JERUSALEM // Israeli authorities have arrested two Palestinian teenagers for the murder of a Jewish settler family last month after an investigation that Palestinian officials have decried as collective punishment.
Micky Rosenfeld, Israel's police spokesman, said yesterday the teenagers, Amjad Awad and Hakim Awad, confessed to killing five members of the Fogel family on March 11 while they slept in their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar. The teenagers are residents of the neighbouring Palestinian village of Awarta.
"They admitted to carrying out the attack, how they knifed the children, killed the 11-year old-boy, the 4-year-old boy, the parents and finally the young baby," Mr Rosenfeld told The Associated Press.
Speaking after the announcement, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, took a strident tone and vowed that his country "will find the murderers, and our hand will reach out to cut off theirs".
"We don't know if arresting the killers provides a complete answer, but without it even a partial one is impossible," he said, adding that investigators did their utmost to ensure the evidence was complete.
Col Nimrod Aloni, a West Bank military commander, told the AP the teenagers said during questioning that they "wanted to test their courage and bravery" by penetrating the settlement and stealing a rifle. He said the pair claimed they did not initially plan to kill anyone, but panicked when the baby started
The arrests followed several weeks of intense raids on Awarta by Israel's military. Palestinians and rights organisations complained that soldiers beat villagers, ransacked homes and rounded up hundreds of villagers for DNA sampling. Dozens have been detained since the murders.
Israel's internal security agency, Shin Bet, said the suspects had relatives involved in violent activities in the past. While thought to have acted independently, the pair were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is part of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, or PLO, authorities said. The PLO chairman and president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, has condemned the murders.
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported investigations had found that the suspects decided to carry out the attack hours before the killings. They cut Itamar's perimeter fence, stole an M-16 rifle and ammunition from an empty home, and then entered the Fogel residence, killing all but two members of the family. The youngest victim was a 3-month-old girl.
As many as six others have been arrested in connection with the murder.
Ghassan Khatib, a PA spokesperson, reiterated yesterday that the PA condemns the killings. The PA has limited control over Awarta, and Mr Khatib said Israel did not allow Palestinian participation in the investigation.
Earlier this month, Israel refused to allow the Palestinian prime minister, Salaam Fayyad, to enter Awarta because of what it called "security activity" reasons.