Child dies after house fire-bombed in Palestinian village
An 18-month-old child has been killed after suspected Jewish assailants attacked a Palestinian village in the West Bank and threw fire bombs inside two homes.
The blaze at the house in the village of Duma, near the city of Nablus, critically injured the toddler's four-year-old brother and parents.
The violence threatened to set off a dangerous escalation and further stir Palestinian fears that Israel allows attacks by militant Jewish settlers in the West Bank to go unpunished, though Israel says it does its best to track down assailants.
Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the attack while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a "terror attack".
According to the Israeli military, the suspects set the homes ablaze and scrawled graffiti in Hebrew, including "Long live the Messiah," ''revenge" and "price tag", and then fled the scene.
The slain child was identified as 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh. His brother Ahmad, father Saed and mother Riham were seriously hurt, according to Gassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official from the Nablus area.
The Israeli military said three people were critically wounded and one was slightly injured. The critically wounded were taken to Israeli hospitals for treatment, the military said.
Lee Gat, a spokeswoman for Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv, said Riham had life-threatening burns over 90% of her body while her son Ahmad had burns over 60% of his body.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the incident a "war crime" and said it would be part of the Palestinians' case against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Palestinian official Saeb Erekat blamed Israel for the incident, calling it a "brutal assassination".
"This is a direct consequence of decades of impunity given by the Israeli government to settler terrorism," he said.
Mohammed Ibrahim Dawabsheh, a neighbour of the family, said he saw the mother running out of the house on fire and then covered her with a sheet to try to extinguish her flaming body.
His son, Ibrahim, said he saw two masked men flee the scene. Another neighbour, Mohammed Dawabsheh, said he tried to push into the blaze to save the child but the flames were too strong.
"I never imagined that this could happen, that someone could come and burn people alive while they are sleeping," said Hassan Dawabsheh, the child's uncle.
"I don't know what those people were thinking. What do they have inside their hearts and minds?"
The Israeli military said it sent troop reinforcements to the West Bank, fearing the incident could trigger unrest. Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rules Gaza, called for a day of rage over the incident.
Condemnations came swiftly from Israeli leaders Friday, with Mr Netanyahu issuing a stern statement against the violence.
"I am shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act. This is an act of terrorism in every respect. The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are," he said.
The incident comes after Israel this week demolished homes in a West Bank settlement built without prior authorisation. Israel shortly after announced plans for new settler homes in the same settlement and elsewhere.
The Obama administration condemned the arson attack, branding it a "vicious terrorist" act that must be punished.
The State Department welcomed Mr Netanyahu's condemnation of the attack and called for Israeli authorities to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
It also urged all sides to maintain calm and not escalate tensions.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called the arson attack a "terrorist act" and is blaming Israel's failure to punish repeated acts of settler violence for the tragedy.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ban strongly condemns the toddler's "murder" and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
"The absence of a political process and Israel's illegal settlement policy, as well as the harsh and unnecessary practice of demolishing Palestinian houses, have given rise to violent extremism on both sides," Ban's spokesman said.