Israel intensifies pursuit of Jewish extremists after arson attack

Friday 31/07/2015

JERUSALEM - Israel has intensified its pursuit of Jewish extremists in the wake of the firebombing death of a Palestinian child, detaining one suspect without trial through a controversial procedure usually invoked for Palestinians.

Police have arrested three alleged extremists this week, as pressure mounts to act against those responsible, though none of the suspects have been publicly accused of direct involvement in the firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma.

One suspect, Mordechai Mayer, an 18-year-old settler, was placed Tuesday in what is known as administrative detention, which allows him to be held indefinitely without charge.

He was accused in a defence ministry statement of involvement in "violent activities and terrorist attacks in recent times".

Media reports have suggested the attorney general had given permission for the authorities to take such action against three suspected extremists.

"The investigation into the murder in the village of Duma is the top priority of the police," a spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday.

"That is why it is necessary to use all the means at the police's disposal, including an appeal to the public," she added, calling on residents to report anything they knew.

Administrative detention dates from British-mandated Palestine, and Israel normally applies it against Palestinians, allowing them to be held without trial for renewable six-month periods.

At the end of June, 370 Palestinians were on administrative detention, according to rights group B'Tselem. A long list of Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest against the policy.

Friday's firebombing also critically injured the boy's parents and four-year-old brother.

Just hours earlier, an ultra-Orthodox man was arrested for storming a Gay Pride march in Jerusalem and stabbing six people, mortally wounding a 16-year-old girl.

The suspect, Yishai Schlissel, had been released from prison only three weeks earlier after serving a 10-year sentence for a similar attack.

The two incidents have led to a wave of calls for a crackdown on Jewish extremists.

Experts and officials distinguish between the two crimes, saying they seem to have been carried out with different motivations. But the violence has prompted a sense among some that Jewish extremism must be urgently addressed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has strongly condemned both attacks and labelled the firebombing "terrorism," has pledged "zero tolerance" for such acts.

At the same time, his government has been accused of going dangerously far in its support for right-wing settler groups.

The premier "has no choice -- even if only to defend Israel's image globally, which has taken a nasty hit," said Claude Klein, emeritus law professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

On Monday, authorities detained Meir Ettinger, whose grandfather Meir Kahane founded the racist anti-Arab Kach group, and a court prolonged his detention until the weekend on suspicion of "nationalist crimes".

Ettinger, 23, was arrested "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organisation", a spokesman for the Shin Bet domestic security agency said.

According to Israeli media, he was the brains behind a June 18 arson attack on a shrine in northern Israel, where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Meyer had also been arrested in connection with the same arson.

Another man, Eviatar Slonim, was arrested "for belonging to an extremist organisation", a Shin Bet spokeswoman said Tuesday. His detention was extended Wednesday for at least five days.

Graffiti at the site of the firebombing indicated the attack was carried out by Jewish extremists.

A Jewish Star of David was spray-painted on a wall along with the words "revenge" and "long live the Messiah".

That was indicative of so-called "price tag" violence -- a euphemism for nationalist-motivated hate crimes by Jewish extremists.

The Palestinians have submitted a request to the International Criminal Court to probe the firebombing and "settler terrorism", said their foreign ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

On a parallel track, police have opened an investigation into online threats against President Reuven Rivlin following his condemnation of "Jewish terrorism" after the firebombing, a presidential spokesman has said.