JERUSALEM — The discovery of a boy’s body in Jerusalem early Wednesday triggered clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the city, further inflaming an already combustible situation in the region.
Israeli police say they are looking into whether the death was retaliation for the killing of three young Israelis who were kidnapped in the West Bank last month.
The boy’s body was discovered an hour after police were notified that a Palestinian teenager had been forced into a car in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of the city.
“We are concentrating on two things,” Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said, “whether the two incidents are related, and we’re looking into whether this is a crime or nationalistic.”
Palestinian Aqsa TV was less cautious, reporting that Mohammad Abu Khedair, a 17-year-old boy from Jerusalem, had been kidnapped and killed by settlers in Jerusalem.
As news of the boy’s death spread, clashes broke out between Palestinian residents and Israeli security forces in Shuafat, a Jerusalem neighborhood, witnesses said.
Residents threw stones at Israeli security forces. The Israelis responded with occasional volleys of stun grenades or tear gas.
“This is a horrible and barbaric act which I strongly condemn,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said of the death. “This is not our way and I am fully confident that our security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice. I call on everyone to exercise restraint.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called for calm.
Tensions in the region have been at a fever-pitch since Monday when the bodies of the kidnapped Israeli teens were found in a field in the West Bank. They had gone missing June 12.
On Tuesday, after the teens’ funerals, several large groups of men marched around Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs.”
Avenging the deaths
The deaths of the three Israeli teenagers — Eyal Yifrach, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Frankel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen — have become a symbol of Israel’s fight against terrorists.
The government blames Hamas, a militant Palestinian Islamic organization, for the killings. Hamas has praised the abductions but denied it was responsible for what happened.
At their funerals, Netanyahu said the country will avenge their deaths at “the hands of evil men.”
Netanyahu said that hundreds of Hamas activists have been arrested, dozens of institutions in Gaza have closed and homes have been demolished.
That’s along with stepped-up airstrikes in Gaza, an area controlled by Hamas. The group has warned that if Netanyahu “brings a war on Gaza, the gates of hell will open to him.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah party and is based in the West Bank, has condemned the abductions, even as the Palestinian Cabinet has criticized what it calls “Israel’s illegal measures” in response.
The Palestinian Cabinet on Tuesday claimed 12 Palestinians have been killed since the military operation to find the teens began June 13; it did not identify them by name, nor detail how or when they died.
At least one man died from a heart attack during a raid on his West Bank home last month; at least five were killed in clashes with the Israeli military; and two men accused by the Israeli military of being involved in recent rocket attacks were killed in an airstrike last week in Gaza.
‘I’ve been abducted’
On Tuesday, a chilling audio recording related to the Israeli teenagers’ disappearance surfaced.
Israeli media outlets say it’s an emergency call to police by one of the young men, 16-year-old Gilad Shaar, when he realized he’d been kidnapped on June 12.
“I’ve been abducted,” he says in Hebrew on the static-filled recording.
The police officer on the other end of the line doesn’t appear to immediately catch the words. He repeatedly says, “Hello?”
Another voice shouts, in Hebrew but with a possible Arabic accent, “Put your head down. Hands down!”
There is more shouting and what sounds like one of the teenagers crying out, “Ay! Ow!”
Another police officer then joins the call, asking, “Hello? Hello, Hello? Answer! Answer the phone, please. Where are you right now? Hello?”
Israeli authorities say they didn’t leak the recording to the media and are declining to comment further.
The Israeli teens’ kidnappings and killings — as well as the Israeli response — have spurred strong reactions well outside the Middle East, including among U.S. politicians, New York’s mayor and the Vatican.
The advocacy group Human Rights Watch, for instance, said the killings “would amount to a war crime if committed by an armed group” even as it urged Israel to avoid “collective punishment.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has called the deaths “an appalling and inexcusable act of terror.”
U.S. President Barack Obama similarly condemned what he called a “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.” He reiterated “our full support to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice.”
“And I encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue working together in that effort,” Obama said. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”