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Israeli court throws out killer's insanity plea

An Israeli court has ruled that the ringleader of a group that killed a Palestinian teen in 2014 is fit to stand trial. The decision clears the way for the man to be sentenced, but it may not calm tensions.

Yosef Haim Ben-David (C) is escorted during his trial at the Jerusalem District Court November 30, 2015

Yosef Haim Ben-David (C) is escorted during his trial at the Jerusalem District Court November 30, 2015

Last November, a Jerusalem court found the Israeli settler Yosef Haim Ben-David guilty of leading the murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The attack was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the seven-week 2014 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

The case has threatened to further raise tensions following a recent wave of violence that has led to the deaths of 201 Palestinians and 28 Israelis in recent months. A wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks targeting Israelis began in October.

Although the violence has declined in recent weeks, on Monday a bomb ripped through a bus in Jerusalem and the ensuing fire wounded at least 21 people.

Palestinians blame

the rise in violence on Israel's occupation and settlement-building in the West Bank and a lack of progress in peace efforts as their own leadership fractures. Israel blames incitement by Palestinian leaders and media as a main cause of the violence.

Sane after all

Ben-David's lawyers submitted last-minute documents that claimed he suffered from mental illness, and his conviction was put on hold while the court decided on his sanity plea.

But, after receiving psychological assessments, the court ruled that the 30-year-old - who appeared in court Tuesday with a thick beard and wearing a yarmulke - had been fit to stand trial.

The court stated that Ben-David "fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime." He will be sentenced on May 3.

Tit for tat, again

A court sentenced Ben-David's two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing in February. The two were minors at the time of the attack.

All three defendants confessed and said the July 2, 2014, murder was revenge for the killing days earlier of three Israeli youths by members of the Hamas group in the occupied West Bank. Israeli teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach were abducted from a hitchhiking stop near the flashpoint city of Hebron.

Abu Khdeir was kidnapped from Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and beaten. His burned body was found hours after his abduction in a forest in the western part of the city. A forensic report showed smoke in his lungs, indicating he was alive when set alight.

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

Reactions

The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision, but said they hoped that judges would give Ben-David a life sentence. "We knew that he wasn't mad," father of the victim, Hussein Abu Khdeir, told AFP. "It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out."

Mohammed Abu Khdeir is a close relative of the East Jerusalem couple whose 17 year old son, also called Mohammed, was murdered

Mohammed Abu Khdeir is a close relative of the East Jerusalem couple whose 17 year old son, also called Mohammed, was murdered

Earlier he had called for Israeli authorities to destroy the homes of the murderers "in keeping with the policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists."

"Today's decision has come late, but it is correct," Mohannad Jbara, a lawyer for Abu Khdeir's family, told AFP.