A 13-year-old Israeli girl was stabbed to death in her bedroom yesterday by a Palestinian attacker who scaled a security fence and crept into the family home.
Hallel Yaffe Ariel was murdered while she slept inside her house in Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement near Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
The killing of a child rocked Israel and threatens to bring about a new escalation in violence after several weeks of relative calm in the region.
The attack was condemned by governments around the world and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, called it a crime of “bloodlust and inhumanity”.
The killer, identified by Palestinian authorities as Mohammad Tra’ayra, a 19-year-old from a nearby village, entered Kiryat Arba early on Thursday and broke into the Ariels’ house.
He killed Hallel in her bed and photographs released by the Israeli military showed blood stained across the floor and mattress in the child’s room.
“She was stabbed many, many times. Mostly in her back,” said a doctor at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital, where she was treated.
Israeli security guards responded and the attacker managed to stab one of them before Tra’ayra was shot dead. The guard suffered moderate injuries.
Hallel’s mother, Rena, said her daughter was on holiday from school and had been sleeping in “like all teenagers on vacation”.
“I am a mother, I am not saying anything, I only ask that everyone think about the pain and come to comfort us and give us strength,” she said.
Kiryat Arba is an Israeli settlement of around 8,000 people on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Hebron, which has long been a flashpoint for violence.
Around 500 Israeli settlers live inside Hebron under the protection of hundreds of Israeli troops and often clash with the city’s Palestinian residents.
Mrs Ariel said the violence would not drive Israeli settlers from the area. “Kiryat Arba is ours and it’s still a place you can live in,” she said.
Mr Netanyahu promised “strong and determined action” in response.
The entire nation deeply identifies with the family’s pain and declares to the murderers: You will not break us.
We will continue to take strong and determined action against terrorism everywhere and at all times.
The entire world needs to condemn this murder just as it condemned the terrorist attacks in Orlando and Brussels.
While Britain considers Kiryat Arba and other settlements to be illegal under international law, the UK’s ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey, was quick to condemn the killing.
“There can be no possible justification for murder of a 13-year-old girl in her bed,” said Mr Quarrey.
The US State Department called it an “unconscionable terrorist attack”.
Hallel was the first young Israeli child to be killed since a wave of violence began in the region in October.
Over the past eight months, Palestinians have killed 33 Israelis and two visiting Americans in wave of attacks, mainly involving knives but occasionally guns or cars.
Israeli forces have killed at least 198 Palestinians, the majority of whom were shot while trying to carry out attacks, according to the Israeli government.
Several young Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces, including a brother and sister killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in March.
The 19-year-old stabber is not believed to be part of any organized Palestinian faction and, like many of other young attackers, appears to have acted on his own.
He wrote repeatedly on Facebook about his desire to be “a martyr” and shortly before the attack composed a poem eulogizing a Palestinian woman who allegedly carried out a car-ramming attack at Kiryat Arba.
The killing poses a challenge for Israel’s new defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Mr Lieberman is the head of an ultra-nationalist party and promised tough measures against Palestinians militants but the young “lone wolf” attackers leave him with few targets to focus on.
Israeli forces surrounded the attacker’s village of Bani Na’im and are likely to demolish his family’s home as part of a policy the Israeli government says deters future attacks.
Human rights groups condemn the demolition policy as “collective punishment”.
“Destroying the home of the attacker’s relatives and canceling their work permits is an unlawful collective punishment, causing suffering for family members who committed no crime,” said Human Rights Watch.
The killing comes three weeks after two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis as they ate dinner at a restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Two weeks after that Israeli troops killed a 15-year-old Palestinian boy coming home the swimming pool as they hunted for another group of youths who had been throwing rocks at a motorway.