Israel: Tension rises over boy’s death

Palestinian women gather stones to throw at an Israeli guard tower in Bethlehem yesterday. Picture: AFP/GettyPalestinian women gather stones to throw at an Israeli guard tower in Bethlehem yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty
Palestinian women gather stones to throw at an Israeli guard tower in Bethlehem yesterday. Picture: AFP/Getty
Israel has started reinforcing its military strength on its border with the Gaza Strip amid heightened tension with the Palestinians. Israel faced a second day of violent protests in Jerusalem after the discovery of the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Abu Khudair, on Wednesday in a forest near the city.

Israeli police are investigating the possibility he was the victim of a revenge killing over the deaths of three Jewish teenagers, whose abduction on 12 June Israel has blamed on Islamist Hamas militants in the occupied West Bank.

The funeral of the Palestinian teenager who was abducted and killed in Jerusalem was delayed so a post-mortem examination can be completed. His family said they hoped officials would release his body soon so he could be buried today.

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Ten Palestinians were yesterday injured in the Israeli bombardment, which followed barrages from Gaza which struck two homes in the southern Israeli border town of Sderot.

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said troops were taking up “defence positions” in Israeli communities that have been struck by the rockets from Gaza.

It is the first time since mid-June that Israel has announced troop movements near the Gaza Strip.

Lt Col Lerner said: “We are moving and we have moved forces. Everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation but on the other hand to be prepared if they don’t de-escalate.”

Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of breaching a ceasefire brokered after a 2012 eight-day cross-border war, and said the group would respond according to developments on the ground.

“Our people know well how to exact a heavy price from the enemy,” Mr Ubaida said at a news conference in Gaza.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday convened his security cabinet for a fourth time since Monday, an official said, as tension remained high in Jerusalem in anticipation of the funeral of the teenager. Israel launched air strikes against at least three Hamas training facilities in Gaza, residents said, adding that 15 people had been injured.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned both Israelis and Palestinians last night for the latest flare-up of violence across the Gaza border and also the killing.

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“From a human rights point of view, I utterly condemn these rocket attacks and more especially I condemn Israel’s excessive acts of retaliation,” Mr Pillay told journalists in Vienna.

The Palestinian teenager was last seen alive being bundled into a van on Wednesday near his home in the Arab neighbourhood of Shuafat in Jerusalem, a day after the burials of the Jewish teenagers.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who accused Jewish settlers of killing the teenager, contacted the boy’s family by telephone yesterday.

“Mohammed is one of the martyrs of this great people,” he said, according to the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

Mr Netanyahu has called the killing a “loathsome murder” and has urged all sides not to take the law into their own hands.

The killing of the teenager also drew international condemnation and the United States urged the Palestinian Authority to “take all necessary steps to prevent an atmosphere of revenge and retribution”.

The family of one of the three murdered Israeli teenagers also issued a statement condemning the latest killing.

“If the Arab youth was murdered because of nationalistic motives, then this is a horrible and horrendous act,” the statement from the family of Naftali Frenkel said.

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Israeli police have urged caution over the motives for the killing, saying they are still investigating.

The bodies of the three Jewish seminary students were found near the city of Hebron on Monday, two-and-a-half weeks after they were abducted .

Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both aged 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach were last seen at a junction near Hebron as they hitchhiked home.