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Israel cracks down on Jewish militants after arson attack

Published 09/08/2015

Head of a Jewish extremist group Meir Ettinger appears in court in Nazareth Illit
Head of a Jewish extremist group Meir Ettinger appears in court in Nazareth Illit

Israel has intensified its crackdown on Jewish extremists, jailing two high-profile ultranationalist Israelis for six months without charge and arresting additional suspects in West Bank settlement outposts, security authorities said.

The crackdown comes after a deadly July 31 firebomb attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank that killed an 18-month-old boy and severely wounded his parents and brother. The boy's father died of his wounds on Saturday.

Authorities called the arson attack an act of "Jewish terrorism," and Israel's Security Cabinet approved the use of harsh measures to combat the trend, including administrative detention, which allows suspects to be held for lengthy periods without charge. The measure has been mainly used against Palestinians suspected of involvement in militant groups, and rarely against Israelis.

Palestinians have gone on hunger strike in recent years to protest against administrative detention, and today the family of Mohammed Allan, a Palestinian detainee who has refused food for 56 days, said his health is in danger.

Meir Ettinger, the grandson of the late US-born ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane, and Eviatar Slonim, another Jewish extremist, were placed under administrative detention for their suspected involvement in an extremist Jewish organisation, the office of Israel's Defence Minister said.

The two, who are in their early 20s, were arrested last week. Another suspected Jewish extremist, Mordechai Mayer, was placed under six-month administrative detention last week.

Israeli human rights activists who advocate on behalf of Palestinians, as well as lawyers for the Israeli suspects, criticised the use of administrative detention, portraying it as a draconian measure intended to appease an Israeli public shocked at the firebomb attack.

"It is carried out based on an administrative order only, without indictment or trial, and the detainee cannot defend himself against the allegations as the evidence is classified," a statement by human rights group B'Tselem said.

"This measure is dangerous...for the entire legal system and for democracy," said Aharon Rozeh, a lawyer for Ettinger and Slonim, who said his clients were innocent.

Israel's Shin Bet security agency has accused Ettinger of leading an extremist Jewish movement that encouraged attacks on Palestinian property and Christian holy sites, including an arson attack on a well-known church near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

In late July, Israel arrested five young Israelis in connection with the arson attack, including Mayer.

Israeli authorities also carried out arrest raids today in two West Bank settlement outposts. Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri would not say whether the arrests were linked to the arson attack. The arrests, carried out by a nationalist crime unit, were connected to "a number of events that occurred recently" in the West Bank, she said.

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