Israel has arrested six Jewish suspects in the gruesome murder of a Palestinian teen, which sparked a wave of violent protests in the boy's neighborhood in east Jerusalem and spread to other Arab towns in Israel over the weekend.
An unidentified security official told Reuters on Sunday that police had arrested the suspects for the abduction and burning alive of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, in a crime that authorities believed was executed with "nationalist motives."
A joint statement by the Israeli police and the Shin Bet security agency confirmed that several suspects were arrested early Sunday morning and are currently in custody and being interrogated by the Shin Bet.
The boy's burned body was found in a forest ditch in West Jerusalem on Wednesday morning in an alleged Israeli revenge attack for the abduction and murder of three Israeli settler teens in the West Bank, who were buried hours before Abu Khdeir disappeared.
On Saturday, the Palestinian attorney general said a preliminary autopsy report showed Abu Khdeir had suffered burns to "90 percent of his body, including burn marks on his lungs, bronchial tubes and inside of his throat.
"The results show he was breathing while on fire and died from burns and their consequences," Abdelghani al-Owaiwi told the Associated Press, adding that the teen also bore wounds on the right side of his head, likely from contact with a rock or other object.
Palestinians immediately accused Israeli extremists of beating and torching Abu Khdeir, and took to the streets in protest on Wednesday. Clashes with police quickly turned violent on the morning of Abu Khdeir's Funeral, which was attended by thousands in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat on Friday.
The violence continued over the weekend, as the details of the murder emerged, spreading to towns across Israel, including Nazareth and Taibe, where protestors hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police who returned fire with tear gas and stun grenades, Israeli police said. At least 30 people were arrested on Saturday, according to local reports.
Protests over slain teenager hit Nazareth
Israeli security forces clash with Nazareth protesters
Protests and clashes flare in Taibe
Tensions between Palestine and Israel have escalated sharply since the three Israeli settler youths were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank. The Israeli Defense Force subsequently launched a massive 18-day operation to search for the teens, which included numerous aerial bombings and raids on over 2,000 Palestinian buildings. At least five Palestinians were killed during the campaign dubbed by the IDF as "Operation Brother's Keeper."
Israel has blamed Islamic militant group Hamas for the deaths of the three teens whose bodies were discovered on Monday near the Palestinian village of Halhul, in the southern West Bank. Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha, the two Hamas members identified by Israel as the primary suspects, have been missing since the teens first disappeared on June 12.
Hamas praised the kidnappers but stopped short of claiming responsibility.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping and killing of the Israeli boys and urged both sides to "refrain from violence."
But on Monday night, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Yusef Abu Zaga, was killed by live fire as demonstrators met with the Israeli military in the West Bank city of Jenin. Three other Palestinians were arrested in the clash.
Several other reprisal attacks on Palestinians were also reported that night.
The Israeli army said it launched several air strikes in Gaza on Monday night against target sites occupied by Hamas, in retaliation for rocket attacks by the militants into Israeli territory. Three Palestinians were injured in the strikes, among them an infant.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to "do whatever it takes" to restore peace to southern Israel and protect it from further rocket attacks.
In his remarks made during a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu also said he intended to take decisive action against the rioters in Jerusalem and Arab communities in Israel.
Israeli PM Netanyahu addresses his cabinet
On Sunday, Israel also released Abu Khdeir's cousin, 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir, from custody. The boy was brutally beaten in a separate incident during a protest in East Jerusalem on Thursday.
At a court hearing on Sunday morning, Tariq was ordered to pay bail and sentenced to 10 days of house arrest. The teen, who is a US citizen from Florida visiting relatives in Palestine, spoke to reporters after the hearing at the Court of First Instances in Jerusalem, saying he was not certain who attacked him, but was sure police had perpetrated the beating.
“They hit me, and then kept hitting and then I fell asleep and then I woke up in the hospital,” Tariq said.
US-Palestinian teenager Tariq Abu Khdeir speaks of his beating
Israeli police told the Associated press that the boy had attacked officers and resisted arrest. He was found to be in possession of a slingshot when he was detained along with six other demonstrators, some of whom were armed with knives.
Calls by the US for an investigation into the incident on the weekend were answered by Israel's Justice Ministry, which appointed the police internal affairs office to handle the case.
VICE News' Olivia Becker and Dylan Collins also contributed to this report.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields