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Israel rounds up suspected Jewish hardliners after baby burned to death

Netanyahu condemned the attack on the Dawabsha family as "terrorism in every respect", and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice
Meir Ettinger, the head of a zealous religious group, at the Israeli justice court in Nazareth on Tuesday, 4 August 2015, a day after his arrest for 'nationalist crimes' (AFP)

NAZARETH, Israel - Authorities here arrested two suspected Jewish hardliners on Tuesday after extending the detention of the leader of a radical religious group following the burning to death of a Palestinian baby, although authorities were not linking the arrests to the arson attack that killed the infant.

Haaretz reported that the arson attack took place at roughly 4 am on Friday morning. Eyewitnesses saw two masked men approach two separate homes in the village of Douma, not far from the settlement of Migdalim. They broke the windows of the two homes threw two firebombs inside.

One of the two homes was empty at the time, but there was a family in the second: 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh, his father Sa'ad, mother Reham, and 4-year-old Ahmed.

Sa’ad, the infant’s father was able to locate and rescue his wife and four-year-old son, but could not find his infant son in the darkness, according to Haaretz.

The infants mother, who was also on fire, grabbed a bundle that she thought had the baby inside and rushed out of the burning house. Upon discovering that the blanket was empty, she tried again in vain to save her son, but the house was so engulfed in flames that re-entry was impossible, according to a Mondoweiss report.

The four victims were sent to hospital in Nablus in the West Bank and then to a burn unit at an Israeli hospital, Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Hashomer.

The night following the attack witnessed a crowd of more than 2,000 Israelis protesting Ali’s death in Tel Aviv. The crowd was addressed by the infant’s uncle who shared the details of the last moments of the baby’s life.

One suspect was placed in "administrative detention", a form of incarceration without trial normally reserved for Palestinian prisoners and the first time the measure has been taken against an alleged Jewish hardliner.

Authorities on Monday detained Meir Ettinger, whose grandfather Meir Kahane founded the racist anti-Arab Kach group, and a court prolonged his detention until the weekend on suspicion of "nationalist crimes".

"A second individual, Eviatar Slonim, was arrested for belonging to an extremist organisation," a spokeswoman for the Shin Bet domestic security agency told AFP on Tuesday.

No details were provided on any charges against him.

Later Tuesday, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon signed an administrative detention order against a third suspected extremist.

The subject of the order is Mordechai Mayer, an Israeli settler arrested for "his involvement in violent activities and terrorist attacks in recent times", a defence ministry statement said.

Media reports earlier suggested that the attorney general had given permission for the authorities to take such action against three suspected extremists. 

Shrine arson attack

Israel normally applies administrative detention, which dates from British-mandated Palestine, against Palestinians, allowing them to be held without trial for renewable six-month periods.

But it can now be used for Jewish detainees in cases where there is insufficient evidence to go to trial or if the suspect refuses to testify.

Ettinger was arrested "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organisation", a Shin Bet spokesman said.

According to Israeli media, he was the brains behind an 18 June arson attack on a shrine in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Police said Ettinger, who is 23, was suspected of "nationalist crimes", but did not accuse him of direct involvement in the firebombing, in which the toddler was burned to death.

"All that is window dressing, there is nothing on file" connecting Ettinger to the crime, his lawyer Yuval Zemer told reporters after Tuesday's hearing, which featured a smiling Ettinger flanked by two courtroom guards.

The hearing was held in camera.

Citing a blackout ordered by the authorities, Zemer also said nothing about the exact reasons for his client's arrest on Monday.

There was no suggestion that either Slonim or Mayer were suspects in Friday's attack, which killed 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha.

'Price tag' violence

Dawabsha's parents and brother were badly burned in the attack on their home and remain in a "critical" condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Graffiti at the site of the attack indicated it was carried out by Jewish hardliners.

A Jewish Star of David was spray-painted on a wall along with the words "revenge" and "long live the Messiah".

That was indicative of so-called "price tag" violence - a euphemism for nationalist-motivated hate crimes by hardline Jewish groups.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack on the Dawabsha family as "terrorism in every respect", and vowed to spare no effort in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

"Our policy is one of zero tolerance against terrorism, wherever it comes from," he said on Tuesday while visiting an Israeli woman in hospital after a petrol bomb attack on her car late Monday.

Netanyahu has also visited Dawabsha's badly burned brother in hospital.

"There is no law above the laws of the state," the premier said.

Also Tuesday, hundreds of Israeli Arabs marched in Shfaram in northern Israel to remember a 2005 attack in which an Israeli deserter and Kach member shot dead four people on a bus before being lynched.

"We will not forget - we will not forgive the massacre," an AFP journalist reported the marchers as chanting.

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