Clashes in east Jerusalem after teen’s burial revive intifada fears for Middle East

Mourners carry the open casket of the Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khieder, before the burial. The 16-year-old boy was abducted and killed. His body was found outside Jerusalem on Wednesday. (Ruth Eglash and Divya Jeswani Verma/The Washington Post)

Thousands of Palestinians furious over the killing of a local teenager swarmed the streets of East Jerusalem on Friday to demand a new intifada. The fierce ­clashes with police that followed the teen’s funeral stirred fears that a mass uprising could already be underway.

The protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted, “Enough of the suffering, enough of the pain,” capping a week that has overflowed with both for Israelis as well as Palestinians.

On Monday, soldiers discovered the bodies of three Israeli teens who had been missing for more than two weeks. Then, on Wednesday, the badly burned remains of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khiederwere found in a forest. Although no definitive link has been established between the ­cases, there was no doubt in the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat on Friday that Khieder’s killing was carried out by Jewish extremists and that it was intended as revenge.

The killings have brought Israeli-Palestinian relations to their most combustible level in nearly a decade, and Friday’s running street battles between rock-throwing demonstrators and stun-grenade-firing police revived dark memories of intifadas, or uprisings, from decades past. An exchange of rocket fire and missile strikes in the Gaza Strip on Friday only added to the sense of building tensions.

Protests continued throughout the evening and overnight Friday, spreading to other Arab areas in the north of Israel. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Saturday that 20 people had been arrested in the clashes in Jerusalem and 12 were detained in the north.

Clashes erupt between Palestinians and Israeli police forces ahead of the funeral for slain teen, Mohammad Abu Khieder. (Reuters)

“We can’t live like this. Every day our people are killed,” said one Palestinian youth masked with a kaffiyeh, or Arab headdress, who declined to give his name for fear of being identified by the Israeli authorities. He said that he and his friends could only see another intifada in their future, one similar to the uprisings that convulsed this region in the late 1980s and early 2000s.

With peace talks dead and no end in sight to the Israeli occupation, the Israeli government “has gradually been building up the factors for the eruption of a new intifada,” said Qais Abu Layla, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who stressed that the new uprising would include nonviolent means, such as boycotts.

Others were more hopeful that the Middle East’s latest crisis would dissipate. The killing of Khieder “took place during a delicate situation, but I do believe it will not escalate much more than what we see today,” said Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council.

If Friday was the culmination of the violence, Shuafat has already paid a heavy price. By the end of the ­clashes, the main thoroughfare in the upscale Palestinian neighborhood was littered with rocks, bricks, garbage cans and pipes, along with smashed traffic lights. Three stations of the Jerusalem light-rail system, which runs through the neighborhood, were burned and marked with graffiti in Hebrew calling for “Death to Israel” and “Death to Jews.”

The day’s battle, which marked the third consecutive day of ­clashes for the neighborhood, began with protesters pouring out of mosques on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

After Israeli authorities released Khieder’s body to his family for burial, it was borne through the streets in a flag-draped coffin. His father, Hussein, later said that the body was so badly burned that the face could not be shown publicly, as is the custom.

Thawra Abu Khieder, a 20-year-old cousin of the slain teen, said the family was deep in mourning and disbelief.

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)

“The mother is still in shock. She can’t believe that her little boy is gone, not only because he was so sweet but also because he was taken from his own doorstep,” she said. “Acts of revenge do nothing. They only make people hate more and only open a door for more revenge and more bloodshed.”

After Khieder was buried in the neighborhood cemetery, hundreds of Palestinian youths threw rocks at Israeli police, who responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets. Police officials said 13 officers were lightly wounded, and Palestinians said more than 30 people were hurt as the confrontation raged.

In several other Arab neighborhoods, residents clashed with police, although Rosenfeld said protests in Wadi Joz, Ras Al Amud and the Old City were quickly dispersed. There were no reports of unrest in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

As clashes continued late into the evening, Israelis in the southern part of the country took cover in bomb shelters as Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the day, the BBC quoted an unnamed official from the militant Islamist group Hamas, which rules the seaside enclave, as saying that a cease-fire with Israel was forthcoming. But no such cease-fire materialized, and Israel responded to the more than 15 rocket attacks with an airstrike against what it called “Hamas terror sites.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the southern town of Sderot, which has borne the brunt of the rocket fire, and said Israel should not consider a cease-fire with Hamas, because “no such agreement can be reached with Hamas,” Israeli news media reported .

He went on to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements from Thursday night that “quiet will be answered with quiet.”

“This is a serious mistake,” Lieberman said.

Netanyahu also said Thursday that if the rocket attacks don’t stop, troops mobilized near Gaza on Thursday afternoon “will act forcefully.”

Israel blames Hamas for the kidnapping and killing last month of the three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank. The teens — Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — were buried Tuesday .

But Israel must tread a fine line in confronting the group, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States but also serves as the de facto government in Gaza. Other groups in the territory are seen as more radical and could benefit if Hamas is attacked.

“Israel realizes that if it weakens Hamas, it might create a vacuum allowing the Islamic Jihad and Salafi groups to become more powerful,” said Mkhaimar Abu Sada, an associate professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. “Israel is more interested in keeping Hamas ruling Gaza. But in the meantime, the Israelis would like Hamas to abide by the cease-fire and stop Palestinian groups from launching rockets.”

Witte reported from London. Sufian Taha contributed to this report.

Ruth Eglash is a correspondent for The Washington Post based in Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.
Griff Witte is The Post’s London bureau chief. He previously served as the paper’s deputy foreign editor and as the bureau chief in Kabul, Islamabad and Jerusalem.
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