JERUSALEM (AFP) ― Israel has arrested a group of Jewish extremists suspected of kidnapping and murdering a Palestinian teenager in a revenge killing, triggering violent clashes spreading from east Jerusalem throughout Israel.
Tensions were already peaking early Monday in the south after two Israeli strikes on Gaza left five militants dead, following continuous mortar and rocket fire at southern Israel.
The brutal murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khder on July 2 triggered five days of violent clashes which broke out in east Jerusalem and have spread to Arab towns in Israel, with hordes of angry protesters hurling stones at riot police.
Tariq Abu Khder (right), a Palestinian-U.S. teenager who was allegedly beaten during police custody, is hugged by his mother following a hearing at Jerusalem Magistrates Court on Sunday. (AFP-Yonhap)
“A number of Jewish suspects were arrested by the Shin Bet and Israeli police before dawn on July 6 on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khder from Shuafat on July 2,” Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency said.
Although the investigation was subject to a gag order, Honenu, a legal organization which defends right-wing Jewish extremists, said it was representing six people ― three of them minors ― whose remand was extended Sunday by the Petah Tikva magistrates court.
The arrests came as suspicion grew that Wednesday’s murder was carried out by extremist Jews in revenge for last month’s abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank.
In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed two Palestinian militants and wounded one east of Bureij refugee camp near central Gaza late Sunday. Early Monday a separate strike killed another three militants and wounded two civilians east of Rafah in Gaza’s south.
Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said meanwhile that six of their men were killed by the Israeli strike on Rafah, but Gaza medics could only confirm the three deaths there as a result of a collapsed tunnel.
The medics noted that five civilians were injured in Beit Hanun after a rocket fired by Gaza militants fell short of Israel.
The Israeli attacks came after over 25 rockets and mortars from Gaza hit southern Israel during Sunday, with an army spokeswoman saying at least seven projectiles hit southern Israel in the early hours of Monday.
Prior to the fatal Gaza strikes, Israel had appeared determined to contain the situation, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging his cabinet to keep a cool head over how to tackle Gaza.
Meanwhile on Israel’s northern front, a mortar shell fired from Syria hit the northern Israeli occupied Golan Heights, the military said.
“No injuries or damage was reported,” a statement read, noting the Israeli army “immediately fired toward suspicious positions.”
Initial findings from a post mortem showed Abu Khder had smoke in his lungs, indicating he was burned to death.
The grisly murder sparked shock, disgust and an outpouring of condemnation from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he had asked U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to form “an international investigative committee” to probe Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.