THE abduction and murder of a Palestinian teenager yesterday sparked a surge in fighting between Israeli police and Palestinians as tensions in the region rose.
The death of the Palestinian boy, whose body was found in a forest outside Jerusalem, was blamed by Palestinians on Israeli settlers who they claimed were taking revenge for the murders of three Israeli teenagers whose funerals took place on Tuesday.
The latest killing stoked tensions that were already running high and led to a number of clashes between police and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Just hours after Israel buried the three teenagers, 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 forest.
Late yesterday, the Khdeir family said they had identified the body as Mohammed’s. The teenager’s cousin, Saed Abu Khdeir, said: “It’s a clear crime by [Israeli] settlers in revenge for the killing of the three.”
He said the family witnessed security camera footage of the suspected kidnapping, which purported to show a car approaching Mohammed 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 train stations and hurled stones at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Israeli police said the body had not been identified, and that they were still investigating the circumstances of the teenager’s disappearance.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged caution. He called on authorities to swiftly investigate the “reprehensible murder” and urged 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 for the deaths of the Israeli teenagers.
Israel has accused Hamas militants of abducting and killing the three, and has arrested hundreds of Hamas members across the West Bank.
Rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has intensified and been met by Israeli air strikes. The barrage continued yesterday, with the Israeli military saying five mortar shells were launched from Gaza into Israel.
The clashes in east Jerusalem continued throughout the day. In the afternoon, masked men holed up in a mosque in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina lobbed rocks at
Israeli security forces in the street below. Police responded by firing stun grenades toward the mosque.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said security was heightened following the clashes, with extra units dispatched and rail services cut short to avoid the violence. Police also closed a key holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City to visitors after rocks were thrown there.
Israeli officials urged calm as police investigated the incident.
“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 drew international condemnation, with the UN 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 on Monday in a field near the West Bank city of Hebron.