DUMA (West Bank) • Suspected Jewish extremists set fire to a Palestinian home in the occupied West Bank yesterday, killing an 18-month-old baby boy and seriously injuring several other family members, an act the Israeli Prime Minister has described as terrorism.
The house in Duma, a small village near the city of Nablus, was torched in the early morning as the family slept.
Graffiti in Hebrew reading "revenge" was scrawled on the wall outside, police and witnesses said.
Both the child's parents and his four-year-old brother were badly hurt. They were taken by helicopter for treatment in an Israeli hospital, officials said.
It was the worst attack by Israeli extremists since a Palestinian teenager was torched to death in Jerusalem a year ago. That followed the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian militants in the West Bank.
Duma resident Ibrahim Dawabsheh said he heard people shouting for help from the house and rushed to it. "I saw two masked men outside," he said. He went to call for help and when he returned the suspects were gone.
"We found the parents outside with burns. They said (their son) was in the house. We brought him out and then they said there was another boy inside, but we couldn't reach the bedroom because of the fire. He was left inside until rescue forces came," Mr Dawabsheh said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was shocked. "This is a terrorist attack. Israel takes firm action against terrorism, no matter who its perpetrators are," he said in a statement, adding that "all means" would be used to bring the assailants to justice.
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said an investigation was underway and called the attack "nothing short of a barbaric act of terrorism".
Mr Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Israel was responsible. "Such a crime would not have occurred if the Israeli government did not insist on pursuing settlements and protecting settlers," he said in a statement to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Israeli police spokesman Luba Samri said the torching was an apparent "Price Tag" attack, a reference to militant settlers who threaten to exact retribution for any Israeli government curbs on settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The arson attack follows days of tensions surrounding settlements in the West Bank, with right-wing groups opposing the demolition of two buildings under construction that the Israeli High Court ruled were illegal.
The demolition began on Wednesday, but Mr Netanyahu authorised the immediate construction of 300 settler homes in the same area the same day. Settlers had clashed with police when workers moved in to demolish the buildings.
The "Price Tag" group has been blamed for setting fire to a number of mosques in the West Bank in recent years. Those attacks caused widespread damage but no casualties. Though Israel has vowed to crack down on such assailants, only a handful of indictments have been handed down.
The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the Palestinians have limited self rule, but nearly 60 per cent of the territory remains under full control of the Israeli military.
Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law. The last round of US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE