ISRAELI police clashed with Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem yesterday as thousands of people converged on a cemetery for the burial of an Arab teenager who Palestinians say was killed by Israeli extremists in a suspected revenge attack.
Tensions along Israel’s southern border remained high as Palestinian militants fired rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
The Israeli military refused to comment on what appeared to be an attempt to allow an unofficial truce to take hold. But with Israeli troops mobilising along the border last night, the risk of retaliation remained high as the rocket fire continued.
An ambulance carried the body of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, wrapped in a Palestinian flag and traditional headscarf, to a mosque in the neighbourhood where he lived. Mourners then carried the open casket through the crowd to a cemetery where more than 2,000 people had gathered.
The teenager’s family set up a large tent outside their home for those seeking to pay condolences and distributed posters mourning Mohammed’s death.
Mourners chanted “With our soul, with our blood, we would sacrifice anything for you (Palestine)” and “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great”.
Waving a Palestinian flag and with a traditional scarf covering his face at the funeral, Shuafat resident Rami, 20, said he came to chant and mourn his neighbourhood friend Mohammed. “Frankly, my emotions cannot be described. I am happy and sad. I am happy because he died a martyr, but I am sad because they kidnapped him, killed him and then burned him.”
During the funeral procession, masked Palestinians threw stones at Israeli police on duty nearby who responded with stun grenades, military spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Police had increased security in and around Jerusalem as the funeral coincided with the first Friday prayer services of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Mr Rosenfeld said police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians in Ras al-Amud and Wadi Joz in the eastern sector of the city, which has been rocked by violent protests since Abu Khdeir’s burned body was found on Wednesday in a forest. He had been seized near his home in the east Jerusalem of Shuafat.
At least 13 Israeli officers were injured by Palestinian who had thrown large stones, with six taken to the hospital for treatment, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
The Israeli military also said troops opened fire after soldiers on the Gaza border spotted two Palestinians laying explosives near the border fence.
Tensions have been high since three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank on 12 June. The teenagers were found killed earlier this week.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the abductions and launched a crackdown on the Islamist militant group in the West Bank, drawing rocket attacks out of Gaza and Israeli air strikes in a near-daily cycle of retaliation. Hamas, which has kidnapped Israelis in the past, praised the kidnapping of the teenagers but did not take responsibility for it.
Palestinians have accused Israeli extremists of killing Abu Khdeir, saying it was a revenge attack for the deaths of the three Israelis. Israeli police said an investigation was ongoing and the motive has yet to be determined.
Lt-Col Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, announced that reinforcements had been sent to the border with Gaza in an attempt to halt a growing wave of rocket fire, insisting the move was a “defensive” one.
The killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir was widely condemned by Israeli leaders, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to find the attackers.
He added: “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism, they have no place in our democracy.”
Palestinian militants yesterday fired at least six rockets and mortars at Israel, two of which exploded prematurely inside Gaza, the military said.
The military says that Palestinian militants have fired some 140 rockets at southern Israel in recent weeks. The Israeli air force responded with air strikes on about 70 targets in Gaza, the military said.