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Wednesday 3 September 2014

'Vigilante murder' of Arab youth leaves Israel on brink of new crisis

Robert Tait

Published 03/07/2014 | 02:30

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A Palestinian kicks a tyre after setting it ablaze during clashes with Israeli police in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem. Reuters
A Palestinian kicks a tyre after setting it ablaze during clashes with Israeli police in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem. Reuters
An injured Palestinian stone-thrower is helped by his comrades during clashes with Israeli police in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem. Reuters
An injured Palestinian stone-thrower is helped by his comrades during clashes with Israeli police in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem. Reuters
A Palestinian argues with Israeli border police in Jerusalem. The suspected abduction of an Arab teen followed by the discovery of a body in Jerusalem on on Wednesday ignited clashes between Israeli police and stone-throwing Palestinians, who saw it as a revenge attack for the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. AP
A Palestinian argues with Israeli border police in Jerusalem. The suspected abduction of an Arab teen followed by the discovery of a body in Jerusalem on on Wednesday ignited clashes between Israeli police and stone-throwing Palestinians, who saw it as a revenge attack for the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. AP

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was poised on the brink of a dangerous flare-up yesterday after an Arab youth was found dead in what appeared to be a vigilante revenge killing for the murder of three Jewish teenagers.

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Police discovered the body in a forest in West Jerusalem at around 5am, just over an hour after receiving an emergency call reporting the abduction of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khiedir from a street in an Arab neighbourhood in the east of the city.

Forensic tests were being carried to establish if the body was that of the missing youth. Palestinian sources, including Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's chief negotiator, suggested the body had been burned.

Early suspicions were that the murder had been carried out by Right-wing Jewish nationalists to avenge the deaths of three Israelis whose bodies were found on Monday more than two weeks after being abducted in the West Bank, allegedly by Palestinian militants.

The three were buried on Tuesday in an emotional funeral attended by tens of thousands of Israelis.

News of the latest death triggered clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers in the middle class and normally tranquil Shuafat neighbourhood, where the youth was abducted.

Amid fears of a fresh cycle of violence Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, ordered a swift investigation into what he called a "reprehensible murder" and voiced fears of vigilante actions.

"The Prime Minister calls on all sides not to take the law into their own hands and noted that Israel is a nation of laws and everyone must act according to the law," said a statement from Mr Netanyahu's office.

The Israeli leader's statement came after Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, urged him to condemn Wednesday's incident, saying that he had condemned the abduction and murder of the three Israelis. In separate remarks, Nabil Abu Redieneh, Mr Abbas's spokesman, said Israel was "fully responsible" for the killing.

Nir Barkat, the Jerusalem mayor, condemned the murder as a "horrible and barbaric act", adding: "This is not our way and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice. I call on everyone to exercise restraint."

Fears of a backlash to the deaths of the three Israelis surfaced during Tuesday's funeral as hundreds of far Right nationalists rampaged through the centre of Jerusalem shouting racist slogans and attacking Arab citizens. Some were reported to have asked people with dark complexions "what's the time" in Hebrew to establish whether they were Arabs.

Other chanted: "Death to Arabs" and "a Jew is a brother, an Arab is a ******", Haaretz reported.

Five Arabs were injured after being attacked. Some 50 Right-wing activists were arrested, police said.

Yesterday's unrest in Shuafat disrupted Jerusalem's state-of-the art light railway, with trains ordered not to go through the neighbourhood as youths threw stones, propelled with slings, at soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Palls of thick black smoke rose high above the area of the clashes, close to the local mosque and a petrol station.

Eyewitnesses said Mohammed had been sitting on steps outside mosque drinking water in preparation for the Ramadan fast when a brown Hyundai car approached with three men inside.

Surveillance footage recorded by security cameras in a shop owned by the family showed two of the men appearing to speak in friendly manner to him before forcing him into the vehicle, said Bushra Abu Khiedir, Mohammed's aunt. Witnesses said the car had been driving around the street before circling back three or four times and eventually stopping at where the youth was sitting.

"They looked like Mossad or KGB agents," Mrs Abu Khiedir said.

"Regular Israelis are scared to come around here. The way they kept asking questions and the way the car kept turning round in the streets, they looked like they knew what they were doing and had been trained."

In a graphic sign of the gulf separating Jerusalem's Jewish and Arab populations, she dismissed the murder of the three Israeli teenagers, saying she believed they had been killed in a car crash after getting drunk.

"All this is just to start a drama," she said. "No-one buys it. Are we meant to believe the Israelis have been sleeping for two weeks and then they suddenly find the bodies?"

Mohammed's mother, Suha (43) called her son a "sweet boy" who was not a trouble maker.

"He was to finish high school next year," she said. "He was a nice kid."

Asked if his abduction could be revenge for the murder of the three Israelis, she said: "My son is very important to me, just like their sons are important to them. Why do they destroy our houses? They should destroy the houses of those who did this. My son's blood will not go for nothing. We need protection. We are surrounded by lunatic settlers who steal our land and are stealing our kids." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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