Israeli police: Arson in West Bank likely not Jewish crime

AP News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2016 3:39 PM
Israeli police: Arson in West Bank likely not Jewish crime

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police said they do not believe an arson attack on a Palestinian home Sunday was carried out by Jewish attackers. The house that was set ablaze belonged to a key witness to an arson attack by Jewish perpetrators that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents last year.

Palestinian officials say attackers broke the bedroom window of Ibrahim Dawabsheh's home and set the house on fire. Dawabsheh and his wife escaped. He was unharmed but his wife suffered from light smoke inhalation.

Dawabsheh, a relative of last year's victims, is a witness to the attack that killed them and is currently testifying before an Israeli court in the trial of two Jewish extremists.

Last July, suspected Jewish settlers hurled firebombs into a home, killing 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh. His mother, Riham, and father, Saad, later died of their wounds. Ali's 4-year-old brother Ahmad survived.

Ibrahim Dawabsheh told Israeli Channel 10 TV News, "the minute I saw the fire, I was reminded of Saad's family, of course."

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said an investigation was underway into the fire in the West Bank village of Duma.

The police and Shin Bet security service announced Sunday, "the evidence that was found at the scene of the crime does not have the characteristics of a targeted arson by Jewish perpetrators."

Samri and the statement did not offer further details on why police doubt the fire was the work of Jewish extremists or who they suspect the perpetrators might be.

Duma council head Abdel-Salaam Dawabsheh ruled out the possibility that a local resident carried out the arson. He said Palestinian detectives were investigating the fire as well. He called on Israel to protect the village, which is under Israeli jurisdiction and out of the reach of Palestinian police. He said after the July arson, locals maintained a volunteer night guard for four months but could not sustain it without financial support.

The deadly July 31 firebombing was condemned across the Israeli political spectrum, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged "zero tolerance" in the fight to bring the assailants to justice. Investigators placed several suspects under "administrative detention," a measure typically reserved for alleged Palestinian militants that allows authorities to hold suspects for months without charge.

But as the investigation dragged on for months, Palestinians complained of a double-standard, where suspected Palestinian militants are quickly rounded up and prosecuted under a military legal system that gives them few rights, while Jewish Israelis are protected by the country's criminal laws.

Locals protested Israeli soldiers who arrived to investigate the arson Sunday.

"This is a clear message of the settlers that they enjoy security and stability, they act under the army's protection and can get to any Palestinian house and carry out any crime," Nablus governor Akram Rajoub told Israeli Channel 10.

Amiram Ben-Uliel, a 21-year-old West Bank settler, has been charged with murder in the July arson. He and other alleged accomplices are part of a movement known as the "hilltop youth," a leaderless group of young people who set up unauthorized outposts, usually clusters of trailers, on West Bank hilltops — land the Palestinians claim for their hoped-for state.

The group has been accused of carrying out so-called "price tag" attacks in which they vandalized Palestinian property, as well as mosques, churches, the offices of dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases to exact a cost for Israeli steps seen as favoring the Palestinians.

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed to this report.