Palestinian teen burned alive, preliminary autopsy report indicates

Pathologists reportedly found smoke traces in lungs; Palestinians say he was killed to avenge Israeli teens' deaths

Suha, mother of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, shows a picture of her son on her mobile phone at their home in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem, on July 2, 2014.
Ammar Awad / Reuters

A Palestinian teenager whose abduction and murder have sparked violent protests was burned alive, according to initial post-mortem findings reported by local media citing the Palestinian attorney general.

"The direct cause of death was burns as a result of fire and its complications," Attorney General Mohammed Al-A'wewy was quoted as saying by Palestinian news agency Wafa late Friday.

The charred body of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was found in a forest after he was seized near his home in the Shuafat neighborhood of east Jerusalem. Palestinians have accused Israeli extremists of killing him to avenge the deaths of three Israeli teens that had been abducted and killed in the West Bank.

Pathologists found signs of exposure to smoke in Abu Khdeir’s lungs, likely meaning he was alive while he was being burned, Palestinian news agency Maan quoted Al-A'wewy as saying. The attorney general also said that 90 percent of the teen’s body was covered with burns of varying degrees and that he had suffered a head injury, Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh reported. 

Israeli police said Saturday that they still could not confirm whether Abu Khdeir's killing was a revenge attack for the deaths of the three Israeli youths in the West Bank last month. A spokeswoman told news agency Agence France-Presse that police were investigating "all possibilities.” 

Israeli authorities have imposed a gag order on all details of the investigation, El-Shamayleh reported.

Meanwhile, clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters spread from Jerusalem to Arab towns in northern Israel Saturday following Abu Khdeir’s funeral the day before.

Anger and tension

Tensions also remained high on Israel's reinforced southern border with the Gaza Strip, although the number of rockets fired from the Palestinian territory has declined in recent days amid reports that talks were underway regarding a possible truce. 

At least two rockets were fired at southern Israel on Saturday, but no damage or injuries were reported, the Israeli army said, adding that it had launched several airstrikes overnight that had hit suspected sites used by Hamas.

Clashes broke out in east Jerusalem on Friday as thousands of Palestinians massed for Abu Khdeir’s burial. The violence spread to Arab towns in northern Israel early Saturday, with protesters throwing rocks at passing cars, burning tires and lobbing rocks and firebombs at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri told The Associated Press. 

Near the Arab town of Qalansawe, protesters pulled over a car driven by an Israeli Jew, pulled him out and set the vehicle on fire, Samri said. The driver was not injured. More than 20 people were arrested before the unrest subsided in the afternoon, she added.

Angry Palestinians chanted "Intifada! Intifada!" at Abu Khdeir’s funeral, calling for a new uprising against Israel. To calm tensions with Israel, Palestinian officials said they would prevent an uprising and instead seek a mediated solution to the crisis.

But a third intifada was a "distinct possibility," said Dov Waxman, co-director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development at Northeastern University.

"This isn’t just anger and tension between Gaza and Israel, but also within east Jerusalem, within the West Bank and within Israel itself and this is a situation that we haven’t seen in quite a long time," Waxman told Al Jazeera. 

The crisis began after three Israeli teenagers, one of whom was a U.S. citizen, were abducted in the West Bank on June 12, sparking an aggressive manhunt that ended with the gruesome discovery of their bodies earlier this week. The unrest escalated in east Jerusalem on Wednesday after Abu Khdeir's burned body was found.

On Friday, an Israeli settler struck a Palestinian teen with his car in a hit-and-run that was allegedly deliberate, Wafa news reported. Earlier Saturday, Israeli settlers kidnapped and attacked a 22-year-old Palestinian man with an axe, according to Maan news agency.

Teen cousin beaten, detained

In a separate incident, relatives of Abu Khdeir's 15-year-old cousin Tariq Abu Khdeir, a U.S. citizen who goes to school in Florida, said Tariq was beaten by police during clashes Thursday ahead of the funeral. 

Samri, the Israeli police spokeswoman, said Tariq had resisted arrest and attacked police officers. She said he was detained in possession of a slingshot – allegedly used to fire stones at police – along with six other protesters.

"That's their way of getting out of things every single time," said Suhad Abu Khdeir, Tariq's aunt who lives in Tampa, Florida. She was referring to the Israeli authorities’ statement, and contended that her nephew had not been armed.

American teen Tariq Abu Khdeir, shown before and after allegedly being beaten by Israeli forces

Tariq’s family and lawyer told Al Jazeera that he had participated in protests in east Jerusalem on Thursday night, and that because he was allegedly hurling rocks at Israeli forces, he was detained and badly beaten by security officers despite pleas by the family.

video purported to be of the beating has been widely circulated on social media.

The teen was taken to a hospital, where he received treatment. On Friday, the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, detained him at the hospital and he is currently being held in a prison. 

Suhad Abu Khdeir said she had spoken throughout the day with her sister, Tariq's mother. She said her sister had not been allowed to come near her son in the hospital, and had only been able to "peek" to see how he was doing. She also said that Tariq, who had just turned 15, was handcuffed to the hospital bed. 

Tariq was scheduled to appear in court Sunday morning. His lawyer said that he did not know what accusations the teen would face, and that he would try to secure Tariq’s release before the court appearance.

Suhad Abu Khdeir said the most difficult thing was "not knowing what is going on" with her nephew. 

"He's probably so scared right now," she said. "We don't know how he is doing. If he dies, nobody is going to care as long as we're Palestinian." 

The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called on the U.S. State Department to demand that Israel release the teen. 

"It is the duty of American officials to intervene and secure the release of an American citizen who was so viciously attacked and denied medical treatment," said CAIR-Florida Chief Executive Director Hassan Shibly.

A U.S. official confirmed on Saturday that Tariq Abu Khdeir had been arrested by Israeli police, but gave no word on when he may be released.

"We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force," a statement from U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said. "We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force."

Philip J. Victor contributed to this report, with wire services.

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