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Israeli youths arrested in connection with taxi bombing

Six Palestinians hurt; act labeled ‘terrorist attack’

JERUSALEM — Three Israeli adolescents from a West Bank settlement were arrested Sunday in connection with the recent firebombing of a Palestinian taxi, Israeli police said, fueling a debate in Israel about ethnic prejudice among youths.

The suspects, all age 12 or 13, were to appear in a Jerusalem court Sunday evening, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. The attack, which injured six Palestinians, took place hours before several Palestinian youths were beaten by a mob in central Jerusalem.

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Police arrested seven Israeli teenagers, the youngest 13, in connection with that attack, which witnesses described as a near-lynching.

Both incidents were denounced as ‘‘terrorist attacks’’ by Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, who said they ‘‘constitute first and foremost an educational and moral failure.’’

The youths arrested Sunday are from the small settlement of Bat Ayin, which sits atop a hill not far from the road where the taxi bombing took place Aug. 16. Rosenfeld said police are investigating the suspects’ motives, but security officials said after the attack that they suspected Jewish extremists.

Yair Goldsmith, the head of the Bat Ayin local committee, declined to comment.

Human rights organizations and the United Nations report a rising number of crimes by radical Jewish settlers against Palestinians and their property in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which both Arabs and Jews claim as rightfully theirs.

Settlers who have asserted responsibility for several of those attacks, as well as recent assaults on the Israeli military, call their actions part of a ‘‘price tag’’ campaign of retaliation against Israeli policies and Palestinian violence.

Settlers rarely face prosecution for such crimes, human rights activists say.

The firebombing left the four adults and two children inside the taxi with burns, some severe. Five of the victims remained hospitalized late last week, and one, the father of the children, was in intensive care.

Osama Shakarneh, council head in Nahalin, the Palestinian village where the victims are from, expressed doubt Sunday night about whether Israeli police had arrested all the perpetrators, or whether they would be punished.

‘‘We have to wait,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t have much faith in the Israeli judicial system. This could be just a public relations stunt.’’

In a separate development Sunday, Israeli authorities refused about 100 pro-Palestinian activists, including three Americans, permission to cross overland to the West Bank from Jordan, the Associated Press reported, citing the leader of the activist group.

French organizer Olivia Zemor of the ‘‘Welcome to Palestine’’ campaign said Israeli authorities asked no questions and stamped ‘‘entry denied’’ into their passports without an explanation.

Israel’s Defense Ministry denounced the protesters as ‘‘provocateurs and known troublemakers.’’

Earlier, Zemor told reporters in the Jordanian capital of Amman that the group aimed to deliver 1 ton of school supplies to Palestinian children in refugee camps in Bethlehem.

In a statement Sunday, the Israeli Defense Ministry called the effort a ‘‘failed publicity stunt.’’ It said Israel exercised its right to deny them entry.

‘‘There are no restrictions whatsoever on bringing in school supplies,’’ the statement said. ‘‘If these activists sincerely wanted to bring in school supplies, they had countless options to do so. There are no shortages of school supplies in the West Bank.’’

Zemor said the activists want Israel to grant freedom of movement to the Palestinians and their visitors. Some also demand the lifting of an Israeli blockade on Gaza. She said the group was peaceful and unarmed.

She said a few of the protesters tried crossing the bridge but were ordered back to Jordan. She said buses ferrying the protesters were escorted in the direction of Amman by Jordanian antiriot police and other security personnel.

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