Israel intensifies pursuit of Jewish extremists after child killed

Jean-Luc Renaudie
1 / 5

Palestinian women look at the damage at the West Bank home of the Dawabsha family on August 4, 2015 after it was firebombed by two Israeli suspects, including a minor, killing a Palestinian toddler and his parents

Palestinian women look at the damage at the West Bank home of the Dawabsha family on August 4, 2015 after it was firebombed by two Israeli suspects, including a minor, killing a Palestinian toddler and his parents (AFP Photo/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel has intensified its pursuit of Jewish extremists after the firebombing death of a Palestinian child, detaining one suspect without trial through a controversial procedure usually reserved for Palestinians.

Police arrested three alleged extremists this week, as pressure mounts to act against those responsible, though none of the suspects has been publicly accused of direct involvement in the firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma.

One suspect, Mordechai Mayer, an 18-year-old settler, was on Tuesday placed in what is known as administrative detention, which allows him to be held indefinitely without charge.

He was accused in a defence ministry statement of involvement in "violent activities and terrorist attacks in recent times".

Media reports have suggested the attorney general had given permission for the authorities to take such action against three suspected extremists.

"The investigation into the murder in the village of Duma is the top priority of the police," a spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday.

"That is why it is necessary to use all the means at the police's disposal, including an appeal to the public," she added, urging residents to report anything they knew.

Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service which is investigating the arson, told public radio that internment can be a useful tool, giving agents "more time to conduct interrogations, especially if the suspects do not talk".

- Crackdown calls -

Administrative detention dates from British-mandated Palestine, and Israel normally applies it against Palestinians, allowing them to be held without trial for renewable six-month periods.

At the end of June, 370 Palestinians were on administrative detention, according to rights group B'Tselem. Many Palestinian prisoners have staged hunger strikes in protest against the policy.

Friday's firebombing that killed 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha also critically injured his parents and four-year-old brother.

Just hours earlier, an ultra-Orthodox man was arrested for storming a Gay Pride march in Jerusalem and stabbing six people, mortally wounding a 16-year-old girl.

The suspect, Yishai Schlissel, had been released from prison only three weeks earlier after serving a 10-year sentence for a similar attack.

The two incidents have led to a wave of calls for a crackdown on Jewish extremists.

Experts and officials distinguish between the two crimes, saying they seem to have been carried out with different motivations. But the violence has prompted a sense among some that Jewish extremism must be urgently addressed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has strongly condemned both attacks and labelled the firebombing "terrorism", has pledged "zero tolerance" for such acts.

At the same time, his government has been accused of going dangerously far in its support for rightwing settler groups.

- International protection -

On Monday, authorities detained Meir Ettinger, whose grandfather Meir Kahane founded the racist anti-Arab Kach group, and a court prolonged his detention until the weekend on suspicion of "nationalist crimes".

Ettinger, 23, was arrested "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organisation", a Shin Bet spokesman said.

According to Israeli media, he was the brains behind a June 18 arson attack on a shrine in northern Israel, where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Mayer had also been arrested in connection with the same arson.

Another man, Eviatar Slonim, was arrested "for belonging to an extremist organisation", Shin Bet said Tuesday. His detention was extended Wednesday for at least five days.

Graffiti at the site of the firebombing indicated the attack was carried out by Jewish extremists in so-called "price tag" violence -- a euphemism for nationalist-motivated hate crimes.

The Palestinians have submitted a request to the International Criminal Court to probe the firebombing and "settler terrorism", said their foreign ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

On Wednesday, Arab foreign ministers at a meeting in Cairo agreed to call on the United Nations to protect the Palestinians from "terrorist crimes" by Israeli settlers.