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Home of key witness in arson attack on Palestinians also goes up in flames

The key witness to a brutal arson attack on a Palestinian family now finds his own home destroyed by flames.

When a Molotov cocktail sent Riham and Saad Dawabshe’s home up in flames last year, killing the couple and their 18-month-old son, their cousin Ibrahim Dawabshe heard their screams from the house next door. The attack, allegedly carried out by Jewish extremists, drew international condemnation.

Early Sunday, Ibrahim and his wife, who still live along with much of the Dawabshe family in the West Bank village of Duma, awoke to thick smoke, neighbors said. They managed to get out of the house, and were taken to a hospital near Nablus to be treated for smoke inhalation and shock.

“Around 1:30 a.m., I heard my brother and his wife call for help,” Bashar Dawabshe said. “I went up towards their house on the next floor and saw the flames.” Surveying the wreckage later in the morning, Bashar said he saw that a window was broken and shattered glass lay inside the house.

The window had been broken from the outside and flammable materials were found among the debris inside, firefighter Malek Ali told Agence France-Presse.

Israeli police said that the fire did not appear to be an arson attack by Jewish extremists, though some details of the investigation remain under a gag order.

Family members disagreed. The fire was “a message to the family and the village: ‘This witness must disappear,’” relative Nasser Dawabshe told AFP.

Ibrahim was talking to his then-fiancee on the phone on July 31, 2015, the night his cousins were killed. “I heard Saad shouting: ‘Help, they have slaughtered me,’” he said at the time. “I dropped the phone and rushed to their house.”

At the house, he found two masked men standing over the burning bodies of Riham and Saad Dawabshe, he said. He could hear the screams of their 4-year-old son, Ahmad, who was still trapped inside the house.

The masked men lunged toward him and he ran back to his own house, then returned to try to rescue Ahmad, he said. “I used my cellphone as a light at the doorway of the bedroom. I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him. I eventually pulled him out.”

Ahmed, now 5, the sole survivor, had burns over 65% of his body, including severe burns on his legs.

Riham and Saad’s 18-month-old son Ali was killed in the fire. The couple later died in hospital of their burns, which covered up to 90% of their bodies.

Ibrahim also tried in vain to rescue Ali. “I put a cloth over my nose so that I could try to breathe, but the entire room was engulfed in flames and I couldn’t go in to rescue him,” Ibrahim said in July, in tears.

He remembered how Riham and Saad looked just after they escaped the burning house, as they were carried onto the courtyard of his property. They were covered in synthetic bedding fabric that had melted into their flesh. A trail of blood stained the courtyard.

Two reputed Jewish extremist activists have been charged in their deaths. Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, has been charged with three counts of murder and one of attempted murder, arson and conspiracy to commit a hate crime. Ben-Uliel was living in a West Bank settlement close to Duma at the time of the attack. A 17-year-old whose name cannot be revealed because of a court order has been charged as an accessory to the crime. The two are accused of plotting the attack in revenge for the shooting death of an Israeli by a Palestinian a month before. Their trial began in Lod District Court in early February.

Shuttleworth is a special correspondent.

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