Tariq Abu Khdeir, the 15-year-old Baltimore native who allegedly was beaten by Israeli police in East Jerusalem this month, has returned home.
Abu Khdeir, who now lives in Florida, arrived at Tampa International Airport late Wednesday to cheers from family and friends. He told reporters he felt good; the bruises on his face that led the State Department to express shock and Israeli authorities to launch an investigation had faded significantly.
Abu Khdeir, who lived his first dozen years in Baltimore and still has many relatives in Maryland, called the incident "the scariest thing that has happened to me."
He told reporters he believes his story attracted attention only because he is a U.S. citizen.
"I am only 15, but I will never think about freedom in the same way," he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is representing the family, said the priority now is getting Abu Khdeir medical attention in the United States. Zainab Chaudry, president of CAIR Maryland, said medical professionals have volunteered their services.
Chaudry said CAIR would work with the State Department to ensure that any police involved in the alleged beating are held accountable.
Abu Khdeir was visiting family in East Jerusalem this month when a cousin was abducted and burned to death. Family members say Abu Khdeir was the last to see Mohammed Abu Khdeir alive.
Israeli authorities have charged three people in the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, which came in apparent retaliation for the abduction and deaths of three Israeli teens last month.
While families of the victims have called for peace, the killings ignited new levels of violence between Hamas and Israel.
After a five-hour "humanitarian truce" Thursday to allow aid to reach Gaza, fighting returned to a familiar pattern of Palestinian rocket salvos and Israeli bombing. By nightfall, Israeli commanders said they had launched a ground offensive into Gaza.
On July 3, Abu Khdeir was in the village of Shuafat when protesters clashed with police before his cousin's funeral. He said he was watching, not participating, when he was detained by police.
Video footage showed two police officers pummeling a masked youth. Photographs of Abu Khdeir taken after the alleged incident showed him with two black eyes, a bloodied nose and a badly swollen mouth.
The U.S. State Department expressed "shock" at the beating and called for a quick, transparent and credible investigation. The Israeli Justice Ministry has launched a probe.
At the same time, the Israeli Embassy in Washington has alleged that Abu Khdeir "was no innocent bystander."
"He was taking part in a mass demonstration attacking policemen," the embassy said in a statement. "He was masked, along with a knife-carrying group of six who threw petrol-bombs and Molotov cocktails at policemen."
Abu Khdeir said he did not fight with police. Family members in Maryland have described him as nonpolitical and nonviolent. His supporters say he was not charged with any offense.
Abu Khdeir attended John Ruhrah Elementary School in Baltimore. He moved with his parents to Florida when he was about 12 and now studies at a private Islamic school in Tampa.
He told reporters Wednesday that he looked forward to returning to school and going fishing with his friends. He and his mother asked supporters to remember all the children killed in recent weeks during the resurgent violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
"They have names like mine," Abu Khdeir said. "No child, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, deserves to die that way."
Reuters contributed to this article.
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