and Israeli security forces will know how to get their hands on these loathsome terrorists, dead or alive," he said in a statement.
Ahead of this year's April elections, Netanyahu pledged to annex settlements in the West Bank, a deeply controversial move that would put the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, alredy hanging by a thread, in fatal jeapordy.
Around 400,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank which are widely condemned in the international community and barred under international law.
Those settlements pockmark the occupied territory, where some 2.6 million Palestinians live.
Israel on Tuesday announced it will advance plans to build more than 2,300 settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a surge of such approvals since United States President Donald Trump took office.