6 arrested in burning death of Arab teen in Israel

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 6, 2014 

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians

Palestinians throw rocks as they clash with Israeli security forces during the funeral of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on Friday, July 4, 2014.\

MAHMOUD ILLEAN — ASSOCIATED PRESS

— Israeli authorities said Sunday that they had arrested six Jewish suspects in the abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem whose death has set off a wave of unrest there and in Israeli Arab towns.

A statement from the Shin Bet security service said the suspects were being questioned by the agency, but that further details of the investigation remained under a gag order.

The suspects, who have been denied access to lawyers while under initial interrogation, were remanded in custody in court hearings on Sunday. Law-enforcement officials believe they acted to avenge the slaying of three Israel teenagers kidnapped and killed in the West Bank last month, Israeli media reported.

The charred corpse of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir was found in a wooded area near a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem on Wednesday, the morning after the funeral for the slain Israeli teenagers, who disappeared June 12. Their bodies were found June 30.

The four killings have stirred rage on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, raising fears of a slide into a third Palestinian uprising. The Israeli government is struggling to put a lid on a wave of rioting that has swept East Jerusalem and Israeli Arab towns in recent days.

“We will not allow extremists, regardless of what side they are on, to inflame the area and lead to bloodshed,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit with the families of the slain Israeli teenagers. “We do not distinguish between terror and terror, and we will deal harshly with both.”

“I wish to send my condolences to the family of the youth,” Netanyahu said, referring to Abu Khdeir. “I also promise you that we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the perpetrators of this shocking crime….Such murderers have no place in Israeli society.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he had asked United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to form an international commission of inquiry into “the terrorist crimes committed against the Palestinian people . . . including the burning alive of the youth Muhammad Abu Khdeir.”

The Palestinian attorney general disclosed Friday that an Israeli post-mortem conducted with the attendance of a Palestinian pathologist found soot in the teenager’s lungs and respiratory tract, indicating that he had been alive and breathing when he was set on fire.

The Israeli police investigation into the killing was assisted by footage from security cameras on buildings near the site of the abduction in the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

One segment, posted by the website The Electronic Intifada, shows two of the suspects approaching Abu Khdeir as one gestures sharply with his left arm. Another segment shows a car pulling up next to the group, and then speeding off after the teenager appears to have been bundled into the vehicle.

“They burned my son alive, not dead, alive,” Hussein Abu Khdeir, the father of the slain youth, told Israel Radio after receiving news of the arrests. “They have no mercy, they have no heart, they have nothing. Nazis, Nazis, like Nazis.”

Speaking in Hebrew, the father said he wanted the Israeli authorities to demolish the homes of the Israeli suspects, just as the family home of a Palestinian charged with the killing of an Israeli police officer was demolished in the West Bank last week.

A police spokesman said investigators were looking into a possible link between the abduction and a complaint received the previous day of an attempted kidnapping of an eight-year-old boy in the same neighborhood. The boy’s mother told reporters that someone who had emerged from a car tried to choke her son with a rope but fled after she resisted and screamed that someone was trying to take her son.

In public remarks at the weekly meeting of his cabinet, Netanyahu appealed to Israeli Arab leaders to help curb the violent street protests that have erupted in their communities since the slaying of the Palestinian teen.

“I call on leaders of the Arab public to show responsibility and come out against the wave of disturbances in order to restore quiet,” he said. “There is no place in the State of Israel for stone-throwing at police, throwing firebombs, blocking roads or destroying property . . . Whoever breaks the law will be arrested and punished severely.”

Unrest in East Jerusalem has spread to several Israeli Arab towns, where masked youths have taken to the streets, blocking roads with burning tires and hurling stones at police and passing cars. In one widely reported incident, a Jewish motorist fled his vehicle when it was stoned, and the car was set alight.

Israeli officials were also coping with the fallout caused by video images of Israeli border police severely beating a cousin of Abu Khdeir, an American teenager from Tampa, Florida who was visiting relatives in East Jerusalem. The U.S. State Department expressed grave concern over the incident and demanded an investigation, prompting the Israeli justice ministry to announce a probe into the episode.

The video, circulated widely on the Internet, shows police officers repeatedly punching, kicking and stomping on Tariq Khdeir, 15, during street clashes in East Jerusalem on Thursday. His limp form is then carried off, hands cuffed behind his back.

An Israeli police spokesman said the video showed only part of the incident, in which six masked youths, three of them armed with knives, resisted arrest and assaulted police officers.

At a court hearing on Sunday, the teenager was released on bail to nine days of house detention for the duration of the investigation of the case. He told reporters later that he had not participated in the protests, but was seized as he tried to escape pursuing officers and was beaten unconscious.

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Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent

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