JERUSALEM – An Israeli court on Thursday sentenced two Israeli minors for the murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian in 2014, sending one to life in prison for a crime that provoked deep soul-searching in Israel and was one of a series of events that led to the Gaza war later that year.
The court sentenced a second Israeli teenager, believed to have had a lesser role in the crime, to 21 years in prison. Another Israeli defendant is awaiting his verdict following a psychological examination.
The three Israelis snatched Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir from an east Jerusalem neighborhood in July 2014, driving him to a nearby forest and then burning him to death.
"The sentence imposed on the defendants reflects what we asked for and the barbaric and atrocious act," said Ori Korb, the state prosecutor. He said the murder marked a "moral nadir."
Abu Khdeir's killing was carried out in revenge for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens earlier that summer, carried out by Palestinians said by Israel to be members of the militant group Hamas.
In response to the abduction, Israel rounded up Hamas members in the West Bank, sparking a barrage of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Days after the Abu Khdeir murder, Israel began airstrikes in Gaza in an attempt to quell the rockets, resulting in a 50-day war that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis.
Suha Abu Khdeir, Mohammed's mother, said the family planned to appeal the shorter sentence to the Israeli Supreme Court.
"What kind of justice is this? I'm a mother who lost her son forever while I'm sure they will be released in ten years or less. Why? This isn't justice, this is unfair," she said. "I won't accept such ruling."
Abu Khdeir's murder was roundly condemned across Israel's political spectrum and shocked many Israelis.
A year later, suspected Jewish extremists torched the West Bank home of a Palestinian family, killing three of its members, including a toddler, and wounding a 4-year-old boy, who is still receiving treatment in an Israeli hospital.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have continued to rise since, with a nearly five-month long wave of violence now roiling the region. The violence has killed 27 Israelis and 154 Palestinians; of those Israel says 109 were attackers and the rest killed in clashes with security forces.
Israel says the violence has been fueled by a Palestinian campaign of lies and incitement. The Palestinians say it is rooted in frustrations stemming from nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation.
The Israeli military on Thursday sealed off the home village of three Palestinian men who staged a deadly attack in Jerusalem and carried out a number of arrests there.
Citing "situation assessments," the military said no one could exit or enter the village of Kabatiya in the northern West Bank until further notice. Minor clashes broke out in the area between Israeli troops and rock-throwing Palestinian youth.
Such internal closures were common during the second Palestinian uprising a decade ago but have been rarely used in recent years.
"This is a prolonged battle. Islamic terror is sweeping across the whole world and inciting millions," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to a Jerusalem hospital housing troops wounded in the attacks. "We are in this turmoil. It doesn't skip us but we battle it fiercely and will continue to do so."
Also on Thursday, police said two 13-year-old Arab girls stabbed and lightly wounded a security guard at a bus station in the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city of Ramle. A photo from the scene shared by police showed two kitchen knives on the ground beside a calculator, pens and other school supplies. The girls, who are Israeli citizens, were arrested at the scene, police said.
Israel has deployed a series of measures in a bid to crack down on the violence, including sending troops to secure its cities, expanding police powers and toughening punishments for attackers.
Israel's Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said on Thursday he would not extend the residency rights of the father of an Arab citizen of Israel who carried out an attack in October, annulling his access to social security. Deri said the step was meant to "cause terrorists to understand that their actions will have tough implications also on their family members."
The Interior Ministry said its decision was also based on the father violating an agreement to not communicate with members of his family who Israel says are militants.