Members of a “Jewish terror group” have been arrested over a July arson attack on a Palestinian home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank that killed a toddler and his parents, Israeli police said on Thursday.
A police statement did not say how many suspects were in custody. It said a court order banning disclosure of their names and other details of the case was in effect.
Eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was killed in the July 31 blaze in Duma, a village outside Nablus. His father, Saad Dawabsheh, succumbed on Aug. 9 to injuries suffered in the fire, and the boy’s mother, Riham, died in hospital four weeks later. Ali’s four-year-old brother remains in hospital.
The police statement said “youths belonging to a Jewish terror group” suspected of carrying out attacks on Palestinians were arrested over the past few days, and there were “solid suspicions” linking them to the arson at the Dawabshehs’ home.
Palestinian anger over the Duma attack has been a factor fueling a wave of street assaults on Israelis that erupted on Oct. 1.
Lawyers for the suspects told a news conference that they had been denied access to their clients. One attorney, Hai Haber, alleged the suspects had been denied food and medical attention and had undergone long hours of intense questioning.
“An aggressive, violent investigation is being held in order to extract confessions. The suspects are being hidden away, they have not been brought before the courts and their lawyers and families have not been allowed to see them,” Haber said.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld denied there had been any abuses, saying the suspects were being held in accordance with the law.
The Tel Aviv hospital treating Ahmed Dawabsheh, a second son who survived but was badly burned in the attack, denied Palestinian health ministry allegation that there had been a demand for the Palestinians to pay the hospital bill.
“The hospital of course has no financial claim against the Dawabsheh family … but it is clear that someone will have to bear the high costs of treatment and this will be dealt with by Israeli authorities,” a Tel Hashomer hospital spokeswoman said.
In the latest episode of violence on Thursday, a Palestinian assailant was shot dead by police officers near Jerusalem’s walled Old City after he stabbed another officer who was sitting in his car, Rosenfeld said.
The officer was hospitalized with a light stab wound and a wound to the leg from a bullet fired errantly by one of his colleagues, a police spokeswoman said.
Earlier in the day, a Palestinian gunman fired at a checkpoint near Jerusalem, wounding a soldier and a bystander before being shot dead by soldiers, the military said.
In a statement on Wednesday, the United Nations special coordinator for the now moribund Middle East peace process expressed concern over what he described as “slow progress” in solving the Duma case.
“Amidst the current escalation of violence, it is essential that all firmly and consistently reject terrorism and act decisively to stop hatred and incitement,” the U.N. official, Nickolay Mladenov, said.
Israeli leaders pledged after the Dawabsheh toddler’s death to crack down on violent far-right Jewish groups, and the government decided to start detaining without trial Israeli citizens suspected of political violence against Palestinians.
Over the past two months, unrest has surged, with almost daily stabbings, car rammings and shootings by Palestinians, which have killed 19 Israelis and one U.S. citizen.
Israeli forces have killed 98 Palestinians, of whom 59 were identified by Israel as assailants or caught on camera carrying out assaults, while most others were killed in clashes with police or the military.
Tensions have also been stoked by disputes over access to a Jerusalem holy site revered by Jews and Muslims and other issues at the heart of the now-frozen Israeli-Palestinian peace process, from failed negotiations to Israeli settlements on occupied land that Palestinians seek for an independent state.