JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Thursday announced the arrests of several Jewish extremists with possible connections to an arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his two parents in July — moving closer to solving a case that has enraged Palestinians and been a key factor fueling a two-month wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The developments came as two Palestinians were shot and killed following separate attacks on Israelis on Thursday.
Palestinians have repeatedly claimed that Israel's slow movement in making arrests in the arson reflected what they see as an unfair justice system that moves swiftly in finding Palestinian suspects in violence. They frequently cite the lack of progress as a source of anger behind a string of attacks that began in mid-September and show no signs of ending.
In the latest violence, police said a Palestinian was shot and killed near the Old City in Jerusalem after stabbing an Israeli officer and wounding him. Earlier in the day, the Israeli military said a Palestinian man opened fire on Israelis outside of Jerusalem, wounding two people before security forces shot and killed him.
The arson attack in July took place in the West Bank village of Duma where assailants, believed to be Jewish extremists, lobbed a firebomb during the night into the Dawabsheh family's home, where four family members were asleep. Toddler Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death while his mother and father later died of their wounds. The toddler's 4-year-old brother Ahmad was also hurt in the attack and is still being treated in an Israeli hospital.
Hebrew graffiti reading "revenge" was sprayed on the walls of the home, indicating that the attackers were possibly Jewish.
Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum condemned the attack, but the lack of suspects has remained a sore point among Palestinians. Earlier this month, Israel's defense minister had said Jewish extremists were involved, but that there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
The Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, said Thursday it had arrested a number of youths belonging to a "Jewish terrorist" organization and that interrogators were checking "concrete suspicions" they were connected to the Duma attack.
In Thursday's shooting attack, the military said a Palestinian got out of a car and opened fire near the West Bank village of Hizme, on Jerusalem's northern outskirts. One soldier and a civilian were wounded before security forces killed the attacker.
A Palestinian Authority intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with protocol, said the shooter was a Palestinian intelligence officer. He did not elaborate or provide a motive for the attack.
Since mid-September, 19 people have been killed on the Israeli side in Palestinian stabbings, shootings and attacks in which cars or other vehicles are used to run down people or plow into groups of pedestrians. At least 102 Palestinians have been killed, including 67 said by Israel to be attackers. The rest died in clashes with Israeli security forces.
In addition, an American student was killed in a Palestinian attack and an Eritrean migrant was shot dead by an Israeli security guard after he was mistakenly identified as an attacker.
Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian leaders and on social media sites. Palestinians say the attacks stem from a lack of hope for gaining independence after years of failed peace efforts.
To crack down on unrest, Israel last month resumed demolishing homes of Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis.
Early Thursday, the Israeli army demolished the home of a Palestinian accused of orchestrating the deadly shooting of an Israeli couple of Oct. 1. The military identified the man as Raeb Ahmed Muhammad Alivi, in his late 30s. He was arrested days after the attack.
According to the army, Alivi led a five-member Hamas cell that shot and killed Rabbi Eitam Henkin, a U.S. citizen, and his wife Naama as they drove in the northern West Bank. Their four young children in the back of the car escaped unharmed.
Israel says home demolition is an effective tool to deter attacks, but critics say the tactic amounts to collective punishment.