Israeli security forces have arrested two suspects in the firebombing of a Jewish home in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, police announced Monday.
No one was home during the incident over the weekend, which has helped escalate tensions in the flashpoint neighborhood and sparked new clashes on Saturday and Sunday. A police officer who entered the burning house was lightly hurt from smoke inhalation.
Officers found eight Molotov cocktails, gloves and a knit cap while searching the home of one of the suspects, according to a police statement, which said the Shin Bet security service took part in the arrests.
The suspects, both in their 20s, were taken in by the Shin Bet for questioning. Authorities did not say where they were from. The investigation was ongoing.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz hailed the arrests.
“Terrorist activities and violence will be met with a firm response against whoever initiates them,” Gantz wrote on Twitter. “The State of Israel will exercise its sovereignty and maintain law and order in Jerusalem and everywhere under its authority.”
Gantz called out far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir and other lawmakers, accusing them of seeking to make political hay from the tensions in Sheikh Jarrah.
Ben Gvir, a member of the Religious Zionism party, set up a “parliamentary office” — a table under an awning — after the firebombing, in support of the Jewish community. This further stoked tensions and unrest among local Palestinians. Officers moved in to dismantle the makeshift structure on Sunday evening, but it was not fully taken down.
“You are acting against the security, diplomatic and social interests of the country. Don’t fan the violence… This isn’t a game, these are people’s lives,” Gantz said.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also weighed in on the Sheikh Jarrah tensions.
“We do not need provocateurs to come and set the area ablaze just for political goals. We need neither Ofer Cassif, nor Ben Gvir, nor [Ahmed] Tibi to run Jerusalem for us,” he told reporters before departing for a first visit to Bahrain, referring to a pair of MKs from the predominantly Arab Joint List party.
The premier said more police would be dispatched to the neighborhood to keep the peace. “The situation in which Jewish homes are set alight in Israel’s capital city is intolerable” he said.
“We will deal with it and we will bring stability and security for the residents of the city. This is the responsibility of the government of Israel and nobody else.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, voiced support for Ben Gvir, who was seen fainting during overnight clashes with police.
“I unequivocally condemn the act of violence against MK Itamar Ben Gvir. This isn’t ‘Sheikh Jarrah,’ this is Jerusalem, our capital,” he said during a Likud faction meeting.
Earlier Monday, Ben Gvir returned to Sheikh Jarrah with a bandage around his head and accused Public Security Minister Omer Barlev of instructing officers to rough him up.
“Omer Barlev gave an order to beat me up, not just [to take apart] the office but also me personally, and the officers carry it out,” he told reporters.
Barlev tweeted that “there has never been a member of Knesset who raised his hand against a police officer.”
Video showed Ben Gvir fall onto the ground and apparently faint as he tried to shove his way past a group of policemen.
Violent clashes erupted in the area on Saturday between right-wing activists and Palestinians and continued throughout Sunday. An unnamed police official told Channel 12 that Ben Gvir had made a “substantial contribution” to the escalating violence.
An escalation at Sheikh Jarrah last May, similarly encouraged by Ben Gvir setting up such an “office” in the neighborhood, contributed to the tension that sparked an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas and long days of violence between Arabs and Jews inside the country last year.
Following the latest clashes, Hamas warned of a “severe” response should Israel continue its “assaults” in East Jerusalem, a spokesperson for the Gaza-ruling terror group said.
Sheikh Jarrah, parts of which were historically known as Shimon Hatzadik or Nahalat Shimon, has become one of Jerusalem’s most tense neighborhoods. Far-right Jewish nationalists have sought to evict Palestinian residents in decades-long legal battles that helped touch off violence between Israel and Hamas last May. Scattered acts of violence have taken place in the area for months since then.
Tensions have been rising in the neighborhood for weeks. In January, municipal bulldozers evicted the Salhiya family in the dead of night following a standoff with police. The Jerusalem municipality expropriated the home to build a school on the plot where the Salhiyas lived.
The Foreign Ministry describes the Sheikh Jarrah struggle in English as a simple real estate dispute, but both the Israelis and the Palestinians involved deem it part of a long-term battle to determine Jerusalem’s political future.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 in a move not recognized by most of the international community. Palestinians hope to see the capital of their yet-unrealized state in East Jerusalem, an aspiration opposed by the Israeli right.