Israel, Gaza militants trade fire after teen killings

Israel, Gaza militants trade fire after teen killings
A light bomb is seen following an Israel airstrike over Gaza City on July 3, 2014.

JERUSALEM - Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza Thursday and militants hit back with 15 rockets, further hiking tension after a day of violence triggered by the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager.

But there was no immediate sign of a return to the clashes that had engulfed east Jerusalem on Wednesday, following the kidnap and murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khder in what many believed was a copycat killing following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens last month.

Israel police have so far insisted the motive for the Abu Khder killing was unclear, refusing to say whether it was nationalist or criminal, and have not said how the Palestinian youngster died.

But the lawyer's family told AFP the body had been burnt "beyond recognition" with a joint Israeli-Palestinian autopsy taking place on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear when he would be buried.

The murder triggered an outpouring of rage in Shuafat, where Abu Khder's family lives.

Clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli riot police raged from dawn on Wednesday until the early hours on Thursday, spreading to many other areas in east Jerusalem.

The violence injured 232 people, 178 of them in Shuafat alone, said Dr Amin Abu Ghazali, head of field operations for the Red Crescent in east Jerusalem.

Of that number 187 were wounded by rubber bullets and six by live bullets, he told AFP.

The killing was roundly denounced on all sides, both at home and abroad.

Gaza rockets, Israeli raids

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it as "despicable" and urged both sides "not to take the law into their own hands".

And one of the families of the three murdered Israeli teens described it as a "horrendous act".

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas demanded Netanyahu take decisive against revenge attacks and called for the killers to be caught and punished.

But the Islamist Hamas movement, whom Israel has blamed for the kidnap and murder of the three teenagers in June, said it held Netanyahu's government directly responsible.

"You will pay the price for your crimes," it said.

There was no let-up in the violence in and around Gaza, where Hamas has its stronghold, with militants firing 20 rockets at southern Israel on Wednesday, one of which hit a house in Sderot, the army said. No-one was injured.

The army said another 16 rockets had hit the Israeli south since midnight, one of which struck a second house in Sderot.

Overnight, the Israeli air force staged 15 strikes on "Hamas targets," among them concealed rocket launchers, weapons storage facilities and militant activity sites, a statement said.

Palestinian medics said 11 people had been wounded, one of them seriously.

The army said on Thursday it had sent a small number of reinforcements towards the border with Gaza.

"We are moving and we have moved forces in order to serve defence activities and forward preparation, but we have no interest in escalation," army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told journalists.

The reinforcements were reserve officers at "headquarter level, not in the field," Lerner said, and were purely a defensive measure.

Funeral unrest fears

In Jerusalem, police threw up a security cordon around Shuafat, fearing another outburst of violence after the results of Abu Khder's autopsy, expected later in the day.

Muhannad Jbara, lawyer for the Abu Khder family, said the police had been in touch late on Wednesday to formally confirm the body found in a west Jerusalem forest was that of their son.

"The body was so badly burned that it was beyond recognition," he said.

Witnesses told AFP the youngster was forced into a black Honda Civic by "two Israelis" with a third sitting in the driving seat, which drove off at high speed, evading two cars which tried to follow it.

The killing drew condemnation from around the world, including from the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which said the abduction and murder of civilians "must stop now".

Tensions have soared across the region since June 12 when three Israeli teenagers disappeared in the West Bank, triggering a vast search and arrest operation across the territory.

Their bodies were found on Monday, but the hunt for their killers continues, with troops arresting another 13 Palestinians overnight, the army said.

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