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Israeli police investigating suspected arson attack in Palestinian village of Duma

July 20, 2016 12:16 P.M. (Updated: July 20, 2016 6:38 P.M.)
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- Investigations by Israeli police were underway Wednesday morning after a house fire in the village of Duma in the northern occupied West Bank that locals suspected was an arson attack carried out by Israeli settlers.

The fire broke out around 3 a.m. Wednesday in a bedroom on the second floor of a house owned by Muhammad Fayiq Dawabsha. No injuries were reported.

Muhammad Dawabsha, alongside a large number of residents in Duma, is a member of the Dawabsha family, three members of which died in an arson attack in July 2015, when Israeli settlers set ablaze their home, burning an infant child alive. Both the baby's parents later died from their wounds. The couple's four-year-old son is the only remaining survivor of the attack.

The Palestinian civil defense service said in a statement on Wednesday morning that investigations confirmed that a "very highly flammable material" had started the fire, and Dawabsha told them he heard a blast.

The statement said civil defense investigators ruled out “all other possible causes of house fire.”

After checking the electricity network, no evidence was discovered that the fire was caused by electricity short circuit, the statement added.

When firefighters from the Nablus civil defense station responded to the house fire, local residents were already attempting to put out the fire.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement-related activities in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an after the fire broke out that “settlers were the main suspects in the apparent arson attack,” suggesting that Molotov cocktails could have been used.

According to Daghlas, Dawabsha told him he “felt unusual movement around his house,” before the fire broke out.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said in a statement that investigations into the incident were ongoing and that police were considering “long-term local Palestinian disputes” as a reason for the apparent arson attack.

If investigations confirm that the fire was the result of an arson attack carried out by Israeli settlers, it would mark the third arson attack in the village within the last year. 

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov expressed his "concern" on Wednesday over the suspected arson attack in a statement, urging Israeli authorities to "move swiftly" to locate and charge the perpetrators, while condemning Israel's handling of those responsible for the attack last year. 

"I call upon the authorities to move swiftly in bringing the perpetrators of this terrible crime, as well as this latest incident, to justice," the statement read. "I also urge Israel, as the occupying power, to ensure that vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are protected in line with its obligations under international law." 

Settler violence against Palestinians and their property is common in the Nablus area, as the district is surrounded by 12 Israeli settlements and 37 outposts -- the latter of which are illegal under Israel's own laws, in addition to being in contravention of international law.

Israeli settlers have carried out at least 60 attacks on Palestinians and their property in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the start of 2016, and a total of 221 in 2015, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

However, the perpetrators of violence against Palestinian civilians and their property are rarely punished, with Israeli police closing most investigations without an indictment.

According to the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, only 1.9 percent of complaints submitted by Palestinians against Israeli civilian attacks result in a conviction.
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