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Israel: 2 more Palestinians arrested in botched child rape case

A general view of an Israeli settlement in Nablus, West Bank [Wagdi Eshtayah/Apaimages]
A general view of an Israeli settlement in Nablus, West Bank [Wagdi Eshtayah/Apaimages]

Two Palestinians have been arrested over the rape of a seven-year-old Israeli girl, just weeks after the original Palestinian suspect was released following a botched investigation by Israel Police.

The two Palestinians were arrested yesterday on suspicion of involvement in the rape of a seven-year-old Israeli girl from an illegal West Bank settlement. Though the girl's name and the exact location of the settlement have been kept under an Israeli court gag order, the attack was thought to have taken place in Modi'in Ilit, a Haredi settlement near Israel's Separation Wall.

The Palestinians have not been named, but are believed to hail from the village of Qibya, north of Modi'in Ilit. It was not immediately clear what role the two are accused of having in the suspected rape and Israel Police do not have forensic evidence implicating the pair, the Times of Israel reported yesterday, citing Israel's public broadcaster Kan.

The Israeli daily added that the men are expected to be brought before a judge in the coming days, though they are not slated to have their remand extended. The paper also cited an Israeli police official as saying that, "in the coming weeks, they will be seeking to question all Palestinians that were in the ultra-Orthodox city-settlement in the central West Bank during the period they believe the girl had been raped".

The official hastened to add that "they have not ruled out the possibility that a fellow Jewish resident could have been the perpetrator."

READ: Israel Police repeatedly refuse to hear testimony of Palestinian accused of rape

This comes just weeks after the original suspect, Mahmoud Katusa, was released after being falsely accused of the alleged rape. The 46-year-old Palestinian from Deir Qadis had worked at the girl's school as a maintenance worker, with the indictment charging that he won her trust by engaging her in conversation and giving her sweets over a prolonged period of time.

The case also claimed that on the day of the alleged incident, Katusa dragged the girl to a nearby apartment where he was working and, with the help of Palestinian friends who held her down, raped the child.

Whether Israel Police will claim the two Palestinians arrested today were these friends mentioned in the original indictment is not yet clear.

However, after multiple discrepancies appeared in the case and Israel Police being found to have withheld crucial evidence which could have exonerated Katusa, the investigation was reopened. Israel Police eventually dropped charges against Katusa, despite detaining him for 55 days.

Now Katusa is suing Israel Police for the time it kept him in detention and for the authorities' negligent handling of the case. Katusa's lawyer, Nashaf Darwish, said in a statement at the time: "This case is a combination of police negligence in investigations and a large amount of racism. The source of the racism started with what the teacher told the mother [of the girl in question]."

The arrest of two further Palestinians, apparently without forensic evidence to connect them to the incident, will do little to dispel concerns about Israel Police's handling of the affair.

READ: UK teen claims forced to retract rape accusation against Israelis

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