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Tampa teen beaten in Israel meets with Palestinian Authority's leader

TAMPA — Four days after video of his apparent beating by Israeli police exploded into global controversy, relatives said Tampa teenager Tariq Khdeir still has bad headaches, bloodshot eyes and stitches on his face — injuries inspected first-hand Monday by the head of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he has been given nine days of home detention, Tariq went to the West Bank town of Ramallah — about 6 miles from the east Jerusalem neighborhood where he had been ordered to stay — and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

There, the 15-year-old Tampa high school student made his first public statement about his beating and arrest on Thursday.

"Justice has not been served," Tariq said, according to the Associated Press. "They still have a lot of stuff to do. They still have to go through a lot of things. We have to let them (know) who is right and what's wrong."

Tariq's beating and the brutal death of his cousin are part of the tensions in recent weeks after three Israeli teens were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank. Violence and tension have escalated between Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, with Hamas firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel. The Israeli military responded with airstrikes and a troop buildup near the border.

In Tampa on Monday, relatives said their first priority is to bring Tariq, a sophomore at the Universal Academy of Florida, home to Florida.

"We need Tariq to be brought home immediately so he can receive the proper medical treatment that he needs," said Hassan Shibly, an attorney for Tariq's family and chief executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.

While even defenders of Israel have said in recent days they are horrified by the abduction and murder of Tariq's second cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, whose burned body was found last week, Tariq's meeting with Abbas on Monday raised some eyebrows.

"They're giving this kid more publicity than he deserves," said Bob Kunst, a longtime pro-Israel activist in South Florida who plans a protest in Broward County today demanding that the Israeli military strike Hamas. "That whole thing has turned into a major propaganda victory for Abbas and the Arabs."

Florida International University political scientist Shlomi Dinar said it's "unfortunate that the face of the conflict that we're seeing now is through children."

But, he said, Tariq is a small part of a much bigger, more serious and more high-stakes conflict: the increasingly violent standoff between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli authorities have said Tariq, an American citizen who relatives say was making his first trip to the region in 10 years to visit Palestinian relatives, attacked police during a protest before his cousin's funeral in Shuafat in East Jerusalem.

Mohammed Khdeir, his cousin, was found burned to death Wednesday in the Jerusalem Forest in what Palestinians are calling an act of revenge for the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers three weeks ago.

The Associated Press reported that Tariq said he lost consciousness during the beating and was taken to a hospital.

He said he had only been watching the clashes, and his relatives in Tampa say he was not taking part in the protest but watching from the back yard of an uncle's home.

Seeing the video of himself being beaten for the first time on Sunday, he said he was shocked.

"I don't believe what happened to me," he said.

He added that he had been with Mohammed five minutes before his cousin was kidnapped.

Also on Monday, the Associated Press reported that three Israeli suspects in Mohammed's killing confessed to the crime and were re-enacting the incident for authorities, an official said.

The Jewish suspects, all from the Jerusalem area, have not been identified and remained in custody Monday.

At a news conference in Tampa, Shibly said the Israeli officers who beat Tariq need "to be brought to justice."

Israeli police said a border police officer had been temporarily suspended from special operations and transferred until an investigation into Tariq's injuries was complete.

On Sunday, Tariq appeared in court, his face and lips swollen from the blows before being released on bail. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, called for "a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for the apparent excessive use of force."

Tariq was vacationing with his parents, Suha and Salah Abu Khdeir, plus two younger sisters, at the time of the arrest. Relatives and a teenage friend from Tampa said he is a typical American teenager, one who likes playing basketball, soccer and Xbox games, and is not political.

"He's a Tampa kid," said his aunt, Sanah Abukhdeir. "He doesn't know what war is, what a war zone is."

Information from the New York Times, Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Elizabeth Crampton and Dan Sullivan was used in this report.

Tampa teen beaten in Israel meets with Palestinian Authority's leader 07/07/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 12:05pm]
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