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Israeli Teens Jailed for Murder of Mohammed Abu Khudair in Jerusalem

by Reuters /

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JERUSALEM — An Israeli court jailed two Jewish teenagers Thursday — one for life, the other for 21 years — over the revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager that contributed to the 2014 Gaza war.

The two defendants, whose names were withheld from publication because of their age, and an adult ringleader were found guilty in November of the abduction, bludgeoning, strangling and burning of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair in Jerusalem in July 2014.

 Suha, mother of Palestinian youth Mohammed Abu Khudair, reacts after the sentencing of two of her son's murderers at the Jerusalem District Court in Jerusalem on Thursday. AMMAR AWAD / Reuters

Prosecutors said all of the accused had confessed, and that the murder was revenge for the earlier killing of three Israeli youths by Hamas in the occupied West Bank.

The incidents raised tension that ended in a seven-week Israeli offensive against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip triggered by cross-border Palestinian rocket attacks and an Israeli roundup of suspected militants in the West Bank.

The defendants sentenced Thursday were minors, aged 17 and 16, when they killed Abu Khudair. The older of the two received the life term.

Tensions are simmering anew, with a wave of Palestinian street attacks against Israelis now in its fifth month, fueled in part by stalled peace talks and Muslim anger at perceived Jewish encroachment on a contested Jerusalem shrine.

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The adult defendant in the Abu Khudair case, Yosef Haim Ben-David, lodged an insanity plea that has delayed his conviction and sentencing. A court review of Ben-David's psychological competence is scheduled next week.

Abu Khudair's father, Hussein, told reporters at Jerusalem District Court the family would appeal to the Supreme Court to give the youngest defendant a life prison term.

"If there is no apartheid or racism [in Israel], you will have to do this," Abu Khudair said, accusing authorities of going easy on the defendant because he is a Jew not an Arab.

The state sought life prison terms for both underage defendants, but voiced satisfaction with Thursday's sentencing.

"This is a still a grave punishment," prosecutor Uri Korb told reporters, adding the minor who received the 21-year term had helped with the abduction and beating but not the final killing.

"I hope that the message will be relayed that actions of this kind are revolting and that we as a society will not accept them," Korb said.

He added that the state hoped to quash Ben-David's insanity plea, see him sentenced to life behind bars and "bring closure of this in the near future."

Lawyers for the two teenage defendants did not immediately comment on their sentences. Life terms in Israel are often commuted to 25 years' imprisonment, with some inmates offered parole for good behavior after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

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