(JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a manhunt to track down the arsonists who killed a Palestinian baby and left Hebrew-language graffiti at the site.
Netanyahu said in a statement that the arson Thursday night in the Palestinian West Bank village of Duma near Nablus was “a terrorist attack in every respect.” Ali Saad Dawabsha, 18 months old, was killed when flames engulfed one of two homes that the arsonists set ablaze.
His parents and 5-year-old brother were severely injured in the fire, which police suspect was started by Jewish extremists. The Hebrew words “Revenge” and “Long live the king messiah” were spray-painted on walls nearby the site of the attack, alongside a Star of David, according to Army Radio.
“I am shocked over this reprehensible and horrific act,” Netanyahu said.
Israel “takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are,” he said. “I have ordered the security forces to use all means at their disposal to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice forthwith.”
Israel Defense Forces troops beefed up their presence in the West Bank in anticipation of disturbances.
B’Tselem, a human rights group, said the fatal attack came after a string of arson attacks in the West Bank and accused Israeli authorities of not doing enough to track down the perpetrators.
“Since August 2012, Israeli civilians set fire to nine Palestinian homes in the West Bank,” B’Tselem said. “Additionally, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Palestinian taxi, severely burning the family on board. No one was charged in any of these cases.”
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli government’s support for settlements drove the attack, and urged the international community to respond. The killing will be among issues brought to the International Criminal Court against Israel, said spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
The arson in Duma follows a string of non-lethal attacks on Palestinians and other victims attributed to Jewish extremists. On Thursday, six people were stabbed at the Jerusalem gay pride parade by an Orthodox Jew who was released from jail last month after having served his sentence for stabbing three people at the 2005 edition of the same event. One of the victims, a young woman, is in critical condition.
Itzik Shmuli, a relatively new but prominent lawmaker for the opposition Labor party, revealed in an interview for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that he was gay, explaining he “could no longer remain silent after the attack.”
Also on Thursday, Israeli prosecutors charged a third Jewish suspect in connection with an arson attack last month at the Church of Multiplication in the Galilee.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s former finance minister and an opposition lawmaker for the secularist Yesh Atid party, called on Netanyahu to hold an emergency cabinet meeting to address these and other acts of violence.