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Two Israeli teens sentenced for burning Palestinian boy to death

The killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir is widely seen as a spark for a cycle of violence that led to the 2014 Gaza war
Suha, mother of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, cries in court as the sentences are read out (AFP)

A court sentenced two young Israelis to life and 21 years in prison respectively on Thursday for burning a Palestinian teen alive, part of a cycle of violence that led up to the 2014 Gaza war.

The two Israelis were minors at the time of the chilling attack, in which they and a third man snatched Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, from an East Jerusalem street and subsequently killed him.

Life sentences were the maximum available to the three-judge panel at the Jerusalem District Court.

The defendant sentenced to 21 years - the youngest of the three who is said to have psychiatric problems - was found to have remained in the car while Abu Khdeir was killed.

Israeli settler Yosef Haim Ben-David, 31, is said to have led the attack on Abu Khdeir, but his lawyers say he suffers from a mental illness and was not responsible for his actions at the time.

The court has found that he committed the crime, but is yet to rule as to whether he is mentally competent.

The two others were 16 when they killed Abu Khdeir in 2014 but are now 18.

The court, which has not identified them because they were minors at the time, noted that they were from ultra-Orthodox Jewish families.

Abu Khdeir's mother, Suha, screamed and cried when the sentences were announced in the small, packed courtroom.

Both she and her husband Hussein criticised the decision to sentence one of the defendants to 21 years.

Hussein Abu Khdeir again called for their homes to be demolished, as Israel regularly does for Palestinian attackers.

"This is the life of Mohammed we are talking about," Suha Abu Khdeir said later outside the court.

"He did not deserve this. We can't sleep at night. How is this going to help us sleep at night?"

Both defendants were ordered to pay the Abu Khdeir family almost $8,000 each, but the family said they would refuse to take the money.

The court's actions have been closely watched at a time of renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

A wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks targeting Israelis began in October, with over 160 Palestinians and 26 Israelis, as well as a US citizen and an Eritrean, killed.

Abu Khdeir's killing was part of a spiral of violence that led to a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Palestinian militants in summer 2014.

Abu Khdeir was kidnapped from Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on 2 July 2014 and beaten - his burned body was found hours later in a forest in the western part of the city.

A forensic report showed smoke in his lungs, indicating he was alive when set alight.

It was seen as revenge for the killing of Israelis Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, who were abducted from a hitchhiking stop near the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.

Israeli authorities said the suspects had decided to kill an Arab in revenge and equipped themselves with cable ties, petrol and other materials before randomly choosing Abu Khdeir.

Ben-David and the defendant sentenced to life had allegedly tried to kidnap a child in East Jerusalem the day before, but were thwarted by the youth's mother.

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