Middle East

West Bank arson: Israel 'will catch Palestinian child's killers'

Palestinian holds scorched photo of Ali Saad Dawabsha (31/07/15) Image copyright AP
Image caption Ali Saad Dawabsha was killed when assailants firebombed his home at night

Israel has vowed to catch arsonists, suspected to be Jewish settlers, who killed a Palestinian infant in a firebomb attack on a West Bank village.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was committed to "fight this evil, to find the perpetrators [and] to bring them to justice".

The 18-month-old boy's parents and four-year-old brother were seriously injured in the attack in Duma.

Palestinian officials said they held Israel "fully responsible".

Slogans in Hebrew, including the word "revenge", were found sprayed on a wall of one of two firebombed houses.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) visited the scene of the attack

Mr Netanyahu said the attack which killed Ali Saad Dawabsha was "an act of terrorism in every respect".

He and the Israeli president paid separate visits to Ali's brother, Ahmed, who is being treated along with his parents at specialist burns hospitals in Israel.

Mr Netanyahu also condemned the attack in a rare telephone conversation with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

However the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, said it held the Israeli government "fully responsible for the brutal assassination".

"This is a direct consequence of decades of impunity given by the Israeli government to settler terrorism," it said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Hebrew word for "revenge" and a Star of David were found sprayed on the wall of one of the gutted houses
Image copyright Rabbis for Human Rights
Image caption The attackers reportedly set fire to the buildings with petrol

The US State Department denounced what it called a "vicious terrorist attack", while urging Israel and the Palestinians to "avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this tragic incident".

UN chief Ban Ki-moon also described the baby's death as a "terrorist act" and called for the perpetrators to face justice.

While it is unclear what the word "revenge" referred to, the incident resembles what have become known as "price tag" attacks.

Such attacks usually involve acts of vandalism or arson by Jewish extremists as retribution for actions taken by the Israeli government against Jewish settlements or unauthorised outposts in the West Bank, or for violence by Palestinians.

What are 'price tag' attacks?

  • The name given to certain types of attack by militant Jewish settlers and their supporters in the West Bank and Israel
  • Such attacks commonly involve graffiti including the words 'price tag', vandalism, arson and destruction of Palestinian olive trees
  • Carried out as a form of retribution for Israeli government curbs on settlement activity and for attacks by Palestinians

In the overnight attack, Palestinian officials said up to four assailants threw firebombs at the houses, one of which was empty.

Resident Ibrahim Dawabsha told Reuters news agency he heard people shouting for help.

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Media captionThe Israeli PM's spokesman and Palestinian president gave their reactions

"We found the parents outside with burns, they said there was another son in the house, we brought him out and then they said there was another boy inside, but we couldn't reach the bedroom because of the fire. He was left inside until rescue forces came," he said.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Hundreds of Palestinians, some urging revenge, attended Ali Saad Dawabsha's funeral

Pictures from the scene of the attack showed at least one of the buildings completely gutted, with only charred remains left.

In another incident on Friday, officials in Gaza said Israeli troops shot dead one man and wounded another near the security fence that marks Israel's border.

Israel confirmed soldiers had fired on the men but did not know their condition.

The killing of the Palestinian child comes amid heightened tensions between the Israeli state, Jewish settlers and Palestinians in recent days.

On Wednesday, settlers scuffled with police as Israeli authorities demolished two partially built blocks which the high court had ruled were built illegally on Palestinian-owned land, in the settlement of Beit El.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose fragile coalition includes pro-settler parties, immediately authorised a start to the construction of 300 planned homes in the settlement, drawing ire from the Palestinians.

Palestinians regard settlements as a major obstacle to building a sought-after state in contiguous territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.