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Convictions upheld for Israelis in murder of Palestinian teen

Relatives of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was killed in 2014, hold posters bearing his portrait outside the Jerusalem district court during a hearing on February 4, 2016
Ahmad Gharabli (AFP)
Khdeir waskidnapped from east Jerusalem in 2014 and beaten, with his burned body found hours later in a forest

Israel's supreme court on Thursday rejected an appeal by three members of a Jewish gang convicted of kidnapping, beating and burning alive a Palestinian teenager in 2014.

The decision upholds life sentences for two of them and a 21-year jail term for the third over the chilling attack that was part of a spiral of violence ahead of the 2014 Gaza war.

Israeli settler Yosef Haim Ben-David was convicted of leading the nationalistically-motivated assault on Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, that shocked Israelis and Palestinians alike.

The two others have not been named since they were minors -- 16 -- at the time of the crime. Ben-David, whose claim of insanity was rejected, was 31 when he was sentenced to life in May 2016.

All three were present in the court on Thursday. Ben-David, appearing haggard in a prison uniform and with a scruffy beard, did not speak.

Ben-David had previously claimed to be the "messiah," but judges ruled that he was mentally competent.

Ahmad Gharabli (AFP/File)

They said that at the time of the killing he was "in full command of his faculties ... and that the mental issues he suffered from" did not mean he was not responsible for his actions, according to a justice ministry statement on the ruling.

Abu Khdeir's father welcomed the court's decision, but again called for the assailants' homes to be demolished as Israel routinely does for Palestinian attackers as a form of deterrence.

The Defense Ministry last year argued similarly that there was no need to create deterrence among Jews because terror attacks against Arabs are relatively infrequent compared to Arab acts of terror against Jews, and therefore the demolitions were unjustified.

"These people are like Nazis," Hussein Abu Khdeir told journalists outside the courtroom after the decision was announced.

Khdeir's mother, Suha, cried after the decision was announced.

- Revenge plot -

Abu Khdeir's killing was part of a spiral of violence that led to a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip in summer 2014.

He was kidnapped from Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on July 2, 2014 and beaten, with his burned body found hours later in a forest in the western part of the city.

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

A forensic report showed smoke in his lungs, indicating he was alive when set alight.

It was seen as revenge for the killing of Israelis Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, who were abducted from a hitchhiking stop near the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.

Israeli authorities said the suspects had decided to kill an Arab in revenge and equipped themselves with cable ties, petrol and other materials before randomly choosing Abu Khdeir.

Israel immediately blamed the kidnappings on militants from Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, rounding up hundreds of suspected members in the West Bank.

The killing of Abu Khdeir was followed by an uptick in rocket fire from Gaza, and the launch on July 8 of a full-scale Israeli military operation against the Palestinian enclave.

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