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After beating, teen-ager meets Palestinian leader Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Monday with the teenager who allegedly was beaten by Israeli police last week, and Jewish leaders in Baltimore condemned the alleged abduction and killing of his cousin by several Israelis.

In Israel, meanwhile, Hamas stepped up rocket fire at southern towns, and the government called up reserve troops in anticipation of a possible escalation of hostilities with the Islamist group that dominates the Gaza Strip.

Relatives of 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir, a Baltimore native who is visiting family in Israel with his parents and two younger sisters, say he was watching a protest leading up to the funeral of his cousin in East Jerusalem last Thursday when he was detained by Israeli police.

The killing came in apparent retaliation for the abduction and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank. Israel blames their deaths on Hamas.

Tariq's relatives say he is the youth in a pair of videos that have surfaced of the protest. The footage shows two Israeli border police officers holding down and pummeling a masked youth. There is no indication he is resisting. The officers than drag his limp body away.

Photographs of Tariq, who lived in Baltimore and attended John Ruhrah Elementary School before his family moved to Florida, show him with a black eye, a bloodied nose and a badly swollen mouth.

"When I saw his face — it was disgusting to see that," Hakeim Abu Khdeir, a Baltimore cousin, said Monday. "The kid was in cuffs already, and you're still beating him."

Relatives say Tariq was with his 16-year-old cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir last Wednesday shortly before Mohammed was grabbed by two man, shoved into a car and driven away.

Mohammed's charred body was found in a forest near Jerusalem later that day. An autopsy indicates the youth was likely burned alive.

Israel has arrested six Jewish suspects in the killing of Mohammed, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the youth's father Monday to offer his condolences.

"I would like to express my outrage and that of the citizens of Israel over the reprehensible murder of your son," Netanyahu told Hussein Abu Khdeir, according to Netanyahu's office. "We acted immediately to apprehend the murderers. We will bring them to trial, and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law."

Jewish leaders in Baltimore also condemned the killing.

"The Associated and Baltimore Jewish Council unequivocally condemn the brutal murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Hussein Abu Khdeir on June 2 and offer condolences to the grieving family," the organizations said in a statement. "We are appalled that this heinous crime was allegedly carried out in revenge for the kidnapping and murders of three Jewish teens, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

"The murder of innocents is antithetical to Jewish law and tradition and must always be opposed by men and women of decency and morality."

Sen. Ben Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that "violence begets only more violence."

"The cycle must be broken," he said. "Innocent children should never be used as targets for violent agendas. Those responsible for the recent murders of Israeli and Palestinian youths should be held accountable for their actions. These tragic events should not be used as justification for additional violence. We cannot lose more of our children to such senseless acts."

Hakeim Abu Khdeir said the family was mourning the death of Mohammed.

"He's just gone," he said. "There's nothing that will bring him back to us."

Tariq was at a protest the day after Mohammed's killing that led to clashes with Israeli police. Police say he attacked officers, resisted arrest and was carrying a slingshot. They say he was arrested along with six other youths, some of whom had knives.

Tariq told reporters after his release Sunday that he had not fought with police.

A State Department spokeswoman said an official from the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem visited with Tariq on Saturday and attended a hearing for him on Sunday.

"We remain shocked that he was severely beaten while in police custody," spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. "We're calling … for a speedy and transparent and credible investigation."

Israeli police say they have launched a probe.

Tariq was released under house arrest for nine days, the duration of his stay in Israel. But he traveled Monday to the West Bank town of Ramallah to meet the Palestininan president. A photograph released by the Palestinian Authority shows Abbas examining his face.

In Florida on Monday, family and friends described Tariq as a typical American teenager. They told reporters he had just finished his freshman year at the Universal Academy of Florida, a private Islamic school in Tampa, where he played on the soccer team.

He earned the trip to visit relatives in Jerusalem by getting good grades.

"It was supposed to be a joyous summer vacation," said Sanah Abu Khdeir, an aunt. "He's just a very spunky, fun kid."

At the House of Spirits, a family-owned liquor store in Canton, Hakeim Abu Khdeir called Tariq a "goofball."

"The funny thing is, this kid is nonviolent," he said. "He's not the violent type.

"It's ridiculous that we have to pay a fine for him getting assaulted."

Violence has surged since the kidnapping of the Israeli teenagers last month. Hamas said it had fired dozens of rockets at Israel in about an hour on Monday. Israel said more than 40 rockets were launched as funerals were held in Gaza for six Palestinian militants.

Hamas has vowed revenge for their deaths. Israel has denied any involvement.

The Israeli military has called up several hundred reservists and is prepared to mobilize a total of 1,500, officials said.

Netanyahu has pledged "to do whatever is necessary" to restore quiet to southern Israeli communities but cautioned against any rush toward wider confrontation with Hamas, which has long-range rockets that can reach Israel's heartland and its business capital Tel Aviv.

For the first time in two years, Hamas claimed responsibility Monday for firing rockets at Israel. It was enraged after its armed wing said six of its members were killed in Israeli air strikes earlier in the day, and another was pulled from the rubble seriously wounded.

The death toll was the highest Hamas has suffered since a 2012 war with Israel.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of committing a "grave escalation" in violence and threatened to retaliate, saying Israel would "pay the price".

The Israeli military said its aircraft had targeted "terror sites and concealed rocket launchers" in the enclave, but had not hit the southern Gaza area of Rafah, where the Hamas gunmen died.

A military spokesman said the militants died when explosives detonated in a tunnel that Israel bombed several days earlier, fearing gunmen planned to use it to try and penetrate into Israel.

The Hamas fighters had apparently gone to inspect the damage, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

Zuhri said Hamas rejected Israel's denial.

"We hold the occupation responsible," he said.

Reuters contributed to this article.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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