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Israeli soldier's killing sparks wide manhunt in West Bank

Military blocking village exits and scouring farmland, residents tell MEE, after 19-year-old found dead outside settlement
Israeli soldiers stand guard next to the site where the body of an Israeli soldier was found with multiple stab wounds near the settlement of Migdal Oz in the occupied West Bank (AFP)

An Israeli soldier's killing has sparked a huge manhunt in the occupied West Bank, with military forces raiding areas suspected to be housing the killers.

On Thursday morning, the body of an Israeli soldier was found with multiple stab wounds near an illegal Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the army said.

"Today in the early morning hours, a soldier's body was found with stabbing marks on it adjacent to a [Jewish] community north of Hebron," the statement said.

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Troops, police and members of the Shin Bet intelligence agency are searching the area.

Army spokesperson Brigadier General Ronen Manelis said that security forces "are beginning to carry out steps on the working assumption that there is a terrorist cell in the area that carried out the attack," Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.

Israeli forces have raided the Palestinian village of Beit Fajjar, south of Bethlehem, scouring farmlands for suspects.

Local residents told Middle East Eye that hundreds of soldiers were positioned at the entrances to various villages and on the main roads between Hebron and Bethlehem.

Dvir Sorek, 19, was found near the illegal Migdal Oz settlement. According to Israeli media, there is speculation that he was killed in a botched kidnapping.

Palestinian factions have in the past used captured Israelis as leverage to free members of their own community imprisoned by Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement calling it a Palestinian attack.

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Later, at a cornerstone-laying ceremony in the Beit El settlement, he spoke about the killing again and said Israel will work towards extending its sovereignty in the West Bank.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and been settling its citizens there in contravention of international law.

"Our mission is to establish the people of Israel in our land, to secure our sovereignty in our historic homeland," Netanyahu said.

Sorek, a newly drafted soldier, was a student at a yeshiva - or Jewish seminary - in Migdal Oz, near where his body was found. 

He was in a programme that combined military service with religious study, the seminary head told Israeli public radio. The body appeared to have been located around 30 to 40 metres outside the gate of the settlement.

The death comes at a particularly sensitive time for Palestinians and Israelis. Eid al-Adha, one of Islam's most important holidays, is scheduled to begin on Sunday and is a time when Palestinians are expected to travel across the West Bank and East Jerusalem to visit relatives.

Israel, meanwhile, is gearing up for parliamentary elections on 17 September. Israeli politicians routinely call for a harsh crackdown on Palestinians when such flare-ups appear ahead of polling day, as pre-election rhetoric ramps up.