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2 Israeli Teens Found Guilty In 2014 Killing Of Palestinian Youth

Hussein and Suha Abu Khdeir (center), parents of 16-year-old Palestinian victim Mohammed Abu Khdeir, hold posters with their son's portrait after the verdict was read in Jerusalem.

A court in Jerusalem has convicted two Israeli teenagers in the 2014 kidnapping and killing of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, a crime that heightened tensions in the run-up to the Gaza war that summer.

The two teenagers, who were not named because they are juveniles, are expected to be sentenced in January.

As NPR's Emily Harris reports, a ruling on the accused ringleader, 31-year-old Yosef Haim Ben-David, has been delayed. She tells our Newscast unit:

"The judges acknowledged that the religious Israeli settler accused of masterminding the murder did kidnap and bludgeon Mohammed Abu Khdeir, but they've delayed a conviction while they review a last-minute defense claim he was mentally not responsible for his actions. Abu Khdeir's parents have said they will appeal to a higher court if the three are sentenced to less than life terms."

Abu Khdeir was kidnapped off an East Jerusalem street and put in a car. He was then taken to a forest outside the city, beaten, doused with gasoline and burned to death.

Israeli authorities say the killers confessed to the crime, claiming it was in retaliation for the abduction and murder of three Israeli students by Hamas operatives as they were returning home from their yeshivas.

The deaths of the Israeli teens — Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel — helped contribute to a spiral of violence that led to many more deaths, The Associated Press reported. The news service adds:

"The deaths of the three Israelis triggered an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank. Hamas responded with rocket fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip, which it controls. The confrontation escalated into a 50-day war in which more than 2,200 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, were killed, according to U.N. figures. On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, most of them soldiers."

Emily reports that Ben-David did not testify during his trial:

"Last week his lawyer submitted a psychiatric evaluation saying Ben David was not mentally fit to be held responsible for his actions. But prosecutors argued to the contrary, noting testimony from the convicted minors that he both gave them instructions and directly participated in the murder."

The defense's last-minute decision to ask for a psychiatric evaluation, raised doubts "about [Ben-David's] responsibility for his actions at the time of the crime," The New York Times reported.

Outside the court, the victim's father, Hussein Abu Khdeir, said the evaluation request "made a joke of the court" and said he feared Ben-David would be treated with leniency.

"It's all a lie. I'm afraid that the court will eventually get them off the hook," he was quoted as saying by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Where's justice? The judges mustn't accept this."

An adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Xavier Abu Eid, tweeted that the Abu Khdeir case was "an example of how cheap Palestinian lives are for Israel."

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