JERUSALEM — Confronting the possibility of spiraling retaliatory violence between Jews and Palestinians, Israeli authorities arrested six Israelis on Sunday in the killing of a Palestinian teenager, found beaten and burned in a Jerusalem forest last week.
After days of near silence about the case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned what he called a horrific crime and pledged that anyone found guilty would "face the full weight of the law." Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defense minister, said in a statement that he was "ashamed and shocked by the cruel murder," describing those behind it as "Jewish terrorists."
An Israeli police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said there was a "strong possibility" that the motive for the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was "nationalistic," indicating it was a revenge attack by right-wing Jewish extremists for the recent kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Abu Khdeir's body was discovered Wednesday, about an hour after he was forced into a car in East Jerusalem, a few yards from his home.
A judicial gag order prevented officials from revealing details about the suspects, but a person familiar with the case told the New York Times that several of them are minors.
The arrests and tough language came after weeks of calls for harsher Israeli military action in the Palestinian territories after the abduction of the Israeli teenagers: Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship. After their bodies were found last week, Netanyahu called their killers "beasts."
An Israeli military crackdown in the West Bank after the three disappeared shook the Palestinian Authority and its reconciliation pact with Hamas in Gaza.
Then, Abu Khdeir's killing led to a wave of outrage as Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and Galilee in scenes reminiscent of the Palestinian uprisings in 1987 and 2000.
The killings on each side — and the subsequent arrest of Abu Khdeir's cousin from Tampa, Tariq Abu Khdeir, whose beating by the police was apparently caught on video — have raised the specter of the broader conflict's descent into a cycle of personal vendettas and bloodletting.
Israelis are left to face the prospect that the entrenched conflict with the Palestinians is intensifying radicalization within both populations.
Some Israelis compared the moment on Sunday to watershed events such as the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a right-wing Israeli fanatic, or the massacre by Baruch Goldstein, a U.S.-born Israeli doctor, of 29 Palestinian Muslims at prayer in 1994 in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs.
"This is a wake-up call," said Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, accusing the government and the security services of not having dealt seriously enough with the growing phenomenon in recent years of an extreme, nationalist fringe that has desecrated mosques and destroyed Palestinian property. Now, with the killing of Abu Khdeir, Avineri said, "a line has been crossed."