Ringleader in 2014 burning alive of Palestinian teen ruled sane

Jerusalem: An Israeli court ruled Tuesday that a Jewish man found to be the ringleader of the beating and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 was sane and responsible for his actions.

Israeli settler Yosef Haim Ben-David, 31, was found in November to have led the assault, but his lawyers had submitted last-minute documents saying he suffered from mental illness.

Tuesday's ruling clears the way for him to be sentenced, with his conviction having been put on hold while the court decided on his sanity plea in the closely watched case.

The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision but said they hoped judges followed through with a life sentence for Ben-David, who appeared in court Tuesday with a thick beard and wearing a yarmulke.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Abu Khdeir's mother wore a heart-shaped pendant with an image of her son wearing a baseball cap inside at the hearing, and his father said the decision "should have been made a long time ago".

"We knew that he wasn't mad," Hussein Abu Khdeir told AFP.

"It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out. Even if they sentence him for life, this will never bring Mohammed back again. Our hearts are wounded from what happened."

The court ruling found that Ben-David "was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime".

In February, a court sentenced his two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, which was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the 2014 Gaza war.

The two were minors at the time of the chilling attack in which they snatched Abu Khdeir, 16, from an east Jerusalem street and then killed him.

His murder was seen as revenge for the killing of Israeli teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, who were abducted from a hitchhiking stop near the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.

Long wait for decision

Israeli authorities said the suspects had decided to kill an Arab and equipped themselves with cables, petrol and other materials before randomly choosing Abu Khdeir.

"Today's decision has come late, but it is correct," Mohannad Jbara, a lawyer for Abu Khdeir's family, told AFP.

"The crime occurred a year and nine months ago, so this decision has taken a long time, but we have succeeded in convincing the court that he was faking."

Abu Khdeir was kidnapped from Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on  2 July, 2014 and beaten, with his burned body found hours later in a forest in the western part of the city.

A forensic report showed smoke in his lungs, indicating he was alive when set alight.

The case has threatened to further raise tensions following a wave of violence that erupted in October that has killed 201 Palestinians and 28 Israelis.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

Israeli forces have however been accused of using excessive force in some cases, which they firmly deny.

The violence had steadily declined in recent weeks, but on Monday a bomb blast ripped through a bus in Jerusalem and sparked a fire, wounding at least 21 people.

If confirmed as a Palestinian bombing, it would mark a sharp escalation ahead of Jewish Passover celebrations beginning Friday night.

Many analysts say Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation and settlement building in the West Bank, the complete lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the recent unrest.

Israel blames incitement by Palestinian leaders and media as a main cause of the violence.

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Updated Date: Apr 19, 2016 14:37:17 IST

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