Jewish suspects arrested in connection with Palestinian teen death

Authorities believe the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir was “nationalistic” in nature. The Haaretz daily said six suspects were in custody.

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JERUSALEM // Israeli authorities have arrested a number of Jewish suspects in the killing of a Palestinian teenager whose death set off days of violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel, an official said on Sunday.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted last week and his charred body found a short while later in a Jerusalem forest in what Palestinians say was a revenge killing for the earlier deaths of three Israeli teens.

Police have been investigating various avenues in the teen’s death, including criminal or personal motives. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing, said authorities believe the killing was “nationalistic” in nature. The Haaretz daily said six suspects were in custody.

Palestinians have alleged that Abu Khdeir was killed by Jewish extremists to avenge the killings of the three Israeli teenagers, who were abducted in the West Bank on June 12. Their bodies were found last week, and Mohammed was killed just hours after their funeral.

Adding to the tensions, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have stepped up rocket attacks on southern Israel, drawing Israeli airstrikes in retaliation. By late Sunday afternoon, militants had fired more than 15 rockets and mortars into Israel, the military said. Overnight, Israel had carried out airstrikes on 10 sites in Gaza.

In East Jerusalem, home to the most violent protests over the teen’s death, Mohammed’s family said news of the arrests brought them little joy.

“I don’t have any peace in my heart, even if they captured who they say killed my son,” said his mother Suha. “They’re only going to ask them questions and then release them. What’s the point?

“They need to treat them the way they treat us. They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do it to our children,” she added.

His father, Hussein, said the family still had not been officially informed of any arrests. “Even if they rounded up all of Israel, they will not bring my son back,” he said.

On the day the Israeli teenagers were buried, hundreds of young right-wing Israelis marched through downtown Jerusalem, screaming for revenge and chanting “death to Arabs”. Hours later, Mohammed was abducted near his home and his body was found shortly afterwards. Palestinians immediately accused Jewish extremists of killing the youth.

Israeli hardliners, often motivated by religious zeal, are widely believed to be behind vandalism attacks in Israel and the West Bank on mosques, churches, Palestinian farmland and even Israeli military property. Murky groups refer to these attacks as the “price tag” for what they consider to be government policies that unfairly favour Palestinians.

However, vigilante killings are extremely rare. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born settler, entered a Muslim prayer hall in the West Bank city of Hebron and gunned down 29 worshippers before being killed by survivors of the massacre. The following year, a Jewish ultranationalist assassinated then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to derail his peace efforts with the Palestinians.

President Shimon Peres said on Sunday that Israel would get to the bottom of Mohammed’s killing and bring whoever is responsible to justice.

“If Jews are becoming killers, they will be put to court like any killer,” he told a gathering of foreign journalists in the southern town Sderot, where he was meeting with local residents enduring the ongoing rocket barrages from neighboring Gaza. “Whoever was killed for us was murdered, for us is a victim.”

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would act calmly and responsibly in the face of rising Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

“Experience proves that in moments like these, one must act calmly and responsibly, not hysterically and hastily,” Mr Netanyahu said at the opening of his weekly cabinet meeting.

His statement came after weekend clashes between Israeli police and demonstrators in Jerusalem and Arab towns in northern Israel following Mohammed’s death.

In the West Bank, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he had sent a letter to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon seeking an “international investigative committee” into the latest violence, including Mohammed’s death. He blamed “criminal settler groups” for the violence and said Israel should outlaw them.

Protests spread over the weekend from Jerusalem to Arab towns in northern Israel, with hundreds of people throwing rocks and fir bombs at police officers who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Police said 22 Arab Israelis were arrested in clashes on Saturday.

* Associated Press