A Palestinian terrorist stabbed Dafna Meir, 38, to death in front of her teenage daughter inside their home in the West Bank settlement of Otniel Sunday evening.
The attacker then fled the scene in the South Hebron Hills and remained at large.
“An army force is pursuing the terrorist,” the IDF Spokesman’s Office said.
Otniel’s residents were ordered to stay indoors while the terrorist was still at large.
It was the first time Palestinian terrorists have executed a fatal attack inside a settlement since March 2011 when five members of the Fogel family were stabbed to death in their home in Itamar.
“I want to give strength to all the children of the family. All of us are hurting and share in the painful grief. We will find the terrorist, and he will pay the full price for this heinous murder,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Meir, a mother of six, was a nurse at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
An initial security assessment showed the terrorist entered Otniel, came to the Meir home, stabbed her to death and then fled. Security forces set up roadblocks and launched a dragnet search for the perpetrator.
South Hebron Hills spokesman Assaf Fassy said the terrorist easily entered the home, the door of which was unlocked. He was immediately spotted by Meir and three of her children. Two of them fled, but the oldest daughter 17, remained with her mother, Fassy said.
The terrorist stabbed Meir, fatally wounding her and fled when he could not remove the knife from her body, Fassy said. The daughter then called Magen David Adom, he added.
Police said they were checking whether the attacker worked in Otniel.
Noam Bar, a senior paramedic with Magen David Adom and colleague of Meir’s, described the heartbreak of paramedics who tried unsuccessfully to revive Meir and of removing her children from the scene when some of them tried to help.
Bar said Meir “was unconscious, with no breath or pulse. She suffered from stab wounds to her upper body. We attempted to resuscitate her for a lengthy period of time, at the end of which we were forced to pronounce her dead.”
Meir’s funeral was scheduled for Monday, January 18, at 11 a.m. at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot cemetery.
She is survived by her husband Natan and six children Renana, 17, Akiva, 15, Noa, 11, Ahava, 10, Yair, 6, Yaniv 4. The youngest two are adopted.
Soroka said in a statement that Meir had been a “treasured and professional nurse” in the hospital’s neurosurgery department, and that she “was beloved by her peers and patients. Giving to others was a part of both her personal and professional life.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “The murder today teaches us again about the kind of cruel and relentless enemy we are dealing with.
“Security forces – the IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Police – will get their hands on the murderer and those who sent him, if someone sent him. We will not rest until we settle accounts with the terrorist, wherever he is.
“The struggle against Palestinian terrorism requires Israelis to be “determined and have an iron fist together with patience and sound judgment, since it places complex challenges before us. Security forces are working day and night in this struggle, and will strike this terrorism, too, as we have done to past attempts to harm the State of Israel and its citizens,” Ya’alon said.
President Reuven Rivlin, in a telephone call to South Hebron Hills Council head Yohai Damari, called the murder “shocking and terrible.”
“This is an horrific tragedy, and I am with you with all of my heart,” Rivlin said.
Earlier on Sunday a Palestinian attacker was shot dead while trying to stab Israelis at Hativa Square near the headquarters of the Samaria Territorial Brigade outside Nablus. There were no injuries among the soldiers.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.