The Israel Police have arrested six suspects over the abduction and murder of a Palestinian teen and are leaning toward suspicion that the attack was carried out with nationalist motives, it was revealed on Sunday after a gag order was partially lifted.
Police increasingly believe that murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, whose body was found in the Jerusalem Forest on Wednesday, was carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge over the recent kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, the Associated Press reported quoting an official.
Police are also investigating suspicions that the six were also linked to the attempted kidnapping of 9-year-old Mussa Zalum, less than a day before Abu Khdeir was abducted and killed. Police arrived at the scene following the attempted kidnapping, but when the family declined an officer's request to file a formal complaint, the police dropped the case, Israel Police said Sunday.
Shortly before the police was to reveal further details of the investigation, the Petah Tikvah Magistrate's Court extended the gag order on most of the details, at the request of the Shin Bet, under whose custody the suspects are being held. Some of the suspects were brought before court on Sunday for an extension of their remand.
Initially, the suspects are being prevented from meeting with lawyers. By law, suspects may be prevented from receiving legal representation for up to 10 days if they are suspected of committing a terror-related hate crime. That period of time can be extended to 21 days with court approval.
Members of the Abu Khdeir family said they had not received any official notification from the police concerning the arrest of suspects in the murder – even though the police had promised them that they would be the first to know of any developments.
Sair Abu Khdeir, the murdered teen's uncle, said police and security forces may have been surprised at the identity of the suspects, "but not us. We know what happened. Now I want the Israeli public to know and to see what happened to Mohammed. The killers were influenced by all those who called for revenge."
Palestinian Attorney General Muhammad Abd al-Ghani Uweili was quoted Saturday as saying that that a preliminary autopsy report showed soot in the victim's lungs and respiratory tract, indicating he was alive and breathing while he was being burned.
Israeli police say the circumstances behind Abu Khdeir's killing remain unclear, but Palestinians believe he was kidnapped and killed by right-wing Israelis in revenge for the murder of three Israeli youths in the West Bank last month.
Adding to the tensions, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have stepped up rocket attacks on southern Israel, drawing Israeli airstrikes in retaliation. Israel carried out air strikes on 10 sites in Gaza.
Protests spread over the weekend from Jerusalem to Arab towns in northern Israel, with hundreds of people throwing rocks and fire bombs at officers who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, according to Israeli police. Police said 22 Arab Israelis were arrested in clashes on Saturday. The clashes subsided toward Sunday morning and resumed in the early evening.
In East Jerusalem, home to the most violent protests over the teen's death, Abu Khdeir's mother, Suha, welcomed news of the arrests but said she had little faith in the Israeli justice system.
"I don't have any peace in my heart. Even if they captured who they say killed my son," she said. "They're only going to ask them questions and then release them. What's the point?"
"They need to treat them the way they treat us. They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do it to our children," she added.
Also Sunday, it was revealed that the army arrested a Palestinian in the city of Hebron. His family identified him as Hossam Dufesh. The army would not elaborate on the arrest, but Israeli forces have concentrated its search for the murderers of three Israeli teens in the Hebron area.
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