Monday, December 29, 2014

Mideast tensions rise with killings

With death of 3 Israeli teens and now an Arab youth, pleas are heard for restraint amid rage.

A Palestinian holds a Molotov cocktail during clashes with police in Jerusalem. World leaders urged calm amid fears of wider violence.
A Palestinian holds a Molotov cocktail during clashes with police in Jerusalem. World leaders urged calm amid fears of wider violence. MAHMOUD ILLEAN / AP
JERUSALEM - The killing of a Palestinian teenager, following the killings of three kidnapped Israeli teens, raised fears of a cycle of revenge attacks as Palestinians and police clashed Wednesday in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians accused Israeli extremists of abducting and killing the Arab teenager and burning his body, sparking hours of clashes and drawing accusations that the youth was murdered to avenge the killings of the Israeli teens.

Seeking to calm the situation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged a swift inquiry into the "reprehensible murder" and called on people to respect the rule of law. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said it was clear that extremist Jewish settlers were responsible and called on Israel to bring the killers to justice.

"The settlers have killed and burned a little boy," Abbas said, accusing Israel of tolerating settler violence toward Palestinians. "I demand that the Israeli government hold the killers accountable."

The death added to the already heightened tensions caused by the killings of the three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were discovered Monday just over two weeks after they disappeared in the West Bank. Israel accused Hamas, the Islamic extremist group that controls Gaza, of being behind the abductions, which led to the largest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, with Israel arresting hundreds of Hamas operatives as part of a broad manhunt.

The discovery of the bodies led to a national outpouring of grief, with tens of thousands attending a funeral Tuesday in which the teens were laid to rest side-by-side. As the burial took place, hundreds of young, right-wing Israelis marched through downtown Jerusalem screaming for revenge.

Hours later, relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir said the 17-year-old was abducted about 4 a.m. while waiting alone outside his home for the early-morning call to prayer. They said he was forced into a car in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem that quickly sped off.

A burned body believed to be his was found shortly afterward in a Jerusalem forest, though police said late Wednesday they were still awaiting forensics tests.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said authorities were looking at "a number of different directions" in the killing, including nationalistic or criminal motives. "We are waiting for the final results of the autopsy," he said.

Police were reviewing security camera footage taken from the scene. Relatives said the video showed a car nearing the youth, people stepping out and forcing him into the vehicle and speeding away.

The family of one of the Israeli teens condemned the death of the Palestinian youth. "There is no difference between [Arab] blood and [Jewish] blood," said Yishai Fraenkel, an uncle of one of the teens. "Murder is murder."

As word of the youth's abduction and death spread, hundreds of Palestinians in East Jerusalem took to the streets, torching light-rail train stations and hurling stones at Israeli police, who responded with stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.

The clashes continued throughout the day, emptying streets in East Jerusalem's normally bustling Beit Hanina neighborhood. Masked Palestinians hiding in alleyways and a neighborhood mosque hurled rocks toward Israeli forces, who occasionally responded with stun grenades. Two people were taken to a hospital with light injuries, police said.

At the same time, protesters in Jerusalem gathered at the western entrance of the city to protest what they said had been an inadequate government response to the killing of the Israeli teens. "The people demand collective punishment," they chanted.

Netanyahu called on authorities to swiftly investigate the "reprehensible murder" of the Palestinian youth and urged all sides "not to take the law into their own hands."

International condemnations came quickly.

In Washington, the Obama administration denounced the killing as a "heinous murder" and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

"There are no words to convey adequately our condolences to the Palestinian people," said Secretary of State John Kerry.

The U.N. Security Council in a press statement condemned the "heinous" killing "in the strongest terms."

Fighting also continued along Israel's southern border with Gaza.

Late Wednesday, Gaza extremists fired a barrage of eight rockets toward southern Israel, for a total of 20 rockets and mortars fired on Israel throughout the day, the army said. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

This article contains information from Inquirer wire services.
Josef Federman Associated Press
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