Israeli police arrested Jewish suspects in the death of a Palestinian teenager, bolstering suspicions he was murdered in retribution for the killing of three Israeli students whose bodies were discovered last week.
Six people from Jerusalem and nearby communities were detained, of whom three are suspected of taking part in the killing, Israel’s Channel Two television reported, without saying how it obtained the information. They were not part of a larger Jewish underground group, Channel Two said.
At least eight Palestinians were killed by Israeli strikes overnight on Gaza, and more than a dozen rockets were fired into the country’s south.
The death of teenagers on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raised tensions as rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian enclave, threaten a wider military clash.
The escalation follows the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks in April, and last month’s formation of a Palestinian government including Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza and is classified as a terror group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union. Israel has said it won’t negotiate with a Palestinian government including Hamas, which it blames for the killing of the three teenagers abducted last month in the West Bank. Hamas has not claimed responsibility.
“Israel and the Palestinians are standing on the brink of a very dangerous deterioration,” Yoram Meital, a professor of political science at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, said in a phone interview. “The point here is that without any political vision, a way out of this mess, a major confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians will take place sometime in the near future.”
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said yesterday that “several” Jewish suspects were taken into custody for killing 16 year-old Mohamed Abu Khdeir last week, and that the act appeared to have been politically motivated. Details of the arrests are under a judicial gag order, she said.
Abu Khdeir’s body was found with soot in his lungs and burns varying from first to fourth degree covered 90 percent of his body, Palestinian Attorney General Muhammad Abd al-Ghani Uweili said in a statement, citing a preliminary report from an autopsy at Israel’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.
“We denounce all brutal behavior,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Abu Khdeir’s father in a phone conversation today, according to an e-mail from his office. “We acted immediately to apprehend the murderers. We will bring them to trial and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.”
Netanyahu told his cabinet earlier that “we will do whatever is necessary to restore quiet and security to the south.”
The discovery of Abu Khdeir’s body in a Jerusalem park on July 2 set off days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in east Jerusalem that spilled over into Israeli-Arab communities in the north. Unrest resumed there yesterday after the arrests were made public, and continued overnight in Arab townships throughout the country, police said.
The situation has been further inflamed by a video of what appears to an Israeli border police officer last week beating a teenage cousin of Abu Khdeir’s who is a U.S. citizen and was visiting family in Jerusalem. Israeli police said that the youth was detained for throwing stones at officers during a violent protest, and is now under house arrest for nine days.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an e-mailed statement that the detainee should be able to return to Florida later this month. She said the U.S. is “profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody.” Israel’s Justice Ministry said it’s investigating the incident.
“Israel always has an excuse for what the police do, what the army does,” Salah Abu Khdeir, father of the beaten youth, said by phone. Regarding his slain relative, he said the family was “waiting now to see if Mr. Netanyahu will do justice, and destroy the homes of these terrorists who were arrested,” a reference to Israel’s practice of demolishing the homes of some Palestinian militants involved in attacks on Israelis.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters he asked the United Nations to form an international committee to investigate “terrorist crimes and aggression” against the Palestinian people, including Abu Khdeir’s killing.
Jewish extremists have committed several acts of violence against Arabs committed over the years. More than two dozen members of an underground movement of settlement leaders in the West Bank were arrested in 1984 for planning and committing various violent acts against Palestinians.
In 1990, discharged soldier Ami Popper shot dead seven Arab laborers by a bus stop. Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli doctor, killed 29 Palestinians and wounded more than 100 with a machine gun in 1994 while they were praying at a Hebron shrine, before he was overpowered and slain.
At least 18 Palestinians have died in the course of the Israeli military operations in Gaza and the West Bank since the three Jewish teens were kidnapped in the West Bank on June 12. This includes two militants killed in an Israeli air strike on the al-Bureij refugee camp overnight, and six more in another strike on Rafa along Gaza’s border with Egypt, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, head of emergency medical services.
The Israeli air force targeted 14 rocket launches and “terror sites” across Gaza overnight, according to an e-mailed statement from the military. An Israeli army patrol along the Gaza border was hit by an explosive projectile today, wounding one soldier, the army said.
The military says more than 150 rockets have struck Israel since the kidnapping. While the missiles from Gaza haven’t caused any fatalities in Israel’s south, homes have been hit.
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