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Tension Mounts After Apparent Revenge Killing in Jerusalem

A Palestinian kicks a tyre after setting it ablaze during clashes with Israeli police in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem July 2, 2014. The discovery of a body in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday raised suspicions that a missing Palestinian youth had been killed by Israelis avenging the deaths of three abducted Jewish teens. Rock-throwing Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces in Jerusalem after the news, but no serious injuries were reported. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A Palestinian kicks a tire after setting it ablaze during clashes with Israeli police in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem.Ammar Awad/REUTERS

JERUSALEM — The body of an abducted Arab teenager was found in a Jerusalem forest early Wednesday, fanning outrage among Palestinians and threatening to further escalate the broader tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The death appeared to be an Israeli revenge killing for the kidnap and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank last month.

The father of the abducted youth, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, 16, said police had identified the body through DNA tests.

The discovery of the body came about an hour after Palestinians said an Arab teenager had been forced into a car in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said the police had erected roadblocks in the area to locate the vehicle. The body was discovered shortly afterward in a forest near the entrance to Jerusalem. Rosenfeld said police were investigating both criminal and nationalistic motives for the killing.

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Palestinian leaders held Israel responsible, while Israeli leaders called for restraint until the facts became clearer in an effort to calm the charged atmosphere.

The Israeli minister of internal security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, urged residents to “lower the volume” regarding the suspicion of a revenge attack by Jews.

“There are attempts to make a connection between the two incidents and we are still checking all directions,” he said on Israel Radio. “There are many possibilities, criminal and nationalistic, and everything is being examined in a responsible manner.”

The body found in the forest was taken to Israel’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.

Relatives of the abducted youth said he had left his father’s kitchenware and appliance store around 3:30 a.m. and was sitting on a wall outside the mosque with some other teenagers waiting for the dawn prayer that starts the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Mahmoud Abu Khdeir, the imam of the mosque and a cousin, said the other youths left to get food for the traditional predawn meal when a gray Hyundai pulled up at 3:45 a.m. and its occupants forced Muhammad into the car.

“He was kidnapped and killed by the settlers, and the police know that very well,” the imam said. Police said they were reviewing footage from security cameras along the street; the imam said they have been used in the past to identify and arrest Palestinian stone-throwers.

“They are trying to say that it is an honor killing, and this is categorically not true,” he said.

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “condemn the kidnapping and killing” of Muhammad “as we condemned the kidnapping and killing” of the three Israeli teenagers, according to WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Abbas’ spokesman, called on Israel to arrest the abductors and hold them accountable, WAFA reported.

“The coming days, you can’t expect what will happen — the situation will get worse and worse,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, who works with the Palestine section of Defense for Children International. “The occupation and the cycle of violence should be ended to guarantee there is no further loss of life.”

Netanyahu spoke before noon with Aharonovich, the internal security minister, and requested that “investigators act as quickly as possible to find out who stands behind the despicable murder,” according to a statement from the prime minister’s office. Netanyahu called on all sides not to take the law into their own hands, saying, “Israel is a state of law and everybody is obligated to act according to the law.”

As news of the killing spread, the police increased their presence in Jerusalem. Clashes broke out between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces along the main road that links the neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shuafat. Dozens of teenagers, some using slingshots, hurled stones at the security officers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Shelters at stops along Jerusalem’s light rail line, which runs through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, were smashed, and smoke from tires set ablaze hovered over the area. The police barred Jews from entering the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City to avoid rioting.

The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, condemned the killing of the teenager in a statement.

“This is a horrible and barbaric act which I strongly condemn,” he said. “This is not our way and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice. I call on everyone to exercise restraint.”

Yishai Fraenkel, the uncle of one of the three slain Israeli teenagers, told Ynet, a news site, “there is no difference between blood and blood.”

“Murder is murder,” Fraenkel was quoted as saying. “Whatever the nationality or age are, there is no justification, no forgiveness or penance for any murder.”

Tensions have been running high since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped while hitching a ride home from their West Bank yeshiva schools on June 12, and suspicion fell on Palestinian militants. Their bodies were found in a field in the Hebron area 18 days later and were brought for a joint burial to the city of Modiin, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, on Tuesday.

As the funerals were underway, hundreds of extreme-right protesters gathered in Jerusalem demanding that the government avenge the deaths. Chanting “Death to Arabs,” they tried to attack Arab passers-by who had to be extricated by the police. More than 40 protesters were arrested.

Even before the abduction of the Israeli teenagers, a spate of hate crimes had revived concerns about the so-called Price Tag movement in which right-wing Israeli extremists have for years carried out attacks against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and against the Israeli authorities’ efforts to curtail illegal settlement activity.

The U.S. State Department’s annual report on terrorism published this spring included Price Tag for the first time, citing a U.N. count of 400 attacks in 2013 and saying they went “largely unprosecuted.”

A spike in incidents within Israel’s 1948 borders has caused further alarm: There were at least 20 such attacks in the first five months of this year, authorities said, up from seven in 2013 and five in 2012.

Before Pope Francis’s visit in May to the Holy Land, a church and offices of the Vatican’s Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem were defaced. In April, the Israeli military took over a yeshiva in the Yitzhar settlement that was seen as a hotbed of extremism after settlers clashed with Israeli forces dispatched to demolish illegal buildings in Yitzhar’s outposts.

Last year, a special unit was set up in the Israel Police’s West Bank division to contend with the problem, and this spring Israel’s top justice officials considered classifying the Price Tag movement as a terrorist organization to give the authorities additional tools to crack down.

But security experts say the Israeli government has long been lax on Jewish extremists for fear of alienating settlement leaders and rabbis or further dividing the nation.

Amir Peretz, the Israeli environment minister, said attacks like Wednesday’s “ignite the conflict” with the Palestinians “and portray Israel in an inappropriate way.”

“We must uproot and denounce such phenomenon and we must deal with them strongly and unequivocally,” Peretz, a former Labor Party leader who is now part of the centrist Hatnua faction, said in a radio interview.

“This is now a battle over the character of the state of Israel,” he added. “A murderer is a murderer is a murderer, and he must be dealt with just like any other murderer is treated.”

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