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Tuesday 2 September 2014

Israel clashes after new body found

Published 02/07/2014 | 10:07

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A Palestinian takes cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank (AP)
An Israeli border policewoman aims her weapon during clashes with Palestinians in Jerusalem (AP)
Israelis march on the road near where three Israeli teenagers were abducted near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Alon Shvut (AP)

Palestinians have accused Israeli settlers of carrying out a revenge attack for the deaths of three Israeli youths after a Palestinian teenager was abducted and killed.

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The accusation sparked clashes with Israeli forces and demands by the Palestinian president that Israel hold the killers accountable.

The latest claim stokes tensions already heightened by the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were found two weeks after they were abducted in the West Bank, and a surge in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants 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 after in a Jerusalem forest.

Later, the boy's family said they had identified the body. The teenager's cousin, Saed Abu Khdeir, said the family believed the youth was killed by Israelis in an act of revenge.

"It's a clear crime by settlers in revenge for the killing of the three," he said, adding that the family witnessed security camera footage of the suspected kidnapping, which purported to show a car nearing Mohammed Abu Khdeir 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 light rail train stations and hurled stones at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Israeli police said the body still had not been identified, and that they were still investigating the circumstances of the boy's disappearance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged caution. He called on authorities to swiftly investigate the "reprehensible murder" and called on 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 over the deaths of the Israeli teenagers.

Israel has accused Hamas militants of abducting and killing the three teenagers, and has arrested hundreds of its members across the West Bank.

Meanwhile, rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has intensified, and been met with Israeli air strikes. The barrage continued today, with the military saying five mortar shells were launched from Gaza to Israel.

The clashes in east Jerusalem continued throughout the day. Later, masked men holed up in a mosque in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina lobbed rocks towards Israeli security forces in the street below.

Police responded by firing stun grenades towards the mosque, as a small group of Palestinian youths stood to the side.

The street was largely deserted and littered with rocks and debris, as a small fire set next to a large green rubbish bin spewed black smoke into the air.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said security was heightened following the clashes, with extra units dispatched and light rail services cut short to avoid the violence. Police also closed a key holy site in Jerusalem's Old City to visitors after rock throwing there.

Israeli officials urged calm as police investigated the incidents.

"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, said. "I am telling everyone, let us wait patiently."

The incident led to international condemnation, with 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. Their disappearances gripped the country and the discovery of their bodies prompted an outpouring of grief.

Israel has demolished the West Bank home of Ziad Awad, who was found guilty by a military court of killing an Israeli police officer in April. The demolition marked a return to a policy abandoned by the military in 2005. Israel sees house demolitions as a deterrent to violence, while critics claim it is a form of collective punishment.

The Obama administration condemned the killing of the Palestinian teenager as a "heinous murder" and called on the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

In a series of posts on Twitter, national security adviser Susan Rice said the US is paying close attention to the investigation into the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. She also said the US sends condolences to his family and the Palestinian people.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry called the killing "sickening" and said "there are no words to convey adequately our condolences to the Palestinian people".

Press Association

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