NAZARETH, Israel - Israel Tuesday used a controversial decades-old form of detention without trial against an alleged Jewish extremist for the first time, following an outcry over the death of a Palestinian toddler in an arson attack.
The use of "administrative detention", which has previously been applied to Palestinians, came as authorities arrested another suspected Jewish extremist and extended the detention of the leader of a radical religious group.
None of the three were accused of direct involvement in last week's firebombing of a Palestinian home in the occupied West Bank in which an 18-month-old boy was killed, sparking an international outcry over Israel's failure to get to grips with violence by hardline Jewish settlers.
But the moves appeared to be part of efforts by Israeli authorities to demonstrate their will to combat extremist Jewish groups.
On Tuesday, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon signed an administrative detention order against 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 had suggested the attorney general had given permission for the authorities to take such action against three suspected extremists.
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.
Currently, 379 of the 5,686 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jail are on administrative detention, according to official figures, and a long list of Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest against the policy.
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.
- 'Nationalist crimes' -
On Monday, meanwhile, authorities 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".
Ettinger was arrested "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organisation", a spokesman for the Shin Bet domestic security agency said.
According to Israeli media, he was the brains behind a June 18 arson attack on a shrine in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Police said Ettinger, 23, was suspected of "nationalist crimes", but did not accuse him of direct involvement in the attack in which the toddler died.
"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 private.
Citing a blackout ordered by the authorities, Zemer also said nothing about the exact reasons for his client's arrest on Monday.
Another man, Eviatar Slonim, was arrested "for belonging to an extremist organisation", a Shin Bet spokeswoman said on Tuesday. No details were provided on any charges against him.
There was no suggestion that either Slonim or Mayer were suspects in Friday's firebombing, which killed 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha.
Dawabsha's parents and brother were badly burned in the attack on their home and remain in a "critical" condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
- 'Price tag' violence -
Graffiti at the site of the attack indicated it was carried out by Jewish extremists.
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 Jewish extremists.
The Palestinians have submitted a request to the International Criminal Court to probe the firebombing and "settler terrorism", their foreign ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah said.
On a parallel track, police have opened an investigation into online threats against President Reuven Rivlin following his condemnation of "Jewish terrorism" after the West Bank firebombing, a presidential spokesman has said.
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.