New Duma fire likely not Jewish arson attack, Israeli officials say
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New Duma fire likely not Jewish arson attack, Israeli officials say

After blaze damages home of key witness in trial against Jewish terrorists for deadly firebombing, Shin Bet says it does not believe incident a nationalistic attack; UN condemns 'violent arson'

A Palestinian police member inspects the damage inside a burned-out house belonging to a key witness to an arson attack last year by Jewish extremists that killed a Palestinian family, in the West Bank village of Duma, after fire broke out in the home in the early hours of March 20, 2016. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)
A Palestinian police member inspects the damage inside a burned-out house belonging to a key witness to an arson attack last year by Jewish extremists that killed a Palestinian family, in the West Bank village of Duma, after fire broke out in the home in the early hours of March 20, 2016. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Police and the Shin Bet national security agency on Sunday night said a fire at the home of a key witness in a major Jewish terror trial in the West Bank village of Duma was likely not an arson attack by Jews, as the United Nations condemned the “violent act.”

Early Sunday, the home of Ibrahim Dawabsha caught fire in what local residents described as a deliberate attack. Photos from the incident, in Duma, showed the house had sustained severe damage.

Dawabsha is the sole witness in the trial of two Israelis suspected of killing three members of a Palestinian family in a firebomb attack last July.

Sunday’s fire immediately drew denunciations from Palestinian officials, who accused Jewish extremists of targeting the house.

But the Israel Police and Shin Bet, in a joint statement Sunday night, said mounting evidence indicated it was not a nationalistic attack. “The findings thus far at the scene are not consistent with the characteristics of a deliberate arson attack by Jews,” it said.

All other information about the investigation remained under a court-imposed gag order.

Damage caused to a home in the West Bank village of Duma after a suspected firebomb attack, March 20, 2016. (Facebook)
Damage caused to a home in the West Bank village of Duma after a suspected firebomb attack, March 20, 2016. (Facebook)

Ahead of the police and Shin Bet statement, Robert Piper, United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid, on Sunday denounced the incident.

“I strongly condemn today’s arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists on the home of Palestinian Ibrahim Dawabsha in the occupied West Bank village of Duma,” he said.

In his statement, Piper maintained that Dawabsha was the sole witness to the lethal July 2015 attack, which killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha and his parents, Saad and Riham.

“This violent act could easily have resulted in a more tragic outcome, as did the heinous terrorist attack last July on the home of Mr. Dawabsha’s relatives in the same village,” he said, urging Israel to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement Sunday that “we hold the Israeli government fully responsible for the crimes in Duma” and that he was expecting “another sham investigation.”

A window to a home in the West Bank village of Duma said to have been torched, March 20, 2016. (Facebook)
A window to a home in the West Bank village of Duma said to have been torched, March 20, 2016. (Facebook)

Dawabsha and his wife were awakened overnight by thick smoke, residents said.

The young couple, relatives of the family killed in July’s attack, were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and were said to be in shock.

“At around 1:30 a.m., I heard my brother and his wife call for help,” said Dawabsha’s brother Bashar, who lives downstairs.

“I went up to their floor and I saw the fire.”

There was heavy damage, with walls covered in soot and furniture burned, including the bed. Shocked residents gathered to view what had happened.

A bedroom window in the house was broken, with shattered glass inside, an AFP journalist reported.

“The window was broken from the outside and flammable materials were found in the rubble,” Colonel Malek Ali, fire chief for the nearby city of Nablus, told AFP.

Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. All three died when the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed, by suspected Jewish extremists, on July 31, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. All three died when the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed, by suspected Jewish extremists, on July 31, 2015. (Channel 2 screenshot)

In January, prosecutors filed indictments against two Jewish suspects, 21-year old Amiram Ben-Uliel of Jerusalem and an unnamed minor, over the firebombing in Duma on July 31, 2015, which killed 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha. His parents succumbed to their wounds in the hospital within weeks of the attack, while five-year-old Ahmed, Ali’s brother, remains hospitalized in Israel and faces a long rehabilitation. Ben-Uliel was charged with murder.

Amiram Ben-Uliel, who was indicted Sunday, January 3, 2016, for murder in the killing of the Dawabsha family in Duma (courtesy)
Amiram Ben-Uliel, who was indicted Sunday, January 3, 2016, for murder in the killing of the Dawabsha family in Duma in July 2015. (Courtesy)

The indictments marked a key breakthrough in the case, which had led to an unprecedented crackdown against Jewish terror suspects, including a decision to extend to Israeli citizens counterterrorism practices such as detention without charge.

Ibrahim Dawabsha emerged as a key witness in the July attack that killed his neighbors. In an interview with The Guardian at the time, he provided a detailed account, saying he was the first person on the scene and had come upon two attackers standing over the burning Dawabsha parents. His account is inconsistent with the indictment, which maintains Ben-Uliel acted alone after his accomplice, a minor, failed to appear.

The Shin Bet has said Ben-Uliel’s footprint was found at the scene and the suspect reenacted the incident, revealing information that he could not have known otherwise. Ben-Uliel, who confessed, later retracted his confession and was denying involvement.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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