Two of the terrorists who shot dead off-duty IDF soldiers Cpl. Ahikam Amihai (20) and Sgt. David Ruben (21) as they were hiking near Hebron last Friday were members of Fatah's security forces and are on the Palestinian Authority's payroll, Israeli sources said.
One of the terrorists was identified as 26-year-old Hebron resident Amar Taha, a Fatah member and a member of the Palestinian national security forces. The other terrorists was named as 24-year-old Hebron resident Ali Dandanes, a court clerk and Fatah member with links to the Palestinian general intelligence.
The two turned themselves in to the Palestinian Authority's general intelligence custody immediately following the attack, fearing being captured by Israeli security forces.
Scene of the shooting (Photo: Ata Awisat)
The PA did not immediately inform Israel that the terrorists were in its custody, but did so only after Shin Bet officials approached Palestinian officials on the matter.
The Palestinians handed over to Israel the IDF soldiers' rifles, which were taken by the terrorists following the attack, as well as the weapons used in the shooting attack itself.
Speaking to Ynet, a member of the al-Aqsa Brigades, Fatah's armed wing, confirmed that the terrorists belonged to the organization, adding that the third gunman, who was killed by the off-duty soldiers, was also a member of an al-Aqsa cell.
"Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack only at the request of the family of one of the terrorists, whose father is imprisoned in Israel, but we carried out the attack," he said.
Amihai and Ruben were hiking through the Telem Creek area with an unnamed female companion when a group of four Palestinians drove up towards them and opened fire.
The soldiers, who served in elite commando units, were reportedly carrying their firearms with them and were able to return fire, killing one of the Palestinian gunmen and seriously wounding another.
The third hiker in the group managed to take cover as the first gunshots were heard and called the Kiryat Arba security headquarters to alert them of the incident. "We've been hit, there are two critically wounded Israelis here," she reported.
However the female hiker had difficulty giving rescue services the party's exact location and the searches took over an hour.
Amihai and Ruben were seriously injured and died of their wounds shortly afterwards, they were pronounced dead at the scene by a military doctor. They will be brought to rest Saturday evening, after Shabbat.
An Israeli security official said Palestinian statements claiming that the attack was criminally-motivated contradict the evidence the shin Bet has gathered and the admission of the terrorists themselves during their interrogation by PA security forces.
"These statements were issued in an apparent attempt by the PA to evade responsibility in light of the fact that the attack was carried out by members of Fatah and the Authority's security services," the official said.
Ali Waked contributed to the report