Israel has arrested six Jewish suspects over the murder of a Palestinian teenager who was abducted and burned alive last week – a crime that set off a wave of violent protests in Arab sections of the country.
Leaders of the Jewish state appealed for calm amid signs the attack was revenge for the killings of three Israeli teenagers.
“We will not allow extremists, it doesn’t matter from which side, to inflame the region and cause bloodshed,” prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a nationally televised statement. “Murder is murder, incitement is incitement, and we will respond aggressively to both.”
He promised to prosecute the perpetrators to the full extent of the law.
The region has been on edge since three Israeli teenagers – one of them a US citizen – were kidnapped while hitch-hiking in the West Bank last month. Last week, the teens’ bodies were found in a West Bank field in a crime Israel blamed on the militant group Hamas.
Just hours after the youths were buried, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian from east Jerusalem, was abducted near his home and his charred remains were found shortly afterwards in a Jerusalem forest. Preliminary autopsy results found he was still alive when he was set on fire.
Palestinians immediately accused Israeli extremists of killing the youth in revenge. And today, Israeli authorities said the killers had acted out of “nationalistic” motives.
The suspects remained in custody and were being interrogated, authorities said.
An Israeli official said there were six suspects and described them as young males, including several minors, all of whom lived in the Jerusalem area.
He said police had located a car used by the suspects. During the investigation, he said, police learned of an attempted kidnapping the previous day of a child in the same neighbourhood and concluded the cases were linked. Israeli TV showed pictures of the nine-year-old boy with red marks around his neck.
Abu Khdeir’s family said the arrests brought them little joy and that they had little faith in the Israeli justice system.
“I don’t have any peace in my heart, even if they captured who they say killed my son,” said his mother Suha. “They’re only going to ask them questions and then release them. What’s the point?”
She added: “They need to treat them the way they treat us. They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do it to our children.”
Abu Khdeir’s death triggered violence in his neighbourhood, as angry crowds destroyed train stations and hurled rocks. The unrest spread to sections of northern Israel over the weekend.
Also today, the situation in east Jerusalem, home to most of the city’s Palestinians, appeared to be calming down, as businesses and markets reopened, and roads that had been cordoned off were reopened to traffic.
Top Israeli officials expressed concern that the charged atmosphere of recent days had led to the boy’s killing.
After the Israeli teenagers were found dead, several hundred Jewish extremists had marched through central Jerusalem calling for “death to Arabs.” Social media sites were also flooded with calls for vengeance.
Justice minister Tzipi Livni said her ministry was investigating some of the anti-Arab incitement seen on Facebook last week.
“These things need to be cut when they are small,” she told Channel 2 TV. “At this moment, everybody’s job should be to lower the flames.”
Cabinet minister Jacob Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency, said he had met with Arab leaders in northern Israel to calm tensions. President Shimon Peres, a Nobel peace laureate, also was in contact with Arab leaders.
About 50 people were arrested in several days of demonstrations following Abu Khdeir’s death, and 15 police officers and two civilians were injured, authorities said.