31 Jul 2015

West Bank toddler killed in suspected Israeli arson attack

A Palestinian toddler has died in an arson attack by suspected Israeli extremist settlers in the occupied West Bank.

The house in Duma was torched in the early hours of the morning while the Palestinian family inside slept.

The 18-month-old boy’s parent and four-year-old brother have been flown to an Israeli hospital where they are said to be in a serious condition.

Two masked men were seen at the house. Windows were smashed and firebombs thrown inside. The Hebrew word for “revenge” was graffiti-ed on the house’s wall under the Star of David. A second house in the village was set ablaze, though nobody was at home.

With our souls and blood we shall redeem you, martyr. Mourners at toddler’s funeral

Ibrahim Dawabsheh, a Duma resident, said he heard people shouting for help from the house and rushed to it.

“I saw two masked men outside,” he told Reuters. He said he went to get help and when her returned the men were gone.

“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.”

The Israeli military has deployed additional soldiers to the area to search for the attackers and prevent an escalation in violence, a spokesman said. The Palestinian militant group Hamas has called for revenge.

Mourners were also calling for retribution as several hundred marched in a funeral procession for the toddler later in the day.

“With our souls and blood we shall redeem you, martyr,” they chanted as the child’s small flag-draped body was carried through the village for burial.

West Bank toddler funeral

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised that “all means” would be used to bring the attackers to justice.

“This is a terrorist attack. Israel takes firm action against terrorism, no matter who its perpetrators are,” he said.

However, it is the policies of one of the parties in Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition that Palestinians blame for laying the ground work for the attack. The ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party advocates more Israeli settlements and settler rights in the West Bank.

It is a war crime, a humanitarian crime. Mahmoud Abbas

Israeli Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the torching appeared to have been a “Price Tag” attack, a reference to militant settlers who exact retribution for any Israeli government curbs on settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Israel pulled down two illegal structures in the Beit El settlement near Ramallah and removed dozens of people from another settlement near Nablus on Wednesday, prompting protests.

The “Price Tag” group has been blamed for torching a number of mosques in the West Bank in recent years. Those attacks caused widespread damage but no casualties.

Last month Channel 4 News reporter Inigo Gilmore met with Israel's ultranationalist settlers. Watch his report here.

Israel has promised to crack down on such attacks but few indictments have been handed down.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would submit the attack as evidence to the International Criminal Court.

“It is a war crime, a humanitarian crime,” he told reporters.

Earlier a spokesman for President Abbas held Israel responsible, saying that “such a crime would not have occurred if the Israeli government did not insist on pursuing settlements and protecting settlers.”

Hamas spokesman Hussam Badran called for retaliation, saying that “occupation soldier and settlers everywhere” were now “legitimate targets”.

Police restricted access to the al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers to just women and men over-50, fearing the incident may incite further violence.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, stone-throwing clashes between hundreds of Hamas supporters and Israeli soldiers broke out after prayers.