Violence widens as Israeli troops, Palestinians clash in east Jerusalem

Anger over the killing of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder spilled out onto the streets of East Jerusalem as Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police. (Reuters)
July 2

The abduction and suspected revenge killing of an Arab youth sparked intense clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, raising the specter of wider violence two days after three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found dead in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli police said late Wednesday that they had yet to confirm the circumstances of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder’s disappearance or the identity of a badly burned body found in a forested area of Jerusalem, but Israeli news media, citing anonymous security officials, said authorities had determined that Khieder was probably killed by Jews in a “nationalistic crime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for restraint as he convened his security cabinet for the third straight night to discuss a response to the kidnappings and killings. Israel has blamed the slaying of the Israeli teens on the militant Islamist group Hamas, and on Wednesday, Palestinian leaders accused extremist Jewish settlers of killing Khieder.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused settlers of “killing and burning a little boy.” He demanded, in a statement, that Israel “hold the killers accountable.”

As reports of the Palestinian teen’s death spread, street battles broke out between security forces and residents from the youth’s neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which has been annexed by Israel. Palestinian protesters hurled firebombs and stones at Israeli police officers and soldiers and smashed and set fire to transit stops in the neighborhood. Israeli forces responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke grenades. Clashes were continuing Wednesday night but had calmed somewhat, witnesses said.

The kidnapping of the Palestinian youth occurred one day after Israel buried the three teenagers — Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — who disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in the West Bank. Their bodies were discovered Monday in a field near the city of Hebron, prompting a national outpouring of anger and grief.

Relatives of the Palestinian youth said he was abducted about 4 a.m. Wednesday while waiting alone outside his home for the early-morning call to prayer. Bushra Abu Khieder, his aunt, said a surveillance camera at her husband’s nearby store recorded the scene, which showed a Hyundai car being driven toward her nephew and turning around three times. When it stopped, one of the passengers approached him, asked a question and then grabbed him and pushed him into the car, she said. Israeli police said they were reviewing the video footage.

Khieder’s mother, Suha Abu Khieder, told reporters that her son had been “robbed from my lap.” Referring to the slain Israeli teens, she said, “Their sons were important to them, just like my son is important to me.”

Netanyahu urged police to “swiftly investigate who was behind the loathsome murder and its motive” and called on all sides “not to take the law into their own hands.”

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said officers located the body within 90 minutes after receiving reports that a Palestinian teenager had been pulled into a car. He said police were trying to determine whether Wednesday’s killing had a “criminal or nationalistic” motive.

As the situation simmered, there was rising fear that the spiraling violence could be the spark that ignites a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against the Israeli occupation, just months after the collapse of the latest round of Middle East peace talks.

Israeli forces have carried out a massive security operation across the West Bank in recent weeks, arresting more than 400 alleged terrorist operatives and killing at least five Palestinians during a search for the three Israeli teens and their captors.

After Israeli police discovered a body believed to be 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammad Abu Khieder, violent clashes broke out Wednesday between angry Palestinians and Israeli forces. (Reuters)

The Israeli military said that nine rockets had been fired Wednesday at Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and that all landed in unpopulated areas. Israel responded in the late afternoon with airstrikes on what the military said were the launching sites of four of the rockets.

At the same time, protesters in Jerusalem gathered at the western entrance of the city to protest what they said had been an inadequate government response to the killing of the Israeli teens. “The people demand collective punishment,’’ they chanted.

The recent Israeli security sweep served to “raise the temperature in Palestinian society,” said Qais Abu Layla, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. “The Israeli government has gradually been building up the factors for the eruption of a new intifada.”

Yet Layla and other Israeli and Palestinian observers said they thought tempers might cool in the coming days.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry issued a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms the despicable and senseless abduction and murder” of the Palestinian teen.

“At this tense and dangerous moment, all parties must do everything in their power to protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not recrimination and retribution,’’ he said.

Attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians and their property — “price-tag” attacks that started as a campaign meant to avenge Israeli military or Palestinian actions against settlements — have increased in recent years, and some Palestinians said Wednesday that Khieder’s killing was the latest example of vigilante justice.

The increase in such attacks, which have rarely involved grave physical harm, prompted Israeli lawmakers to consider labeling them a form of terrorism earlier this year, but the proposal died in January. Few perpetrators have been arrested and convicted, human rights organizations say.

Yishai Fraenkel, an uncle of one of the slain Israelis, condemned the Palestinian youth’s killing. “There is no difference between blood and blood,” he told Israeli reporters. “A murderer is a murderer, no matter his nationality and age.’’

Bushra Abu Khieder, the slain Palestinian’s aunt, said the boy’s father, Hussein Abu Khieder, accompanied the body to a forensic lab in Tel Aviv being used by Israeli investigators. Her nephew, she said, was a “sweet, quiet person, who always made people laugh and was quick to help others out.”

On Wednesday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri said the organization held Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders “directly responsible” for Khieder’s kidnapping and killing and vowed revenge.

“They will pay the price of all these crimes, and you will see it soon,” he said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Yishai Fraenkel as the father of slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel. He is Naftali Fraenkel’s uncle. This version has been corrected.

Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City, Sufian Taha in Jerusalem and Daniela Deane in London contributed to this report.

Ruth Eglash is a correspondent for The Washington Post based Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.
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