JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is still lacking evidence to charge those responsible for a deadly arson attack on a Palestinian family this summer, Israeli media reported the country's defense minister as saying Monday, in a case that Palestinians say helped fuel the past weeks of bloodshed.
In July, assailants, believed to be Jewish extremists, lobbed a firebomb into the Dawabsheh family's home in the West Bank village of Duma, where four family members were asleep. Ali Dawabsheh, a toddler, was burned to death, while his mother and father later died of their wounds. His 4-year-old brother Ahmad is being treated in an Israeli hospital.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said a "group of Jewish fanatics" who want to install a "religious kingdom" based on biblical law were behind the attack. Yaalon's remarks to military correspondents were reported by Israel's Walla news site.
But Yaalon said, "We don't currently have evidence that directly ties the one who carried out the terror attack but I believe we will get that, I hope that we will solve the case completely," Yaalon said.
Israeli leaders across the political spectrum have strongly condemned the firebomb attack and vowed to apprehend the assailants. But the fact that no one has been officially charged months after the attack is a sore point among Palestinians and many cite the case as a big factor in fueling the current violence.
Since mid-September, 12 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbing assaults. Meanwhile, 75 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 48 said by Israel to have been involved in attacks or attempted attacks. The other Palestinians died in clashes between stone-throwers and security forces.
Also Monday, documents show that Israel last month gave preliminary approval to development plans that could build more than 2,000 homes in West Bank settlements over the next 15 years.
The plans came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington for a high-profile meeting with President Barack Obama.
Official records from an Oct. 21 planning committee meeting showed that officials gave preliminary approval to build about 2,200 homes in several existing settlements east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah by 2030. The plans were first reported by the Haaretz daily.
Hagit Ofran of the anti-settlement group Peace Now said that it could be years before any of the homes are built since the plan must pass several other phases before construction can begin. Still, she said it shows the "vision" that Netanyahu's government has for the area.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, captured by Israel from Jordan in the1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. The international community opposes settlements as illegal or illegitimate and says they hinder efforts for Palestinian statehood.
The meeting took place at a time of rising violence. On Monday, Israeli security forces shot and killed a Palestinian woman at a West Bank checkpoint who they said pulled a knife in an attempt to stab guards.
The Israeli Defense Ministry said the woman ignored calls to stop and also warning shots as she walked toward a checkpoint near the Alfei Menashe settlement in the northern West Bank. It released what appeared to be a suicide note left behind by the 23-year-old woman, in which she pledged to "defend the homeland" and begged her parents and sisters for forgiveness.
The latest bloodshed was triggered by unrest at a major Jerusalem shrine revered by both Muslims and Jews, and quickly spread to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza border.
Israel has blamed the violence on incitement by Palestinian leaders. Palestinians say the attacks stem from a lack of hope for gaining independence after years of failed peace efforts.
Rights groups have alleged that Israeli troops have used excessive force against Palestinians, in some cases shooting and killing suspected attackers who the groups say could have been simply arrested.