Two Palestinians Questioned in Investigation Into West Bank Rape of 7-year-old Girl

Weeks after charges were dropped against the prime suspect, also a Palestinian, police say no scenario has been ruled out

File photo: Israeli police in the northern West Bank, April 20, 2019.
AFP

Israeli police detained and questioned two Palestinians on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the alleged rape of a seven-year-old girl in a West Bank settlement, less than two months after charges against a suspect were dropped for lack of evidence.

The two were working in the settlement at the time the rape complaint was filed and were suspected of assisting the unnamed perpetrator, police said. They were released after questioning. 

Charges against the initial suspect, Mahmoud Qatusa, were dropped in June, with Israel's military prosecution releasing a joint statement with police saying there was evidence showing that the girl was sexually assaulted.

Officials involved in the investigation were "all of the opinion that there isn't enough evidence to file charges against Qatusa," the statement said. It added that "there is a need for further investigation... concerning Qatusa, as well as following other leads." Qatusa, who was held in custody for 56 days, has not been interrogated since.

>> In dropping rape charges against Palestinian, a self-evident legal decision | Analysis ■ West Bank rape case: Destined for scandal, but no one sounded the alarm | Analysis

Several issues in the case against Qatusa were raised following his indictment.  

Police did not send potentially key evidence – child's underpants found near the apartment in which the child was allegedly raped – for forensic examination, sources familiar with the investigation told police.  

A lie detector test given to Qatusa was in Hebrew and not in Arabic, his native language. 

The health maintenance organization that examined the seven-year-old failed to inform police of her complaint, and would not comment on whether it reported the incident to local welfare officials. The doctor who examined the girl didn’t find unequivocal evidence of sexual assault, but she wasn’t a forensic medicine specialist.

Even before the girl identified Qatusa as her assailant, her parents had named him as a suspect. Police said the girl identified him “spontaneously,” but sources involved in the investigation said her parents’ behavior could have influenced her testimony.