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Jewish Arsonists Suspected in West Bank Attack That Killed Palestinian Toddler

DUMA, West Bank — Residents of this Palestinian hamlet still awake on a hot summer night heard the screams and rushed to the Dawabsheh home. Outside, Saad, 32, lay writhing on the ground. Nearby, his wife Riham was still on fire. Their 4-year-old son was could be heard cyring inside the burning house and his brother, 18-month-old Ali, was already dead.

Witnesses and officials attributed the attack on Friday to Jewish extremists because of Hebrew graffiti sprayed nearby. “Revenge!” was written on one wall, next to a Star of David.

Two witnesses said they saw two masked men outside the house watching as the family burned.

“The hardest thing for me, was that there were two burning people on the ground, and two people were just standing over them,” said a neighbor, Ibrahim Dawabsheh, who like many in this Palestinian village shared a common last name. “They didn’t even care that the child was still crying inside.”

Israeli and Palestinian politicians branded the firebombing in this hilltop village of 3,000 as terrorism, the latest incident in a summer marked by repeated violence.

Dozens of residents of the village gathered around the family’s charred home, where a relative had tossed a baby bottle still sloshing with milk atop a pile of blackened furniture and burned blankets.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, called the arson attack a “brutal assassination” and said it was “a direct consequence of decades of impunity given by the Israeli government to settler terrorism.”

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said that he would ask the International Criminal Court to investigate the attack as a war crime, local news sites reported. “Steps beyond words also have to be taken,” Mr. Abbas said.

Israeli politicians across the spectrum also quickly condemned the arson as “a terror attack,” a term usually reserved for Palestinian violence against Jews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Ahmad and Mrs. Dawabsheh in the hospital Friday afternoon where they were in critical condition.

“We are shocked by it, we condemn it fully, the entire Israeli government and all the citizens of Israel. We decry it as a terrorist crime,” Mr. Netanyahu said afterward. “We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring them to justice and to see justice served to them.”

The attack revived painful memories of the abduction and killing last July of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, who was burned alive by Jewish extremists after he was snatched from his East Jerusalem neighborhood.

The past month, while hardly comparable to last year’s war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, has been marked by an unsettling string of violent incidents. Four Palestinians have been fatally shot by Israeli soldiers in recent weeks. Palestinians have also targeted Israelis, including Malachi Rosenfeld, 26, who was fatally shot by Palestinian militants a month ago in the West Bank while he and four friends were driving home from a basketball game.

The firebombing was quickly attributed to the movement Israelis call “price tag,” in which extremist Jews attack Palestinian holy places or property in retribution for their own government’s actions regarding settlements. Settlers had to be forcibly removed from two apartment blocks that were bulldozed in Beit El this week, though the government pushed forward the construction of 300 more housing units.

It could have been revenge: Duma lies near several Jewish settlements, including Shilo, where Mr. Rosenfeld was killed.

The Israeli military announced on July 19 that it had arrested several Hamas members they accused of Mr. Rosenfeld’s killing and another shooting two days earlier.

Palestinians and their supporters questioned whether the perpetrators of Friday’s arson attack would be treated similarly to Palestinians who kill Israelis. Israel has long been criticized for not vigilantly investigating price-tag attacks or punishing their offenders. Gilad Erdan, minister of internal security, said Friday that he was giving the Duma case “top priority” and that the suspects “should end their lives behind bars.”

Following the attack in Duma, Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement, called for a “day of rage” on Friday. Local news media outlets reported some clashes with Israeli soldiers Friday afternoon in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Hebron and near a checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah; one Palestinian man was shot in the abdomen, a medic said.

Israeli troops also shot a Palestinian man near Ramallah, who they said threw a lit projectile at them. In Gaza, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead as he tried to scale a fence to enter Israel, a military spokesman said.

Witnesses said that they saw masked men in black clothing throw firebombs through the windows of two homes near the village entrance around 2 a.m., shortly after the family returned from visiting relatives.

Mr. Dawabsheh, the neighbor, and another eyewitness, Ali Raqi, 21, both said they saw two men standing over the couple, their clothes still alight.

“I reached the house, and I found Saad, lying on the ground,” said Mr. Raqi, who was awake, unable to sleep from the heat. “Riham was there, by the well,” he said. “Riham told me, I have a son, for the sake of God, help him.”

The masked men fled, and residents pulled the parents and the 4-year-old Ahmad, to a nearby house, leaving a trail of blood from the backdoor to the living room.

They could not enter the blazing bedroom to save Ali; firefighters later pulled out the child’s body. An autopsy conducted by the Palestinian Justice Ministry said soot was found inside the baby’s body, indicating that he was breathing when his body caught fire, the Palestinian news agency Maan reported.

One neighbor, Hanin Dawabshe, who accompanied the mother, Riham, to the hospital said she kept asking about her children.

“I said, ‘They are O.K., they are in our house,’ even though I had no idea what happened to the children,” she said.

Correction: July 31, 2015

Because of a transcription error, an earlier version of this article misquoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. He said, “It is hard when you stand beside the bed of such a young child, and you know that his younger brother”— not his older brother —”who was a year-and-a-half old, was murdered here and you ask for what was this awful act.”

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(via NY Times)