Unknown attackers early Sunday torched the home of a key witness in the trial of two Israelis suspected of killing three members of a Palestinian family in a firebomb attack last year, local residents said. Photos from the incident, in the West Bank village of Duma, showed the house had sustained severe damage.
Israel Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said an investigation was underway into the fire.
Palestinian officials said attackers broke the bedroom window of Ibrahim Dawabsha’s home and set the house on fire. Dawabsha and his wife escaped. He was unharmed, but his wife suffered light smoke inhalation.
At approximately 3 a.m., “the couple in the home that was torched heard glass breaking, and quickly escaped, suffering only smoke inhalation. A loud boom was heard and the house went up in flames,” Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president of Rabbis for Human Rights, which has been a key group advocating for stronger action against settler violence in the West Bank, said in a statement.
A brick and at least two glass bottles that had contained flammable material were found inside the upstairs bedroom of the house. The home is located less than 10 yards from the home that was burned down in July 2015.
Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official, charged that Jewish settlers attacked the home. “The way they attacked, the type of fire bombs and the timing of the attack all indicate that it was Israeli settlers,” he said to the Palestinian Maan website.
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, Saad and Riham, 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.
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 charges.
Ibrahim Dawabsha, whose house was torched early Sunday morning, 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 first on the scene and had come upon two attackers standing over the burning Dawabsha parents. Local residents said that the attack on his home seemed like an attempt to kill or intimidate him.
Hussein, a resident of Duma, said that residents of the village saw two suspects climb to the second story of Ibrahim Dawabsha’s house, break a window and throw in something that ignited the home immediately.
“Within a minute the entire room that the residents of the home were sleeping in was burned,” he told Army Radio Sunday morning. “Thank God, there are no injuries and only the house was burned.”
A Palestinian activist for Rabbis for Human Rights told the radio station that the attackers threw two Molotov cocktails into the house.
Itamar Ben Gvir, the defense lawyer for Ben-Uliel, the prime suspect in last year’s attack in the village, claimed Sunday that the overnight incident was proof of his client’s innocence.
“The torching of the house in Duma only strengthens and substantiates the claim, which we have posited from the outset of the affair, that Ben-Uliel was not responsible for the torching of the home in Duma,” Ben Gvir said in a statement. “The Duma villagers are fighting among themselves, and this isn’t the first time the village has seen a personal settling of scores. The claim that it was the home of a witness, and that the intention may have been to deter him, is beyond ridiculous.”
Palestinian media reported clashes in Duma between IDF soldiers and residents Sunday morning in the wake of the overnight incident.
Palestine Liberation Organization head 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.”
Times of Israel staff, JTA, AFP and AP contributed to this report.