JERUSALEM Israeli police have arrested two Palestinian teenagers on suspicion of stabbing to death a Jewish couple and three of their children while they slept in a West Bank settlement, a police spokesman said on Sunday.
The killings on the night of March 11 in Itamar in the occupied West Bank caused shock in Israel and drew condemnation from the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in the area.
Police said Amjad Awwad, 19, and Hakim Awwad, 18, from Awarta, a Palestinian village neighboring Itamar, were in custody. Hakim was detained on April 5 and Amjad on April 10, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
He said the two were suspected of having killed Udi Fogel, 37, his wife Ruth, 36, and three of their five children, Yoav, 10, Eldad, four, and three-month-old Hadas.
"The two planned and carried out the attack with knives, they first killed children Yoav and Eldad before moving into the parents' bedroom and killing them and baby Hadas who was sleeping with them," Rosenfeld said.
He added that the Fogel house was the second they broke into after first entering a house that was empty. The were also found to be in possession of an assault rifle and ammunition taken from the Fogels, added Rosenfeld.
Nimrod Aloni, a senior military officer who commanded Israeli troops in the search for suspects in Awarta, said in a conference call the killings were not premeditated but that the brothers were egged on by their own daring.
"The murders were not planned, they were something that happened when they entered and exited the house twice. They wanted to test their own ability to break into a house and steal a weapon. The killings took place when they went in for a second time," Aloni said.
Hakim's mother, Nof, told Reuters by phone that her son was innocent and suggested he may have been pushed into a confession by Israeli questioning.
"Maybe my son went crazy as a result of the interrogation or they asked him to sign some paper. My son cannot do such a thing ... They had taken his sister to prison for six days (to pressure him) and they also took me in for two days," she said.
Aloni said he had no doubt the killers had been caught, although he did not elaborate on the evidence that had been uncovered other than mentioning the assault rifle found in the two men's possession.
Rosenfeld said five other members of the Awwad family were also arrested as suspected accomplices and all were being held by the Shin Bet undercover internal security service, although he did not know whether any had yet been charged.
Rosenfeld said the Awwad family had known links to the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) faction that has carried out attacks against Israelis in the past. He said an uncle of the two suspects was connected to the killing of an Itamar security guard a decade ago.
Some 500,000 settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians fear the enclaves will deny them a viable state on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Violence in the West Bank has dropped significantly since its peak during a Palestinian uprising a decade ago.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, editing by Mark Heinrich)