JERUSALEM — Israeli authorities have arrested a number of Jewish suspects in the killing of a Palestinian teenager whose death set off days of violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel, an official said Sunday.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted last week and his charred body found a short while later in a Jerusalem forest in what Palestinians say was a revenge killing for the earlier deaths of three Israeli teens.
Police have been investigating various avenues in the teen's death, including criminal or personal motives. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing, said authorities believe the killing was "nationalistic" in nature. The Haaretz daily said six suspects were in custody.
Palestinians have alleged that Abu Khdeir was killed by Jewish extremists to avenge the killings of the three Israeli teenagers, who were abducted in the West Bank on June 12. Their bodies were found last week, and Abu Khdeir was killed just hours after their funeral.
Adding to the tensions, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have stepped up rocket attacks on southern Israel, drawing Israeli airstrikes in retaliation. By late Sunday afternoon, militants had fired more than 15 rockets and mortars into Israel, the military said. Overnight, Israel had carried out airstrikes on 10 sites in Gaza.
In east Jerusalem, home to the most violent protests over the teen's death, Abu Khdeir's family said news of the arrests brought them little joy.
"I don't have any peace in my heart, even if they captured who they say killed my son," said his mother Suha. "They're only going to ask them questions and then release them. What's the point?"
"They need to treat them the way they treat us. They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do it to our children," she added.
His father, Hussein, said the family still had not been officially informed of any arrests. "Even if they rounded up all of Israel, they will not bring my son back," he said.
On the day the Israeli teenagers were buried, hundreds of young right-wing Israelis marched through downtown Jerusalem, screaming for revenge and chanting "death to Arabs." Hours later, Abu Khdeir was abducted near his home and his body was found shortly afterward. Palestinians immediately accused Jewish extremists of killing the youth.
Israeli hard-liners, often motivated by religious zeal, are widely believed to be behind of vandalism attacks in Israel and the West Bank on mosques, churches, Palestinian farmland and even Israeli military property. Murky groups refer to these attacks as the "price tag" for what they consider to be government policies that unfairly favor Palestinians.
However, vigilante killings are extremely rare. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born settler, entered a Muslim prayer hall in the West Bank city of Hebron and gunned down 29 worshippers before being killed by survivors of the massacre. The following year, a Jewish ultranationalist assassinated then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to derail his peace efforts with the Palestinians.
President Shimon Peres said Sunday that Israel would get to the bottom of Abu Khdeir's killing and bring whoever is responsible to justice.
"If Jews are becoming killers, they will be put to court like any killer," he told a gathering of foreign journalists in the southern town Sderot, where he was meeting with local residents enduring the ongoing rocket barrages from neighboring Gaza. "Whoever was killed for us was murdered, for us is a victim."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would act calmly and responsibly in the face of rising Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.
"Experience proves that in moments like these, one must act calmly and responsibly, not hysterically and hastily," Netanyahu said at the opening of his weekly Cabinet meeting.
His statement came after weekend clashes between Israeli police and demonstrators in Jerusalem and Arab towns in northern Israel following Abu Khdeir's death. On Sunday, Tariq Abu Khdeir, a 15-year-old Palestinian American who was badly injured in clashes with Israeli police, was sentenced to nine days of home detention.
His parents say Tariq Abu Khdeir, who goes to school in Florida, was beaten Thursday by Israeli police during clashes over the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The two youths were cousins.
As Tariq returned to his family Sunday, he was crying and appeared badly bruised, with both eyes and his mouth swollen. "I feel better, I am excited to be back home," he said.
Amateur video of what Tariq's father Salah said was the beating aired on a local television station, and he said he could recognize his son from his clothing.
The U.S. State Department said it was "profoundly troubled" by reports of his beating and demanded an investigation. Israel's Justice Ministry quickly launched a formal investigation.
In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon seeking an "international investigative committee" into the latest violence, including Abu Khdeir's death. He blamed "criminal settler groups" for the violence and said Israel should outlaw them.
Protests spread over the weekend from Jerusalem to Arab towns in northern Israel, with hundreds of people throwing rocks and fire bombs at officers who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, according to Israeli police. Police said 22 Arab Israelis were arrested in clashes on Saturday.
Israeli Arabs, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hold citizenship rights. But they often face discrimination and many identify with the Palestinians. Even so, violent riots like those that occurred on Saturday are rare.
Clashes mostly subsided by early Sunday, but the situation remained tense. Police said a Jewish woman was attacked and lightly wounded early Sunday by a group of Palestinians in Jerusalem's Old City. Her husband fired his weapon and the attackers fled, and police were searching for them, police said.
In the West Bank, the army arrested a Palestinian in the city of Hebron. His family identified him as Hossam Dufesh. The army would not elaborate on the arrest, but Israeli forces have concentrated its search for the killers of three Israeli teens in the Hebron area.
Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the recent violence and said all extremism must be stopped. "We have to fight the extremists who try to destabilize our life and we will do that and return the city back to normal life the way it was a few weeks ago as soon as possible," he said in an interview.
Associated Press journalist Yousur Alhlou contributed to this report.