Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem fear more abductions, as rockets from Hamas fly

Israel arrested six Jewish suspects in the abduction and killing of Palestinian teenager, Mohammad Abu Khieder, whose death sparked violent protests. (Reuters)

Jewish and Muslim parents here kept their children indoors Monday, as anxious residents formed neighborhood watch groups and monitored social media, alert for revenge attacks following the recent abductions and killings of three Israelis and a Palestinian, all teenagers.

“It is the time of the ambush,” said Ahlam Kawasmi, 36, a mother of five who cares for the elderly. She was walking on the nearly deserted streets in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

“I tell my kids, ‘I don’t know if you leave if you will come back,’ ” she said. The family is avoiding public parks and outdoor evening celebrations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Among Jewish residents of
Jerusalem, warnings circulated on text-messaging services such as WhatsApp asking citizens to report suspicious cars, strangers and activities.

“Pay attention,” a typical message began. “We have received information from the police that there are Arabs in Jerusalem who are opening doors and pretending they are police. . . . Send this message to as many people as possible.”

Footage from Al Aqsa TV shows Hamas supporters burning Israeli flags and chanting in support of the Islamist militant group in Rafah on July 6. The region has been tense for the past few weeks after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens followed by abduction and murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammad Abu Khadeir. (YouTube/Al Aqsa TV)

The Israeli police issued a statement saying that none of the messages were official. Residents said the atmosphere in the city was beginning to remind them of the tension and distrust that marked the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which began in 2000.

In Israel’s south, meanwhile, residents were dealing not with rumors but with sirens warning them hourly to seek shelter.

Since the abduction of three Israeli students last month, mortar rounds and rocket shells have been fired at Israel almost daily from the Gaza Strip. Almost 100 were fired Monday, and sirens sounded in 10 towns, the military said, adding that Israel’s U.S.-
supported Iron Dome missile-
defense system shot down a dozen rockets.

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said the rockets were being fired by the Islamist militant organization Hamas, which controls Gaza, and by other anti-Israel armed groups. Lerner said the military was deploying more troops to the south and activating reservists.

Israel’s military launched an offensive in Gaza called Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli army announced early Tuesday morning..Palestinian officials said nine people were injured in the airstrikes. More than 30 targets were hit, including two homes in southern Gaza, one of which was identified by a neighbor as belonging to a Hamas member, Reuters reported.

Dore Gold, foreign policy adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in an interview earlier that if Hamas stops attacking Israeli civilian centers, Israel will have no reason to act. “But at present that is not happening,” he said. “We are witnessing a massive escalation on their part.”

Hamas’s leadership said in a statement that the Israelis are “talking about a truce while swimming in the blood of our people.”

On Monday, six Hamas fighters were killed and one was seriously wounded in an explosion in a tunnel under construction in southern Gaza. Hamas blamed an Israeli airstrike for the death of its fighters at “a resistance site” and vowed that “the Zionist enemy will pay a heavy price.” It was the largest single-day death toll for Hamas in two years.

The Israeli military said it had nothing to do with the deaths. Although the Israeli air force had hit the tunnel last week, Hamas militants “were dealing with explosives underground,” Lerner said. “And something went bang.”

Israeli officials said the tunnel was being prepared to allow Hamas operatives to enter Israel to abduct or kill Israelis. It was the fourth such tunnel discovered in the past 18 months.

As rockets flew in the south, Netanyahu made a condolence phone call Monday to the father of the Palestinian teen who was kidnapped and killed Wednesday in an apparent revenge attack for the killing of the three Israeli teenagers.

In his call to Hussein Abu Khieder, the prime minister expressed his outrage over the “reprehensible” murder of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder, who had been sitting alone outside his family’s home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat when he was abducted.

“The murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu said. “We will bring them to trial,” he said of the suspects, “and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.”

Six Israeli Jews were arrested Sunday, suspects in the killing whose motive security officials called “nationalistic.” Police said Monday that three of the suspects had confessed to the crime and participated in a reenactment of their roles for investigators.

“We are now questioning the suspects to determine what each one of them did before, during and after the murder,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

The mother of one of the slain Israeli teenagers made a public plea for compassion for the Palestinian youth’s family and denounced the killing. “It is difficult for me to describe how distressed we are by the outrage committed in Jerusalem — the shedding of innocent blood in defiance of all morality, of the Torah, of the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country,” said Racheli Fraenkel, mother of 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel, who was kidnapped as he hitched a ride home from his religious school in the West Bank on June 12.

Israel’s political leaders were divided over how hard to strike back at Hamas — in Gaza and the West Bank. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday that his Yisrael Beiteinu political party was revoking its two-year-old alliance with Netanyahu’s Likud party, in part over the issue.

“You promised to be tough with Hamas but did nothing, and they continue to shoot at citizens,” he said at a news conference, addressing Netanyahu.

Lieberman indicated, however, that his party would remain in the governing coalition.

Sufian Taha in Jerusalem and Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza contributed to this report.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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.
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