MIGDAL OZ: Palestinian Territories: An Israeli soldier's body was found with multiple stab wounds near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Thursday (Aug 8) in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a "terrorist" attack.
The incident sparked a manhunt by security forces and risked boosting Israeli-Palestinian tensions weeks ahead of Sep 17 Israeli polls.
It occurred between Bethlehem and the flashpoint city of Hebron in the West Bank.
"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," Israel's army said in a statement.
It did not elaborate on the circumstances or say whether he was in uniform at the time.
Troops, police and the Shin Bet intelligence agency were searching the area, it said.
Netanyahu called it "a serious stabbing attack."
"Security forces are now in pursuit to capture the lowly terrorist and settle accounts with him," he said in a statement.
The newly drafted 18-year-old soldier was a student at a yeshiva - or Jewish seminary - in the settlement of Migdal Oz, near where the body was found.
He was in a programme that combined military service with religious study, the seminary head told Israeli public radio.
"The soldier left for Jerusalem during the afternoon to buy a gift for his teachers," rabbi Shlomo Wilk said.
"He was in contact half an hour before he was murdered. He was on the bus to the yeshiva.
"About 100 metres (yards) from the bus stop, before he entered the settlement, he was murdered."
'DEAD OR ALIVE'
Israeli police were blocking access to the area around where the body was found on Thursday and medics were at the scene, an AFP correspondent said.
The body appeared to have been located around 30 to 40 metres outside the gate of the settlement.
Palestinian attacks against Israeli security forces and settlers occur sporadically in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Such attacks and Israeli arrest raids that follow often boost tensions.
Thursday's incident came at a sensitive time, with Israel heading towards a general election on September 17. It also occurred just ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid a major flare-up in either the West Bank or the Gaza Strip before the elections, but he will also likely face political pressure to act firmly.
His main challenger, ex-army general Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Alliance, sent condolences to the soldier's family and spoke in stark terms.
"The (military) and Israeli security forces will know how to get their hands on these loathsome terrorists, dead or alive," he said in a statement.
Around 400,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank next to some 2.6 million Palestinians.
Netanyahu pledged in April to annex settlements in the West Bank, which would be a deeply controversial move.
Annexing settlements on a large-scale could be the death knell to already fading hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.