A fire in the West Bank suspected to have been set by Jewish extremists killed an 18-month-old Palestinian child and critically wounded a four-year-old brother and both parents on Friday, Israeli security officials said.
The walls outside the houses were sprayed with "Long live Messiah the king" and "Revenge ". The parents and brother were evacuated to the hospital in critical condition, with burns covering up to 70 to 90 percent of their bodies. Infant Ali Dawabsheh's funeral took place in the early afternoon, and drew a crowd estimated to be 2,000 strong.
The IDF set up checkpoints and beefed up searches in the Nablus area in attempts to locate the Jewish terrorists who carried out the attack in Duma. Hamas had already declared Friday a "Day of Rage" following clashes at the Temple Mount, and tensions are now sure to rise.
Husam Badran, a Hamas international spokesman, called on residents of the West Bank to take to the streets and protest the infant's death, and to demonstrate to "protect al-Aqsa". He also urged the Palestinian Authority to release all political detainees, saying: "There is no other way but resistance, in all its components, in order to halt the crimes of the occupation."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, telling his counterpart that all of Israel was disgusted by the attack in Duma.
Netanyahu also told Abbas that, "We must fight terror together, no matter what side it comes from."
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in the afternoon that the police force was at its highest alert level to prevent disturbances. He added that "a people whose children were burned in the Holocaust needs to soul-searching at a time like this."
IDF spokesman Brigadier General Moti Almoz said: "We sent four battalions as a first response. Two divisions are on alert to be sent to the area as this is an incident that may affect the security situation. The amount of forces sent out is designed to be ready for any possible local events, including at the Temple Mount."
Attack by night
At around 2am, two attached houses located at the edge of the village were set on fire. The Dawabsheh family were in one house, while the second one was empty. The Dawabsheh family were awakened by the fire and tried to save their two children, aged one and a half and four. According to a witness, the mother took the four-year-old out of the house as it caught fire, then returned for the infant. However, she was trapped in the flames and could not save him.
Ghasan Gaghlas, a Palestinian official from the area, said Jewish settlers broke the window of the house and flung a burning object inside, "causing a quick and huge fire."
A neighboring house was also badly damaged but it had been empty and there were no casualties there. The three wounded people from the first house were taken to Israeli hospitals, officials said.
Professor Yossi Haik, director of the intensive care burn unit at Sheba Medical Center, said the wounded were in severe condition. "The mother underwent initial stages of resuscitation and stabilization in the emergency trauma room. This is a very serious injury with 90 percent of third-degree burns all over her body. Her life is still in danger." Hayek added that the 4-year-old was had received resuscitation measures.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the "Price Tag" slogan used in the past by extremist Israelis was daubed on the walls of the family home that had been torched in a village near the West Bank city of Nablus.
"This is a suspected attack with nationalist motives," Samri said. It was the worst attack by Israeli extremists since Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir was torched to death in a retribution slaying for three Israelis killed by abductors a year ago.
Condemnations came swiftly, with IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner calling the incident "nothing short of a barbaric act of terrorism."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "I am shocked by this horrible criminal act. This is a clear terrorist attack. Israel takes a tough stance against terrorism regardless who the perpetrators are. I have instructed the security forces to use all means at our disposal to capture the killers and bring them to justice as soon as possible. Israel is united in its opposition to such terrible and heinous acts. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I would like to commiserate with the family of Ali Dawwabshe and wish a speedy recovery to the injured family members."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Israel would not allow "Jewish terrorists" to carry out such acts.
"We will not allow Jewish terrorists to harm the lives of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria," he said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. "We will fight against them firmly and with all means and tools at our disposal." Ya'alon branded the attack "a most severe terror attack that we cannot tolerate, and we condemn it entirely. At this time, security forces – the IDF, Shin Bet, and police – are making a supreme effort to capture the killers. We will pursue them until we get our hands on them."
President Reuven Rivlin reached out to the Arab-speaking population through Arabic media, strongly denouncing the attack. "In the face of a wave of terror against the innocent, the loss of life, and the loss of law and order, the State of Israel and Israeli society must carry some soul searching," said the president.
"To my great sorrow, until now it seems we have been lax in our treatment of the phenomena of Jewish terrorism," added Rivlin. "Perhaps we did not internalize that we are faced with a determined and dangerous, ideological group, which aims to destroy the fragile bridges which we work so tirelessly to build. I believe that the more we understand this significant danger to the State of Israel, the more we will be aware to confront it, and uproot it."
Zacharia Sadeh of the Rabbis for Human Rights organization, told Ynet that the group was had always feared that an arson attack would cause deaths. "This is an extremely serious incident in which the Palestinians paid a very high price as a result of Israeli authorities' incompetence," he said. "We call on the defense minister, the police, and the Israeli army to find the criminals and bring them to justice, because the lives of the Palestinian citizens are Israel's responsibility."
Images using hashtags that blamed Israel for the attack began circulating online on Friday. One read in Arabic: "Oh Zionists! The anger of the West Bank is on its way! The child Ali Dawabsheh #Angry Friday #They burned the suckling", with another using the last hashtag as well as the hashtag "#WasBurnedAlive" in English.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas compared the crime to the 2014 murder of Abu Khdeir. "This is another crime committed by the settlers and the Israeli government," declared Abbas. "The Israeli government continues to build settlements everywhere in the West Bank, and thus encourages settlers to commit these acts. We condemn the Israeli crimes – this is a war crime and a crime against humanity. We will take this to the International Criminal Court and no one will stop us from doing so. We demand that the world act. What does the United States think of these crimes? We don't hear from it. If the Israeli government and the Israeli military wanted to prevent these incidents, they could prevent them."
The Palestinian Authority placed full responsibility on the Israeli government for the crime, calling it a heinous crime. "Were it not for the Israeli government insisting on continuing to build settlements and protecting the settlers, this crime would not been committed."
"This case will head the list of issues that the Palestinian Authority will submit to the International Court of Justice in order to bring all those involved in the crime to justice. Verbal condemnation from the international community is not acceptable. What is needed is action on the ground that will judge the criminals and end the occupation."
The Islamic Jihad organization also issued a statement. "This crime, as well as similar crimes committed by settlers, were committed with the support and protection of the Zionist military forces and advanced by the occupation's government," it said. "This crime is part of a planned escalation of the occupation in the context of the announcement of new settlements being built. We are facing an increase in aggression against residents' property and damage to holy places. The settlers' terrorism and the occupation's military will encounter Palestinian willpower, which will never agree to surrender. He who incites to kill our people, damage our property, and burn the houses and the mosques – must expect a response at any moment."
The "Price Tag" group has been blamed for a string of mosque torchings in the West Bank in the past few years, often in retribution for actions against settlements.
Hassan Shaalan, Roi Yanovsky, Rotem Elizera, Ilana Curiel, and the news agencies contributed to this report.