Officials say 18-month-old killed and his father, mother and brother injured after West Bank house set on fire and ‘price tag’ slogan daubed on walls
A Palestinian child was killed and three family members critically wounded in a suspected arson attack by Jewish extremists on two homes in the West Bank village of Duma early on Friday.
Eighteen-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha burned to death, while his father and mother, Saad and Reham Dawabsha, and another son, Ahmad, 4, were taken to a hospital in critical condition.
Graffiti saying “revenge” and “long live the messiah” and “price tag” was found on the home.
Police described it as a “suspected attack with nationalist motives”. Such attacks by Jewish extremists have become known as “price tag” attacks.
The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said it held the Israeli government fully responsible.
“This is a direct consequence of decades of impunity given by the Israeli government to settler terrorism,” he said in a statement. “We cannot separate the barbaric attack that took place in Duma last night from the recent settlement approvals by the Israeli government.”
The Israeli prime minster, Binyamin Netanyahu, said: “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.”
A search was under way to find the assailants. The Israel Defence Forces set up road blocks and increased its presence. Spokesman Peter Lerner said the “attack against Palestinian civilians is a barbaric act of terrorism”.
Two settlers wearing black balaclavas allegedly entered Duma through a nearby gate, smashed a window and threw a molotov cocktail into Reham and Saad’s bedroom while they were asleep just after 2am on Friday morning.
Ibrahim Dawabsheh, a Palestinian construction worker in the nearby Jewish settlement of Shilo was talking to his fiancee on the phone on an upstairs balcony early on Friday morning when he heard his neighbours screams.
“I heard Saad shouting, ‘help, they have slaughtered me’ and I dropped the phone,” he said. Ibrahim was first on the scene and said he found two men standing over the burning bodies of Reham and Saad.
“There were two masked men, one of them was standing by Reham looking at her and the second was standing next to Saad checking if they were alive or not”
Ibrahim said he didn’t see any weapons on the men but they followed him and he ran back to his property to safety. “The settlers tried to follow me back to my house, but they left after Bashar, my brother came,” he said.
After the two men left, Reham and her husband were carried into the neighbour’s courtyard. The couple had tried to protect themselves from the fire by covering themselves with synthetic bedclothes but they had stuck to their bodies. The neighbours showed the Guardian a pile of melted bedclothes and a woman’s bra lying on the ground surrounded by blood.
Ibrahim was in tears when he told the Guardian he was able to rescue four-year-old Ahmad but not 18-month-old Ali. “I went to find Ahmad, I used my cellphone as a light at the doorway to the bedroom, I could hear him but I couldn’t see him. I eventually pulled him out,” said Ibrahim. He said later when the fire brigade arrived they retrieved Ali’s body, which was burned beyond recognition.
The attack appeared to be an act of revenge for the recent demolition of two buildings in the nearby settlement Beit El, where settlers and Israeli police clashed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, said he was “outraged” by the attack.
“This heinous murder was carried out for a political objective. We must not permit such acts to allow hate and violence to bring more personal tragedies and to bury any prospect of peace. This reinforces the need for an immediate resolution of the conflict and an end to the occupation.”
The EU on Friday called on Israel to show “zero tolerance” for settler violence, while Jordan, the only Arab state apart from Egypt to have signed peace with Israel, strongly condemned the arson attack and said it held Israel responsible for the death of 18-month-old Ali and for all attacks on the Palestinian people.
“This ugly crime could have been avoided if the Israeli government had not ignored the rights of the Palestinian people and turned its back on peace... in the region,” government spokesman Mohammed Momani said.
It is the worst attack by suspected Israeli extremists since a Palestinian teenager was burned to death in a retribution killing for three Israelis killed by abductors a year ago.
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 Israeli actions against illegally built settlements.
Brigadier General Moti Elmoz told Israeli media: “I don’t remember such a grave incident in recent years. It is a crime, and there is a reason why we are calling it an act of terror.”
The education minister and Jewish Home chairman, Naftali Bennett, tweeted on the attack: “It’s not a hate crime or price tag, it’s murder. Terror is terror is terror.” He called for the terrorists to be tracked down immediately.