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Israel arrests several suspects in killing of Palestinian teen

By Kareem Khadder, Ben Wedeman, and Steve Almasy CNN
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1521 GMT (2321 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least eight Palestinian militants were killed in Gaza airstrikes, Hamas sources say
  • Aunt of beaten teen says he doesn't really understand what's going on, is scared
  • Mother of dead Palestinian teen wants Israel to raze suspects' homes
  • The boy's cousin was released from detention Sunday and is on house arrest

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Several Israeli Jewish suspects were arrested Sunday in connection with the killing of a Palestinian teen, Israeli police said.

"Investigation continuing, strong indication a nationalistic incident, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tweeted about the death of Mohammed Abu Khedair.

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Rosenfeld told CNN that those arrested were Israeli Jews.

Rosenfeld also tweeted Sunday that police have arrested a "taxi driver from the north who admitted killing the girl Sheli Dadon in Migdal Haemek recently. Background nationalistic." The 19-year-old Jewish girl was killed last month. The suspect is an Arab resident of the Galilee, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Mohammed Abu Khedair's death came after the bodies of three Israeli Jewish teens were found in the West Bank. Israeli and Palestinian officials quickly suspected it was a revenge killing and condemned any such actions.

The Palestinian teen's mother said she wants equal justice for her son's killers.

'If they sentence them and demolish their houses and give them life sentences, it might satisfy me a little," Suha Abu Khedair said.

The Israeli military destroyed the homes of the two suspects in the killings of the three Israeli teens.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday sent his condolences to the family, Israel's Channel 2 reported.

"I also promise that we will exploit the full extent of the law with the perpetrators of this horrendous crime worthy of condemnation and denunciation," he said, according to Channel 2, a CNN affiliate. "These kind of murderers do not belong in the Israeli society."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas handed a letter to Robert Serry, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, asking for an investigation into recent crimes against Palestinian people, Palestinian state news agency WAFA reported.

Mohammed Abu Khedair, 16, died from being burned alive and hit on the head with a blunt object, according to Palestinian General Prosecutor Mohammed al-Auwewy, citing a medical autopsy.

Al-Auwewy said the autopsy discovered traces of smoke inside the lungs of the 16-year-old, indicating it was inhaled while the fire was burning.

The teenager was heading from his home to a mosque in the middle-class neighborhood of Shuafat in East Jerusalem for prayers around 4 a.m. when three men forced him into a car and drove off, his father, Hussain Abu Khedair, told CNN. The boy's body was found about an hour later at a forest in Jerusalem.

He was buried on Friday.

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Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israel Defense Forces said it prevented an attack by targeting terrorists involved in rocket launching in Gaza. At least 25 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel in the past day, IDF said.

"This reality is unbearable and unacceptable. We will continue to act in order to debilitate and incapacitate the Hamas terror infrastructure, striking its warehouses, rocket manufacturing capabilities and those that endanger the well-being of the Israelis in the south of the country," IDF spokesman Lt. Col Peter Lerner said in a statement.

At least eight Palestinian militants were killed in over 10 Israeli airstrikes across the Gaza Strip overnight, Hamas security sources told CNN. They said four militants were injured.

Cousin released from detention

Khedair's American cousin was given house arrest by a court in Jerusalem on Sunday after an incident in which his family says he was beaten by Israeli security forces.

Tariq Khdeir was detained at a protest following the death of his cousin. A 15-year-old high school sophomore from Florida, he said he was standing around, watching protesters last week when he was accosted.

"I was attacked by police. I woke up in the hospital," Khdeir said as he walked out of court in Jerusalem on Sunday.

It's unclear why the teen is being investigated or what possible charges he might face.

The teen, who had bruising around his eyes, paid bail and was driven away with his parents to serve his house arrest in the Beit Hanina neighborhood in Jerusalem.

"They (his attackers) came from the side of me, and I tried to run away," he said, adding he felt much better Sunday.

He will be kept under house detention for nine days, lawyer Ziad Haidimi said after a court session.

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If the investigation ends without charges, he can travel back to the United States, Haidimi said. His mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, said the family "definitely" will sue Israeli authorities.

"I'm not really happy" with the court's decision, she said.

The teen's aunt said he was scared, lost and confused.

"You just wish you could have pulled him out of that situation as soon as you could," Sanah Abukhdeir told CNN.

"Tariq doesn't understand anything that's going on as far as war. He hasn't been in any type of war zone before, so all of this is really scary for him," she said.

An official from the U.S. Consulate General was at Khdeir's hearing Sunday.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for the apparent excessive use of force."

Israel's ambassador to the United States told "Fox News Sunday" there will be justice and that excessive use of force is unacceptable.

"I will tell you, from what I understand about the facts of the case, this is not just an innocent bystander who was pulled off of a schoolyard," Ron Dermer said Sunday. "He was with six other people. They were masked. They threw petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails at our police. Three of them had knives, from what I understand.

"That does not excuse any excessive use of force and our Justice Ministry is opening an investigation."

According to his family, Tariq was among the Palestinians protesting in the Shuafat neighborhood over his cousin's killing. But he wasn't involved in the clashes, they say. His relatives say he is the young man who appears in two separate videos being held down and beaten by men wearing the uniform of Israeli security forces.

His father, Salah Eddeine Abu Khdeir, said Saturday that his son didn't throw rocks at police.

Netanyahu on Sunday said the other side must help calm tensions.

"I call on the leaders of the Arab public to show responsibility and come out against the disturbances in order to restore quiet," he said.

READ: Autopsy: Palestinian teen was burned alive

READ: The Israeli teens killed: Promising lives. grieving families

READ: Israel's Netanyahu says of slain teens: 'May God avenge their blood."

Kareem Khadder and Ben Wedeman reported from Jerusalem; Steve Almasy reported from Atlanta. CNN's Talal Abu Rahma also contributed to this report.

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