TIME Israel

Violence Escalates Between Israel and Gaza Following Arrests

More than 70 rockets have been fired at Israel, which has launched air strikes across the Gaza Strip

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Rocket sirens could reportedly be heard across southern Israel Monday as violence between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip escalated following the Sunday arrest of six Israelis in connection with the murder of a Palestinian teenager.

Israel’s security cabinet moved to intensify attacks against Hamas on Monday evening, as over 70 rockets were launched toward Israel from the Gaza Strip during the day, Haaretz reports. The Israeli military had earlier launched air strikes on targets in Gaza Strip, and says it is assembling 1,500 reservists in anticipation of escalated violence from Hamas and other Islamic militant groups.

The latest bout of sustained violence began over the weekend, after the discovery of the corpse of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian believed to have been kidnapped and burned alive.

Three out of the six suspects arrested on Sunday have reportedly confessed to the murder. Police believe Khdeir’s murder was in revenge for the killing of three kidnapped Israeli teens last month, which Israel has blamed on Hamas, Reuters reports.

On Monday morning Hamas announced that six members of its military were killed in an overnight attack on a tunnel. Israel denied the claim and said the tunnel collapsed following the detonation of explosives that went off for an unknown reason.

[Haaretz]

TIME Middle East

Israeli Airstrikes in Gaza Kill 7 Hamas Militants

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike hits Gaza City on July 3, 2014 Hatem Moussa—AP

Largest number of fatalities suffered by the group in a single military action since 2012

A series of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip left seven Hamas gunmen dead early on Monday morning — the largest number of fatalities suffered by the Islamic group in a single military action since a border crossing into Israel in 2012 that resulted in 180 Palestinian deaths.

Israeli military authorities said in a statement that the drone strikes were targeted at nine “terror” areas in order to stop “rocket attacks against southern Israel” directed by Hamas, reports Reuters. The Israeli military added that Hamas had launched 150 rocket strikes from its Gaza stronghold since mid-June. Hamas said the seven Palestinian fighters were killed at Rafah, a southern Gaza town near the Egyptian border, which has a large Hamas presence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday warned that any larger retaliation against Hamas was to be avoided, as the militant group had rockets capable of reaching far into Israeli territory including Tel Aviv, its financial center. But he advised his Cabinet “to do whatever is necessary” to regain peace in the disrupted communities in southern Israel.

Rising tensions in the area have been catalyzed by several days of clashes in eastern Jerusalem following the July 2 murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, al-Jazeera reports. Palestinians say the murder was revenge for the kidnapping and slaying in late June of three Israeli teens whose bodies were found near Hebron, a Hamas stronghold. Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the deaths.

[Reuters]

TIME Middle East

Israel Arrests 6 Suspects in Kidnap and Murder of Palestinian Teen

Clashes in East Jerusalem and northern Israel as tensions worsen
Israeli military patrols the streets in the West Bank city of Hebron on July 6, 2014 Abed Al Hashlamoun—EPA

Israeli officials hope the arrests help bring calm after a weekend of riots followed news that the 16-year-old was burned alive by captors

Israeli police arrested six suspects on Sunday in the kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, raising hopes of reducing a spiral of violence grounded in anger over his killing, which police say appears to be revenge by Jewish extremists for the murders of three kidnapped Jewish Israeli youths buried just hours earlier.

The six suspects are Jewish and were traced through closed-circuit security footage that captured the July 2 abduction of Muhammad Abu Khdeir from the sidewalk near his East Jerusalem home. Security officials scoured footage from traffic cameras to track the route of the kidnappers’ vehicle to the forest where the boy’s burned corpse was found an hour after his abduction.

The suspects, three of whom are minors, are from Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, a large bedroom city 20 miles west, and Adam, a small West Bank settlement. All were known to hold extremist views but were not believed to have been members of an existing organization and so were not being watched closely, according to police officials. Three of the six were implicated in the attempt to kidnap a child of 8 or 9 a day before near where Abu Khdeir was taken, police said. One police official said one of the suspects is cooperating with the investigation.

“They need to treat them the way they treat us,” the boy’s mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, was quoted as saying. “They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do to our children.”

The case has shaken Israel’s Palestinian community, and with it the security situation across the country of 8 million. Over the weekend, violent protests erupted beyond Jerusalem after the Palestinian Authority reported that an autopsy indicated that Abu Khdeir was still breathing when he was set on fire. Riots spread from the neighborhood of the abduction to majority-Arab cities in Israel’s north, including one where masked men stopped cars and attempted to beat occupants who spoke Hebrew, the language of Israel’s Jewish majority.

The situation was further aggravated by footage of masked Israeli police in Jerusalem badly beating an apparently unconscious Palestinian youth, allegedly a relative of Khdeir and a U.S. citizen. The cell-phone footage of the beating and later photos of the battered face of Tariq Abu Khdeir, a resident of Tampa, prompted a protest from the U.S. State Department that served to further put the Israeli government on the defensive.

So it was that, even as missiles continued to fly out of the Gaza Strip toward Israel, the normally hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu counseled calm on Sunday. “We must act responsibly and with restraint,” he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, cautioning against “inflammatory rhetoric.” A 48-hour deadline for a cease-fire had come and gone, but there was no official talk of moving Israeli troops into the Palestinian enclave, as advocated by right-wing ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government. Instead, the case was made for accommodating Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that governs Gaza, and which Israeli authorities blamed for the kidnapping of the three Israelis.

“Yes there is talk of a cease-fire, but unfortunately Hamas is still firing,” Yaakov Peri, a minister from the centrist Yesh Atid party, and former head of Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, said in a conference call on Sunday. Hamas is obliged under the terms of its most recent cease-fire with Israel to prevent all rocket fire from Gaza. But Peri said the group is currently too politically weak — partly because of the measures Israel took against it after the kidnapping of the Israeli teens — to subdue smaller but more militant groups, such as Islamic Jihad. “It seems for the time being Hamas is not able to take any control of these groups, and it is a pity,” Peri said.

The week’s events raised fears of a third intifadeh, or uprising, among the Palestinian population who claim the same land as Israelis, while showing how unexpected events can badly destabilize the region. After the June 30 discovery of the bodies of the three Jewish teens, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah not far from the West Bank junction where they had been hitchhiking, the first issue discussed was the form of retribution Israel would take for the deaths. Calls for revenge grew fiercer with the release of an agonizing tape of a call one of the captives placed to police, which appeared to capture sounds of the fatal gunshots, followed by the apparent killer’s joyful singing.

Jewish extremists rampaged in Jerusalem the next night, and Abu Khdeir was abducted a few hours later, forced into the same car into which young Jewish Israelis had tried to force a boy of 8 or 9 a day earlier, according to local residents and Israeli security officials. What followed was a descent into communal conflict alarming to both Israel’s Jewish population and the Arab minority.

“Each community is retreating into itself, laden with anger,” Ali Zahalka, a high school principal in the Arab Israeli city of Kfar Kara, wrote in the bestselling Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, after reports that Israeli Arabs in Kalansua were stopping cars to check the ethnicity of drivers. On Sunday, three Palestinian workers were reported attacked in Hadera, a majority Jewish working-class city. The dynamic had officials on edge.

“A third intifadeh is not something you can declare in advance,” said Peri, the former Shin Bet chief. “It’s something that’s spontaneous from the street, from the mob.”

— With reporting by Aaron J. Klein

TIME Israel

U.S. Seeks Probe Into Alleged Beating of American Teen By Israeli Police

Tariq Khdeir is greeted by his mother after being released from jail in Jerusalem
Tariq Khdeir, right, is greeted by his mother after being released from jail in Jerusalem July 6, 2014. Ronen Zvulun—Reuters

The State Department is "profoundly troubled" by a recent video purportedly showing a beating by Israeli paramilitary police

The U.S. is asking for a “a speedy, transparent and credible investigation” into the alleged beating of a Palestinian-American teenager by Israeli police during riots in East Jerusalem earlier this week.

The Israeli Justice Ministry says it is investigating the incident after an online video clip appeared to show two Israeli police attacking and kicking a young person wearing a mask or head covering before dragging him away, Reuters reports. Although the target’s identity has not been identified or confirmed because his face is obscured and the quality of the footage is low, the family of 15-year-old Tariq Khdeir, who was visiting from Tampa, Fla., said their teenager was the victim.

Recent pictures of Khdeir show him with a black eye and a swollen face, injuries the high school sophomore’s family said he sustained while being taken into police custody in the video. Addameer, a Palestinian human rights organization, said Khdeir was detained without charge between July 3 and July 6 and denied medical treatment for hours. The organization also said he was released on bail on Sunday and will serve nine days of house arrest at his uncle’s home in Jerusalem.

Khdeir is the cousin of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir, a Palestinian teen whose burned body was discovered Wednesday, sparking a number of riots and protests. Palestinians believe Khdeir was killed out of apparent revenge for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, and Israeli authorities arrested a number of Jewish suspects Sunday.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tariq Khdeir was one of six rioters, three of whom were carrying knives, who were caught and detained in the riots following the discovery of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir’s body. Khdeir’s father said he witnessed the arrest and that the boy did not take part in any violence, the New York Times reports.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said an official from the consulate in Jerusalem visited Khdeir on Saturday.

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

TIME Israel

Israel Violence Rises After Palestinian Teen Found Dead

Palestinian protesters run away from tear gas in Ras al-Amud
Palestinian protesters run away from tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during clashes after Friday prayers in the Arab east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud, July 4, 2014. Ammar Awad—Reuters

The apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teen has led to a tide of violence in east Jerusalem and northern Israel

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protestors erupted in Jerusalem and northern Israel after the death of an Arab teenager who Palestinians say was burned to death by Israeli extremists in a revenge killing.

Violence spread to Arab towns in northern Israel Saturday following the burial of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in East Jerusalem on Friday. Protesters threw rocks at passing cars, burned tires and lobbed rocks and firebombs at police, the Associated Press reports, while police struck back with tear gas and stun grenades.

Demonstrators near the Arab town of Qalansawe pulled a Jewish Israeli man out of his car and set his vehicle on fire, though the driver was left unharmed. Tensions remained high after militants fired two rockets in southern Israel, though the number of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip has declined in recent days.

The recent wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians began after three Israeli teenagers were abducted, setting off an Israeli manhunt in Palestinian territory that led to mass arrests and the deaths of at least five Palestinians. The teens were later found dead.

Abu Khdeir, meanwhile, was kidnapped in East Jerusalem on Wednesday while awaiting dawn prayer before his charred body was found in a forest. The Palestinian attorney general said the boy was burned alive by his abductors. An autopsy conducted by Israeli doctors and attended by a Palestinian coroner found black smoke in Khdeir’s breathing airways and lungs, the New York Times reports. Khdeir had burns on over 90 percent of his body.

In a separate incident, 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir, a cousin of the slain teen and a U.S. citizen who attends school in Florida, was beaten by police on Thursday ahead of Mohammed’s funeral, according to his relatives. Tariq is being held by police without charges, his relatives said, though Israeli police say he was in a group of stone-throwing teenagers. A video of the teenager being beaten, with pictures of his badly swollen face, has been circulated around the Internet.

[AP]

TIME Israel

In the Wake of Apparent Revenge Killing, New Israeli ‘Kidnap App’ Adapted for Palestinians

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-KIDNAPPING-FUNERAL
Relatives and friends of Mohammed Abu Khder, 16, carry his body to a mosque during his funeral in Shuafat, in Israeli annexed East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014. Ahmad Gharabli—AFP/Getty Images

Lifesaving potential adds to digital interface already figuring in fatal kidnappings of 3 Israeli teens and a Palestinian

In the first two weeks after three Israeli teenagers were abducted on the West Bank, over 60,000 Israelis downloaded a new smartphone app designed to alert police to your abduction and guide them to the place you are being held. Then a Palestinian teen earlier this week was forced into a car and killed in what police suspect was a revenge killing, hastening development of an Arabic version of the same free software.

The SOS app was developed by the volunteer rescue service United Hatzalah, by adapting software originally designed for its state-of-the-art emergency medical response network. After the June 12 abduction of Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, the software was quickly stripped down to a simple kidnap alert, offered for free online in Apple, Android and Blackberry versions.

But the app is currently offered only in English and Hebrew, the language of Israel’s Jewish majority—and until this week, the population that felt most threatened by abduction. In the 18 months before the June 12 abduction of the three teens, authorities detected more than 80 kidnap plots by Palestinian militants to snatch Israelis, driven largely by the lopsided rate of exchange an Israeli captive brings in ransom bargaining: in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for one captive soldier, Gilad Shalit.

But now Palestinians also feel vulnerable, after the abduction and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir. Local residents said an attempt had been made a day earlier to carry away a child of nine on the same street.

“The app is currently being developed in Arabic,” says a spokesperson for the nonprofit rescue service. “United Hatzalah’s main aim is to save lives—they don’t discriminate on whose lives these are.” Though the technology was funded by Irving Moskowitz, a retired American physician who has funded some of the most controversial Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the service has a major operations center in East Jerusalem as well as in the Jewish west side of the city, and more than 300 Israeli Arab volunteers nationwide.

Digital media already have figured prominently in the drama of the last three weeks. Tensions over the deaths may be playing out in the streets—which in East Jerusalem erupted in riots again on Friday, when Abu Khdeir was laid to rest—but the details driving emotions have arrived from the increasingly intimate interface of devices with everyday life. Shortly after the hitchhiking yeshiva student Gilad Shaer climbed into a car that turned out to be driven by kidnappers, he discreetly opened his phone and dialed 100, Israel’s version of 911 and whispered, “I’ve been kidnapped.”

The digital recording of his call was released after the discovery of his body, and those of Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, and fueled not only rage at the police—who took the call for a prank—but also at the killers: The recording appears to have captured the murder. The kidnappers are heard shouting for their captive to get down, then gunshots are heard, followed by the sound one of the killers announcing in Arabic, “God bless your hands, we have brought three,” followed by singing.

Released on the day the three were buried together, the audio redoubled demands for vengeance, which appeared mostly online. The Facebook group “The People of Israel Demand Revenge” recorded 35,000 likes in two days. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Jewish extremists rampaged in the streets chanting “Death to the Arabs” and confronting people with dark skin. Abu Khadeir was forced into a car in front of his house a few hours later. Police reportedly located his charred body, barely an hour later, by tracking the signal from his cell phone to a forest on the western edge of Jerusalem.

That hour would be the amount of time it often takes police in Israel to get the court order required to track a cell signal—a major advantage of the so-called kidnap app, says Eli Beer, the founder and president of United Hatzalah, who spoke to TIME before the Palestinian youth was killed.

Beer noted that Israeli law requires a judge’s specific permission to track a cell signal, a fact that might not have changed the outcome for the Jewish Israeli teens even if the police had taken Gilad Shaer’s call seriously. But the SOS app broadcasts GPS coordinates automatically to the rescue service’s 24-hour dispatch center, from which it is shared with police. “Police need to go to judge to ask the phone company the location of [the] phone,” says Beer. “We solved that problem for the police.”

The application is simple enough: “You open the app and swipe it,” Beer explains, “and three seconds later, it sends a signal.” The lag was installed in case the alert was activated by mistake. But it can only be cancelled after entering a code, a precaution added to prevent someone else (say, the kidnapper) from canceling the alert.

The SOS app was designed by NowForce, an Israeli software company catering to first responders. It amounts to a stripped-down version of an application developed seven years ago, which located the United Hatzalah trained volunteer nearest an emergency, and dispatched the volunteer to the scene– often on a motorcycle ambulance dubbed an “ambucycle,” another of the organization’s innovations.

The system did much to trim the average response time for calls inside Israel to just three minutes, claims Beer—which he says is already the fastest response time in the world. The goal is 90 seconds, and the GPS technology in smartphones should help close the gap. “We deal with 211,000 emergencies every year in Israel,” Beer says, “so we know how long it takes to get the location correct. It’s a big part of the call.”

No calls are ignored, he says. “We don’t’ take any call non-seriously,” says Beer. “Even it sounds crank, we make 100 percent sure.”

TIME

Clashes in Jerusalem for Palestinian Funeral

Palestinian throws a stone during clashes with Israeli police after prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan in East Jerusalem
A Palestinian throws a stone during clashes with Israeli police after prayers on the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Wadi al-Joz July 4, 2014. Baz Ratner—Reuters

(JERUSALEM) — Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem on Friday as an Arab teenager, who Palestinians say was killed by Israeli extremists, was brought to rest in the neighborhood where he lived.

Thousands of people chanting and waving Palestinian flags greeted the body partially wrapped in a traditional headscarf as it arrived by ambulance at a mosque before burial on Friday afternoon. Mourners carried the body aloft on a stretcher through the thick crowd.

Police had earlier beefed up security in and around Jerusalem. Extra precautions were taken as the funeral coincides with the first Friday prayer services of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians in Ras al-Amud and Wadi Joz in the eastern sector of the city. The day had been calm before Friday prayers, police said, following two days of protests since the boy’s death. The burned body of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was found Wednesday in a forest after he was seized near his home in east Jerusalem. The teen’s funeral is set for later in the day.

News of his death prompted outrage in his east Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. Protesters clashed with police for two days, throwing rocks and firebombs while security forces responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Abu Khdeir’s family set up a large tent outside the home for those seeking to pay condolences and distributed posters mourning his death.

The boy’s father, Hussein, said doctors completed an autopsy Thursday evening, and the family was expecting to receive the body after prayers.

Palestinians have accused Israeli extremists for the killing, saying it was a revenge attack for three Israeli teens that were recently abducted and killed in the West Bank.

Israeli police said an investigation was ongoing and the motives remained unclear.

The killing was widely condemned by Israeli leaders.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried Thursday to calm the situation, condemning Abu Khdeir’s killing and vowing to find the attackers.

“We don’t know yet the motives or the identities of the perpetrators, but we will. We will bring to justice the criminals responsible for this despicable crime whoever they may be,” Netanyahu said in a speech celebrating U.S. Independence Day at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism, they have no place in our democracy.”

Protests broke out in a few areas after Muslim prayers, police said. Hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks at police who responded with stun grenades, police said.

There were also disturbances at the most sensitive holy site in Jerusalem when some Palestinians threw rocks there after prayers. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The hilltop compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, where the two biblical Jewish Temples stood. It is sacred to Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, marking the place where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

On the main road in Shuafat, streets and light rail tracks remained covered in charred debris, rocks and large garbage cans.

Already tense Israeli-Palestinian relations increased after three Israeli teenagers, one of which had American citizenship, were abducted in the West Bank on June 12, sparking a massive manhunt that ended with the discovery of their bodies early this week.

Israel blamed Hamas for the abductions. Hamas, which has abducted Israelis before, praised the kidnapping of the teens but did not take responsibility for it.

Israel launched a massive crackdown on the Islamic militant group in the West Bank after the disappearance.

Rocket attacks from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Israel intensified and drew Israeli airstrikes.

The military says Palestinian militants have fired some 140 rockets at southern Israel in recent weeks. The air force responded with airstrikes on about 70 targets in Gaza, the military said.

The border area was calmer Friday morning but attacks from Gaza continued. Palestinian militants fired at least 6 rockets and mortars at Israel, two of which exploded prematurely inside Gaza, the military said.

TIME Israel

Israeli Military Asks Hamas to Calm Things Down in Gaza

Palestinians inspect damaged areas following an overnight Israeli air strike, on July 3, 2014 in Gaza City, Gaza.
Palestinians inspect damaged areas following an overnight Israeli air strike, on July 3, 2014 in Gaza City, Gaza. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Changed tone after death of kidnapped Palestinian teen

The Israeli military said Thursday that it hoped to cool tensions in Palestinian territories, not long after it had boasted about the number of times it struck the Gaza Strip and amid growing unrest over the killing of a Palestinian teenager.

“I think the main motto that the IDF is trying to pursue right now is a status of de-escalation,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said in a conference call with reporters. “Indeed, we are conveying to Hamas in various channels—open and back room messages to Hamas—to de-escalate, to restore a sense of security, to bring down the level of violence.”

The appeal for calm came after Hamas began launching rockets from Gaza, following months of Israeli efforts to stymie rocket launches toward populated areas from the isolated Palestinian coastal enclave. The Islamist militant group was apparently reacting to the slaying of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, 16, in a possible revenge attack on Wednesday after the burial of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers the day earlier. Israel blames the militants for their deaths and has been pounding the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for the last two weeks, including 15 air strikes overnight that left at least 11 people injured.

Israel has also been shifting troops to the Gaza border as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mulls how to respond to the deaths of the Israeli teens. But that response may well be muted by outrage over Abu Khdeir’s death, following his reported abduction hours after a nighttime march by Jewish extremists chanting “Death to the Arabs.”

Lerner emphasized that the only reservists called up were headed for headquarters and that infantry were summoned primarily to “reinforce” Israeli communities near Gaza. The largest of those communities, Sderot, had two close calls in the last 24 hours: A direct hit on a house and another missile that penetrated a home where children had assembled for a summer camp. The missile did not explode and no injuries were reported.

Some 20 rockets were launched on Wednesday, many by Hamas, whose ballistic missiles are identifiable by their longer range and larger warheads. “More precise, more powerful,” Lerner said.

Lerner said Israel was hoping to similarly ease tensions on the West Bank, where thousands of security forces were dispatched to crush Hamas’ infrastructure and arrest hundreds of activists under the operational umbrella of a search for the Israeli teens. Soldiers had been cautioned on the rules of engagement and were alert for a spillover of the protests that erupted in East Jerusalem after Abu Khdeir’s death. Fridays are always a potential flash point, especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began this week.

The main concern, however, appeared to be Gaza. “We do not want to have more exchanges with Hamas,” Lerner said. “But we do need to be prepared. …. It’s a challenge, and we hope Hamas will respond.”

TIME Israel

The Father of a Slain Palestinian Teen Says His Son Was Killed for Revenge

An Israeli soldier throws a grenade during clashes with
An Israeli soldier throws a grenade during clashes with Palestinians after a suspected kidnap and murder of a Palestinian teen Pacific Press—LightRocket/Getty Images

Hours after the burial of three murdered Israeli teens, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, 16, was forced into a car.

A Palestinian teen was reportedly abducted and killed near his home in Jerusalem on Wednesday, apparently in revenge for the deaths of three kidnapped Jewish Israelis buried just hours earlier.

The crime, which brought strong condemnations from the Obama Administration and European officials, threatened to throw the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians beyond the control of leaders who were calculating how to respond to the last outrage without further escalating tensions on the ground. But in the space of a few hours, the mood shifted from communal grief over the deaths of the young Israelis to fears of ascending communal violence.

The abduction followed a night of mayhem by Jewish extremists, about 200 of whom marched through Jerusalem chanting “Death to the Arabs” and assaulting Arab Israelis found on the streets. A few hours later, shortly before 4 a.m., Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, 16, was forced into a car by two men on a sidewalk not far from his home in Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem. An hour later police discovered a charred body in a forest on the outskirts of the city. Family members said it was Muhammad, who had been on his way to dawn prayers, as was customary during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The settlers killed my son, they kidnapped him and killed him,” his father, Hussein Saed Abu Khdeir, told TIME after returning from Jerusalem’s main police station.

He reached for his Samsung smartphone, tapped the screen and pulled up a photo of two young men on a sidewalk. He said the image had been taken from a surveillance camera at a candy store around the corner that recorded the abduction.

“These are the ones who kidnapped my son,” he said.

A few yards away, dozens of young men flung stones at Israeli riot police assembled two blocks downhill. The riot began shortly after the body was discovered, and went on all day. Police fired foam-tipped bullets and sound grenades. Youths twirled slingshots and the occasional Molotov cocktail. The pavement between the two sides might have been gravel, so littered was it with stones.

A row of ambulances stood by a hundred feet behind the tin barricades protesters had erected beside the building containing the Khdeirs’ home. As an ambulance driver reported that more than 60 people had been wounded by 5 p.m., another injured youth arrived, slung across the shoulders of a heavyset man in an orange medic’s vest.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement urging both sides “not to take the law into your own hands” and promising to “uncover quickly who is behind this despicable murder and what motivated it.” A relative of one of the Jewish Israeli teens, Naftali Fraenkel, who also held U.S. citizenship, was quoted as saying “If a young Arab man was murdered for nationalistic reasons then it is a horrifying and disgusting act. There is no distinguishing blood from blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality or age may be. There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any murder.”

But the distance between the sides grows with each incident. At the political level, Palestinian leaders leaped at the opportunity to turn the tables on Israel, which used the teens’ disappearance as a pretense to arrest more than 400 West Bank activists, most of them with the militant Islamist group Hamas that Netanyahu blames for the teens’ deaths.

“Israel bears full responsibility for this incident,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement, which concluded with a threat to drag Israel before U.N. courts, the most militant course Abbas has been willing to chart. “The Palestinian leadership will continue its discussions following this escalation, including joining international organizations.”

On the ground, pessimism ruled. Hussein Abu Khdeir was asked if he had faith in the Israeli police he had spent most of the day with. “No,” he said. Why not? “Because we’re Arab.”

“They are not concerned,” volunteered Yousef Mkhemer, a community activist seated across the crowded porch. Alluding to Netanyahu’s historic support for Jewish settlements on the West Bank, he said, “The boss of the settlers is the boss of the government. So he cannot shame himself.”

The distrust runs beyond political leader, however, to alternate realities. Many if not most Palestinians refuse to say that the three Israeli teens were abducted at all. Their disappearance is widely regarded as an excuse to force apart the newly minted unity government supported by both Hamas and Abbas’ secular Fatah party — a reconciliation polls show has been enthusiastically embraced by Palestinians, but condemned by Netanyahu, who has repeatedly invoked the teens’ kidnapping as reason for dismembering it.

“It’s a lie,” said Amjad Dweik, 18, of the Israeli teens’ kidnapping and murder. “As soon as the two parties Fatah and Hamas began the reconciliation, Israel began to make up all kinds of things to ruin the unit.” Hussein Abu Khdeir agreed: “They did it,” he said, referring to Israel.

In the next breath, the skeptics describe the abduction of Muhammad as vigilante vengeance for the death of the Jewish teens. Residents say young Jewish Israelis had been stalking Shuafat since the bodies were discovered on Monday. Dweik and others spoke of a boy of 9 pulled away from his mother by young Jews a day earlier on the same street where Muhammad was taken. The boy was saved, they say, when passersby intervened.

“He was scratched,” said Hussein Abu Khdeir, referring to the child, who local residents say had been holding his mother’s hand. “They grabbed him by his neck.”

His own son’s abduction and apparent death were likewise revenge.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “There’s no other explanation.”

 

TIME Israel

Military: Gaza Launches a Dozen Rockets, Hits House in Southern Israel

PALESTINIAN - ISRAEL - CONFLICT - GAZA - ATTACK
A light bomb is seen following an Israel airstrike over Gaza City on July 3, 2014. The Israeli military has accused militants in Gaza of having launched more than a dozen rockets at Israel overnight and hit an unoccupied house in Southern Israel. Mahmud Hams—AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli military says a rocket launched from Gaza has hit a house in southern Israel. No injuries were reported.

Updated: July 3, 2014, 5: 15 a.m. ET

(JERUSALEM) — A rocket launched from Gaza slammed into a house in southern Israel on Thursday, the military said, causing no injuries but adding to the mounting tensions surrounding the suspected revenge killing of an Arab teen in Jerusalem.

Israeli media showed footage of a large hole in the house, in the southern border town of Sderot, where earlier another house was struck, causing heavy damage to the structure and a nearby road and knocking out electricity throughout the town. No one was wounded in that strike.

Police are meanwhile investigating the disappearance of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, whose family says he was abducted Wednesday shortly before a charred body was found in a Jerusalem forest. The family accused extremist Jews of killing him in revenge for the deaths of three Israeli teens, who went missing more than two weeks before their bodies were found in a field in the West Bank.

The suspected killing ignited clashes in east Jerusalem between rock-throwing Palestinians and Israeli forces, who responded with stun grenades and rubber-coated billers. The rioters set tires ablaze and torched three light-rail train shelters.

East Jerusalem was quiet Thursday morning but police said units were still patrolling the area. An Associated Press cameraman filmed Hebrew graffiti reading “death to Israel” and “death to Jews.” Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the graffiti was likely sprayed since Abu Khdeir’s disappearance and that police were looking into it.

Police were still working to identify the body on Thursday, as well as pinpoint the motives behind the killing.

“The investigation is continuing in order to determine whether this was criminal or nationalistic,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The incident elicited international condemnation and prompted calls for calm from Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded a swift probe of the “reprehensible murder.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was clear extremist Jewish settlers were responsible for the death and called on Israel to bring the killers to justice.

Israel says the militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, abducted and killed the Israeli teens, which led to the largest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, with Israel arresting hundreds of Hamas operatives as part of a broad manhunt. The discovery of the bodies following days of intense media coverage led to an outpouring of national grief. As the funerals were being held on Tuesday, hundreds of right-wing Israeli youths marched through Jerusalem, screaming for revenge.

Rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes have intensified since the teens went missing.

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