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Mother of slain Palestinian toddler dies in hospital of burns

Riham Dawabsha, a mother of two, struggled to survive with third degree burns on 90 percent of her body
Relatives of an 18-month-old Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha mourn next to his body (AFP)

TEL HASHOMER, Israel - Riham Dawabsha, the mother of slain toddler Ali Dawabsha, has died just after midnight on Monday morning from burns sustained in an arson attack believed to be committed by Israeli settlers on the family’s home in the northern occupied West Bank on 31 July.

She turned 27 on Saturday.

“She died just a few minutes ago,” her brother, Hassan Hussein Dawabsha, told Middle East Eye around 12:30am on Monday morning from the Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Hashomer, where Riham was being treated.

Hassan was too emotional to add any further details.

For more than a month, Riham, a mother of two, struggled to survive with third degree burns on 90 percent of her body.

On Friday evening, her condition deteriorated rapidly. By Saturday, a family close to Riham told MEE that doctors did not expect Riham to make it through the night.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health told local news agencies on Sunday afternoon that Riham was stable, however her blood pressure had dropped and her vital organs had stopped working.

Riham’s third cousin and neighbour whose home was also caught ablaze in the arson, Asim Dawabsha, told MEE that the community in Duma, a small village in the northern occupied West Bank, would dearly miss Riham, who was always encouraging the children of the village to further their education.

“Riham was a teacher, and that was her life,” Asim said. “She was one of the few girls from Duma who finished school and understood the value of education. She was so sweet with her neighbours and always encouraging girls to study. She was always trying to help the kids in area and helping them read and write. Duma won’t be the same.”

Riham’s brother Hassan, who had been at the hospital since Friday, was sitting with his sister’s four-year-old son, Ahmad Duwabsha, on Sunday at the hospital where Riham was being treated.

Ahmad also suffered from severe burns all over his body, but his condition is stable and improving.

“He is getting stronger, and his condition is better than it was before,” Abu Haditha told MEE over the phone in the boy’s hospital room. “It is up to God but we think he will live.”

Ahmad is the last remaining survivor of the attack.

Riham’s husband, Saad Duwabsha, 30, passed away just a week after the fire that killed the couple’s 18-month-old toddler, Ali.

Autopsy reports showed that Ali was burned alive in the family’s home.

The toddler’s death grabbed international headlines and sparked clashes across the occupied West Bank.

The night of the arson

Following the arson attack, MEE traveled to small northern West Bank village of Duma, just outside of Nablus, to speak to neighbours of the family.

According to local witnesses, a group of masked settlers snuck into the village during the earliest hours of the morning on the last day of July.

The settlers set two homes ablaze using firebombs filled with highly flammable liquid. The fire spread rapidly, and by the time neighbours came to the aid of Riham’s family, the damage had been done.

Riham, Saad and Ahmad, all in critical condition, were immediately admitted for treatment at hospitals in Israel, while 18-month-old Ali Duwabsha was pronounced dead on the scene.

Neighbours said when Riham recovered she was clutching an armful of rolled up blankets, which they said she believed were her son, 18-month-old Ali.

Asim, whose home was also set ablaze during the attack, was not home during the night of the arson attack.

His 17-year-old son, Mohtaseb Dawabsha, told MEE that he believed the settlers attacked his and Riham’s home to send a message, because of their location in the middle of the village.

“It’s not like they got us at the edge of the village or something, we live right in the middle of the village. We never thought anything like this could happen in the centre,” Mohtaseb told MEE earlier last month. “They attacked us to send a message, that they can get us anywhere, even in the middle of our village surrounded by all our people. We received their message, we understand.”

Seeking justice

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly condemned the attack on the Dawabsha family, calling the attack "terrorism in every respect,” but no suspects have been charged in relation to the arson.

Residents of Duma, who live in Area C of the occupied West Bank, meaning their village falls under full Israeli control, are not satisfied with the reaction of the israeli government.

“We are scared,” Asim said on Monday. “I’m not just talking about myself; everyone is saying Israel doesn’t care about what happened, they just want to black it out and cover it up. Even the Israeli people who have been coming to us to say sorry for this are saying their government didn’t do anything. The Israelis are saying the same thing as us, that the Israeli government doesn’t care.”

Asim’s son told MEE that he and his neighbours feel they had been left completely vulnerable to attacks like the one that killed Riham and her family.

“We don’t have the luxury of calling for the police or emergency help; there are no officials to protect us here, the only protection is for the settlers who did this,” Mohtaseb said.

According to documentation by the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli settlers have carried out 142 attacks against Palestinians and their property since the beginning of 2015.

According to a recent report by Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, only 7.4 percent of more than 1,000 complaints it has dealt with in the past decade have ended in indictment.

Additional reporting provided by Abed al-Qaisi