Israeli authorities arrested several Jewish suspects on Sunday in last week’s slaying of a Palestinian teenager whose abduction and death has sparked rioting in Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank.
“Their motives appear to have been nationalist,” Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The burned body of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdair, 16, was found in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday, two days after the bodies of three Israeli teens were found in a Palestinian field after 18 days of searches and waves of arrests throughout the West Bank.
The killings of the Israeli teens — Eyal Yifrah, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Frankel, 16 — had sparked calls for revenge by radical Israelis, and the slaying of Abu Khdair sparked violent protests in East Jerusalem, which spread to Arab towns and villages inside Israel over the weekend.
Authorities detained the suspects in Abu Khdair’s death early Sunday and brought them before a court near Tel Aviv to extend their custody.
Police have not commented on other details of the investigation.
The violence that has erupted since the slayings of the four teens has included a rise in rocket attacks aimed at southern Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip.
Despite Egyptian efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement in control of the Gaza Strip, rockets continued to hit Israel Sunday when the military counted at least 16. Before dawn, Israel bombed 10 targets in the Gaza Strip, including what it said were concealed launchers and a weapons workshop, in response to earlier rocket fire.
Since June 12, more than 150 rockets and mortar shells have struck Israel, authorities said. Israel has responded with retaliatory airstrikes. On Thursday, in a warning signal, it moved ground troops to the Gaza border.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an independent international investigation into the slaying of Abu Khdair.
Israel did not do enough to prosecute Jewish settlers involved in attacks against Palestinians, he charged in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting Frankel’s family near Jerusalem, said the boy’s “murderers” had “no place in Israeli society”. He promised Israel would deal with them with a “heavy hand” and called on the Palestinian Authority to “act with the same determination against the murderers of the three [Israeli] teens”.
A Palestinian autopsy report found that Abu Khdair was burned to death. The teen suffered severe burns on 90 per cent of his body, and damage to his lungs and internal organs implied he inhaled flammable materials while still alive, it said.
Several passengers in a white car pulled up outside the 16-year-old’s East Jerusalem home early Wednesday, forced him into the vehicle and sped away, surveillance cameras from nearby shops showed.
His body was found several hours later in a Jerusalem forest. Two days before his slaying, the bodies of Yifrah, Shaar and Frankel, who were abducted together on June 12, were found in a Palestinian field after 18 days of large-scale Israeli searches and arrests throughout the West Bank.
Palestinians responded to Abu Khdair’s slaying by clashing with Israeli police in East Jerusalem. On Friday and Saturday, the clashes spread to Arab towns throughout Israel with masked youths pelting police with stones, burning tires and hurling rocks at passing Israeli motorists.
Video footage of two Israeli border policemen kicking Abu Khdair’s 15-year-old American cousin poured more oil on the flames.
The U.S. State Department said it was “profoundly troubled” by the images of Tariq Abu Khdair, a U.S. citizen, being beaten while being detained in East Jerusalem and demanded a “speedy, transparent and credible investigation.” Israel promised an inquiry.
Netanyahu on Sunday called on Arab-Israeli leaders to denounce violent protests. “There is no place in the state of Israel for stone-throwing at police, throwing firebombs, blocking roads or destroying property,” he warned before a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Clashes were reported in the northern Israeli Arab town of Nazareth on Sunday evening. In the morning, Muslim worshippers also threw stones at Jewish visitors of a flash point Jewish-Muslim holy site in the walled Old City of Jerusalem.
Suspects tried earlier kidnapping
The suspected killers appeared to have tried to abduct another boy two days earlier, Israel’s Channel 2 news reports.
Channel 2, citing the police investigation, says the suspects in the failed abduction were the same as those held in connection with the abduction and slaying of Abu Khdair last Wednesday — six radical Jews aged between 16 and 22 from Jerusalem, the nearby Israeli town of Beit Shemesh and two Jewish settlements in the area. Mousa Zalloum, 8, from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina, tells the channel that he was walking in the street last Monday when a Honda pulled up, its occupants got out and tried to strangle him with a rope and force him inside. He bore strangulation marks on the neck.
He yelled for his mother, Dima Zalloum, who struggled with and was beaten by the perpetrators before they fled bystanders who came to intervene. The mother tells Channel 2 that she was sure they were Jews, as “they spoke Hebrew”.
Police on Sunday also announced the arrest of an Arab-Israeli taxi driver charged with murder in the killing of an Israeli woman on May 1 in northern Israel as she was on her way to a job interview.
The 34-year-old from Iblin, an Arab town near the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, admitted taking Shelly Dadon, 19, to an empty parking lot and then stabbing her to death and washing the blood stains from his taxi, police said.
They used words similar to those in the Abu Khdair case, describing the suspect in Dadon’s slaying as having “nationalist motives”. The arrest in the case was made on June 16 but only made public on Sunday.