Violence spreads after slaying of Palestinian teenager

Violence spreads after slaying of Palestinian teenager
Masked Palestinians stand next to an overturned container near the home of slain 16 year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair in East Jerusalem on Saturday. (Atef Safadi / European Pressphoto Agency)

Rage over the killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem spread Saturday as protests in Arab-Israeli communities turned into violent clashes with Israeli police.

Junctions and roads near the village of Kalansuwa were blocked by security forces after hundreds of demonstrators tossed rocks, assaulted drivers and torched the cars of those identified to be Jewish.


Mohammed Abu Khudair's burned body was found in a wooded area just west of Jerusalem, a few hours after witnesses told police the 16-year-old had been forced into a car Wednesday in his village of Shuafat in what his family and neighbors believe was revenge for the recent killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

Palestinian Atty. Gen. Muhammad Uweili told the Maan news service Saturday that an autopsy found soot in the youth's lungs and respiratory tract, indicating he was alive as he was burned.

Uweili said Abu Khudair also suffered a head injury but that his death was caused by extensive burns to 90% of his body, according to the autopsy held at Israel's Institute of forensic medicine and witnessed by Palestinian coroner Dr. Sabir al-Aloul.

Israeli police investigating the death have not publicly stated the possible identity or motive of the killers, or announced the results of the autopsy performed Thursday.

Israel's justice ministry said an investigation has been opened by its internal affairs division.

Mohammed's funeral was attended by thousands the following day and protests continued overnight in Arab towns and villages located in the areas known as Wadi Ara and Triangle north of Tel-Aviv.

Thousands of police maintained heavy deployment around flashpoints throughout the country, arresting dozens of demonstrators, some of whom had thrown firebombs, burned tires and vandalized public property.

Israeli Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonowitz declared a policy of "zero tolerance" Saturday and police commissioner Yohanan Danino said security forces would continue to take a tough stand against "violence, incitement and nationalistic crime."

Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman urged Israel's justice system to punish rioters heavily as "an unequivocal message to those who enjoy Israeli citizenship yet act as terrorists."

In a Facebook post Saturday, Lieberman said "events prove once more that these people do not belong in the State of Israel." The foreign minister is an outspoken hawk regarding the country's Arab minority, which he believes should become part of the Palestinian state in a future agreement.

On Thursday, the Palestinian teen's 15-year-old cousin, visiting from the U.S., was beaten and arrested by undercover Israeli police forces, according to a Palestinian rights organization that identified the youth and said he was from Florida.

The State Department confirmed Saturday that U.S. citizen Tariq Khdeir was being held by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem.

"We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force."


On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that Khdeir had been sentenced to nine days of house arrest, according to Israeli police.

Tension that followed the abduction of three Israeli teenagers spread in recent weeks and boiled over in Israel after the teens were found dead in the West Bank on Monday. The Palestinian youth was killed the day after their funeral.

Police have not yet determined the motive of his killers, who remain at large.

On Sunday, Israeli aircraft struck 10 targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave that reached its deepest inside Israel in 20 months, the military said.

In the Gaza Strip on Saturday, a dozen rockets were fired into communities in southern Israel, causing damage but no serious injuries.

Several other rockets were intercepted by air-defense systems, including one fired at the city of Beersheba, the northernmost target since an Israeli military offensive on Gaza in 2012, according to an Israeli army statement. Israel staged an airstrike on Gaza, targeting what an army statement described as three "Hamas terror targets" in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.