The tense atmosphere prevalent since last month’s killing of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank has taken a distinct turn for the worse with the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian youth from Jerusalem.
As the police investigation continued, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem immediately blamed Jewish extremists and took to the streets, sparking some of the fiercest clashes in Jerusalem since the Palestinian uprising which erupted in December 1987.
Hundreds of Palestinian youths, many covering their faces with the traditional keffiyeh Arab headscarf, threw rocks, petrol bombs and other objects at police. Three stops of Jerusalem’s light railway, a symbol of coexistence in the capital, were torched.
According to Palestinian sources, more than 50 people were injured, including 17 who required hospitalisation.
As the riots raged, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged both sides not to take the law into their own hands.
“Israel is state of law, everyone needs to conduct themselves according to law,” he said, urging all the parties involved in the investigation of the incident to “uncover quickly who is behind this despicable murder and what motivated it”.
Early yesterday morning the police received reports that 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdair from the Palestinian neighbourhood of Shuafat had been bundled into a car, which sped away. Shortly afterwards his charred body was found in the Jerusalem forest.
Coming a day after the burial of the three Jewish teenagers Israel claimed were killed by Hamas militants from the West Bank city of Hebron, it appeared that the killing was perpetrated by Jewish extremists who have carried out scores of revenge attacks, termed “price tag” actions, on Arabs over recent years.
As the funerals took place on Tuesday, hundreds of angry Jews tried to block Jerusalem streets and chanted “death to the Arabs”. A number of Arabs were attacked and police arrested more than 50 people. Police urged caution and stressed the possibility of a criminal motive in the murder of the Palestinian youth was also being examined, claiming the incident could have been part of an ongoing feud between extended Palestinian families in the area.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel and called on Mr Netanyahu to issue a condemnation, similar to the one he himself had issued condemning the kidnapping of the three Israelis. “Israel needs to take real steps to combat settler attacks and the chaos resulting from Israeli escalation,” Mr Abbas said.
Hamas said Israel would pay for the killing. “We send our message to the Zionist entity and its leaders, which hold direct responsibility, that our people will not let this crime pass,” it said.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat condemned the kidnapping of the Palestinian youth as a “grave and barbaric act” and called for tempers to calm.
Last night the Israeli security cabinet held its third meeting in as many days as ministers continued to ponder how Israel should respond to the murder of the three Israeli teenagers.
Hamas official Mushir al-Masri in Gaza warned Israel against an escalation in the Gaza Strip, adding that Hamas possesses rockets and missiles capable of reaching greater Tel Aviv. “Hamas will continue kidnapping soldiers and Israelis until the last Palestinian in Israeli prison is freed,” Mr al-Masri said.
A senior Palestinian official in Ramallah said that despite the threats, Hamas was not interested in a violent escalation and the Hamas leadership was holding intensive talks with the heads of other Palestinian groups in Gaza in an attempt to calm tensions and to prevent militant rocket fire into southern Israel.