JERUSALEM — A Palestinian teen was abducted and killed Wednesday, Palestinians said, accusing Israeli settlers of carrying out a revenge attack for the deaths of three Israeli youths. The accusation sparked clashes with Israeli forces and demands by the Palestinian president that Israel hold the killers accountable.
The latest claim stokes tensions already heightened by the deaths of the three Israeli teens, whose bodies were found this week two weeks after they were abducted in the West Bank, and a surge in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Just hours after Israel buried the three teens, relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir said the 17-year-old was forced into a car in a neighbourhood of east Jerusalem before it sped off. A burned body was found shortly afterward in a Jerusalem forest.
Later Wednesday, Abu Khdeir’s family said it had identified the body. The teen’s cousin, Saed Abu Khdeir, said the family believed the youth was killed by Israelis in an act of revenge.
“It’s a clear crime by settlers in revenge for the killing of the three,” he said. Abu Khdeir said the family witnessed security camera footage of the suspected kidnapping, which purported to show a car nearing Mohammed Abu Khdeir and taking him away.
In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused extremist Jewish settlers of “killing and burning a little boy” and demanded that Israel “hold the killers accountable.”
As news of the youth’s disappearance spread, hundreds of Palestinians in east Jerusalem torched light rail train stations and hurled stones at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Israeli police said the body still had not been identified, and that they were still investigating the circumstances of Abu Khdeir’s disappearance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged caution. He called on authorities to swiftly investigate the “reprehensible murder” and called on all sides “not to take the law into their own hands.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of right-wing Jewish youths marched through Jerusalem, calling for revenge of the deaths of the Israeli teens.
Israel has accused Hamas militants of abducting and killing the three teens, and has arrested hundreds of its members across the West Bank.
Rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has meanwhile intensified, and been met with Israeli air strikes. The barrage continued Wednesday, with the military saying five mortar shells were launched from Gaza to Israel.
The clashes in east Jerusalem continued throughout the day. At midafternoon, masked men holed up in a mosque in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina lobbed rocks toward Israeli security forces in the street below. Police responded by firing stun grenades toward the mosque, as a small group of Palestinian youths stood to the side.
The street was largely deserted and littered with rocks and debris, as a small fire set next to a large green trash bin spewed black smoke into the air. There were no reports of injuries.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said security was heightened following the clashes, with extra units dispatched and light rail service cut short to avoid the violence. Police also closed a key holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City to visitors after rock throwing there.
Israeli officials urged calm as police investigated the incidents.
“Everything is being examined. There are many possibilities. There is a criminal possibility as well as a political one,” Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, told Israel Radio. “I am telling everyone, let us wait patiently.”
The incident elicited international condemnation, with the U.N. envoy, Robert Serry calling on all sides “not to further exacerbate an already tense atmosphere.”
On Tuesday, thousands of Israelis attended the funerals of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, the three Jewish seminary students who went missing last month and whose bodies were found Monday in a field near the West Bank city of Hebron. Their disappearances gripped the country and the discovery of their bodies prompted an outpouring of grief.
Israel meanwhile demolished the West Bank home of Ziad Awad, who was found guilty by a military court of killing an Israeli police officer in April. The demolition on Wednesday marked a return to a policy abandoned by the military in 2005. Israel sees house demolitions as a deterrent to violence, while critics charge it is a form of collective punishment.
In a separate incident, Palestinians in the West Bank town of Aqrabeh said their home was set on fire and the Hebrew words for “price tag” sprayed on the walls.
Radical Israeli settlers have been carrying out so-called “price tag” acts of vandalism in recent years to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies and in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.
The vandals have targeted mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases.