WASHINGTON -- Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone on Wednesday that he personally ordered an investigation into the abduction and murder of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, a teenage Arab boy found in the woods of Jerusalem yesterday, a suspected crime of retribution by rogue Israelis for the kidnapping and killing of three of their own this month.
"During the call with Secretary Kerry this morning, Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear that he had asked for an investigation to find out who was responsible for the despicable murder as soon as possible," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, "that anyone who takes a life will be punished severely, and that he had publicly called for all sides not to take the law into their own hands."
Briefing reporters in Washington, Psaki declined to declare any one party responsible in either case. The State Department has, however, said intelligence strongly indicates Hamas involvement in the deaths of Israel's teens.
"That's the reason why there's an investigation," she continued, adding: "There's not an independent Unites States investigation."
The White House and State Department both condemned the murder, which has equalized anger across both sides of a tense aisle in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The United States "strongly condemns the heinous murder of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem," US national security advisor Susan Rice tweeted Wednesday, echoing comment from Kerry.
Earlier on Wednesday, Kerry issued a swift statement saying Washington “condemns in the strongest possible terms the despicable and senseless abduction and murder” of Abu Kheider. “It is sickening to think of an innocent 17-year-old boy snatched off the streets and his life stolen from him and his family. There are no words to convey adequately our condolences to the Palestinian people.”
Kerry said those “who undertake acts of vengeance only destabilize an already explosive and emotional situation. We look to both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take all necessary steps to prevent acts of violence and bring their perpetrators to justice. The world has too often learned the hard way that violence only leads to more violence, and at this tense and dangerous moment all parties must do everything in their power to protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not recrimination and retribution.”
In his statement, Kerry noted that Netanyahu was “emphatic” in calling on people not to take the law into their own hands.
The security cabinet met Wednesday evening for the third time in as many nights, but this time after the murder earlier in the day of an east Jerusalem youth and the ensuing violence in the capital that are likely to narrow Israel’s options in responding to the murder of three Israeli teenagers.
If the discovery on Monday evening of the bodies of Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel gave Israel a degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the world for a harsh military response, that legitimacy began to erode on Wednesday when condemnation of the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir poured in from all over the world.
In Britain, both Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague said they were appalled by the murder.
Cameron tweeted that “the loss of four boys this week is a terrible reminder of the need for lasting peace.”
Meanwhile Hague condemned the “appalling murder” of what he termed “a Palestinian teenager from occupied east Jerusalem.”
He added that it was vital that the people responsible for the crime were held accountable.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair issued a statement saying there “is no possible justification for such a horrendous act – and the perpetrators must be found swiftly and brought to justice. Extremists must not be allowed to exploit the events of the last weeks to spark a further escalation in violence.”
Blair said he was “very worried by the unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including assaults on Palestinians, ‘price-tag’ attacks and settler violence that cannot be tolerated. The recent tragic loss of lives on both sides of this conflict reminds us of what is at stake.
The fanatics must be sidelined, and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders must continue their pursuit for a negotiated settlement that will bring about peace and security for their citizens.”
The UN’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, issued a statement strongly condemning “the reported murder of a Palestinian boy in Jerusalem. I recall the Secretary- General’s [Ban Ki-moon] message: There can be no justification for the deliberate killing of civilians – any civilians.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said in a Channel 2 interview before the security cabinet meeting that the search for those who kidnapped and murdered the three Israeli teens will continue, and pointed out that there has been an intensive operation against Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank since the kidnappings three weeks ago.
Netanyahu has defined continued military action as having three principle goals: apprehending the murderers, hitting Hamas hard in the West Bank, and expanding the operation in the Gaza Strip “if necessary.”
Asked if the operation would be expanded in Gaza, Livni said Israel is engaged in a long struggle against Hamas, during which there will be a “series of actions,” which she was unwilling to discuss. “The struggle against Hamas did not start yesterday and will not end tomorrow,” she said.
The security cabinet met for the first time on Monday to draw up responses to the murders, shortly after the bodies were discovered. Significant differences among the eight-member security cabinet leaked out from that meeting, including how harsh the IDF military response should be, whether it should included a widespread operation in Gaza, and whether settlement construction should be announced in reaction to the murders.
While little information leaked out of Tuesday evening’s security cabinet meeting, Channel 2 reported that just prior to the Wednesday meeting Ze’ev Hever, the head of the settlement movement’s construction arm, held a meeting with cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, in a possible sign that significant settlement construction will be one of Israel’s reactive steps.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been holding consultations with senior Palestinian officials in his office in Ramallah since Tuesday night to discuss the latest developments, a PA official in Ramallah said.
During the discussions, Abbas condemned Israeli security measures in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip following the abduction and murder of the yeshiva students three weeks ago.
Abbas called on the Israeli government “not to exploit the incident to pursue settlement activities and escalation.”
“The policy of collective punishment must stop,” he said.
He pointed out that Palestinian groups had agreed to endorse “popular and peaceful resistance to achieve the national legitimate rights of the Palestinians.”
Jerry Lewis contributed to this report from London.