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US investigators visit homes of two Palestinian-American teens killed in the West Bank

JERUSALEM (AP) — The families of two Palestinian-American teenagers killed in separate but eerily similar incidents in the West Bank say investigators from the American Embassy have visited their homes to look into the shootings.

Launching American probes into the killings of Mohammad Khdour and Tawfic Abdel Jabbar reflects what appears to be a lack of confidence in the Israeli justice system to properly investigate the cases. Rights groups have long said that Israeli investigations into killings of Palestinians rarely lead to prosecutions, and the State Department has previously called for an “expeditious” and “thorough” Israeli investigation into Abdel Jabbar’s killing.

Both shootings happened as the Biden administration signals a desire to crack down on settler violence in the volatile territory.

Khdour, who was born in Hollywood, Florida, was shot last Saturday while driving with a cousin on a hillside in Biddu, the town just outside of Jerusalem where Khdour had lived since the age of 2, relatives said.

Seeking some fresh air after studying, Khdour joined the cousin on a drive to the forested hillside where villagers often barbecued, his brother Hamed Khdour said.

In videos and photos taken before the shooting and seen by The Associated Press, the boys joked around, taking photos of each other for social media and eating chocolate-covered waffles.

The boys were returning to the village, Hamed said, when they heard gunfire. At least one shot came through the car window, hitting Mohammad squarely in the head.

Hamed said his cousin told the family that the shots came from a white Mitsubishi with an Israeli license plate parked on a road below the hill, a vehicle that villagers said they had seen before. Hamed said the car was across the security fence separating Biddu from Israeli territory. The cousin then managed to escape and run back to the village.

A video taken directly after the incident and seen by The Associated Press showed a group of men pulling a body out of the car, littered with shattered glass and stained with blood. Hamed said Mohammad was pronounced dead at a Ramallah hospital late Saturday night.

Ahmad Khdour, Mohammad’s father, said he did not know if Israel had begun investigating the case and had heard nothing from Israeli officials.

The Israeli military referred questions to the Shin Bet internal security service, which did not respond to requests for comment.

But U.S. Embassy officials visited the home and the scene of the shooting Thursday, taking pictures of the car Khdour was driving and the scene around it, Mohammad’s father said. He said the officials told the family they are preparing a report on the incident.

The U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that it was “devastated” by the killing and called for “a quick, thorough, and transparent investigation, including full accountability.”

Khdour lived in Biddu with his mother and four brothers. He hoped to go back to the U.S. to study law once he finished his final year of high school, Hamed said.

“Mohammad was a simple kid, like any other kid. He had dreams. He loved cars,” said Hamed. “He never fought with anyone. Everyone liked him.”

The shooting came nearly a month after the killing of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, also a 17-year-old Palestinian-American shot while driving down a dirt road close to his village in the northern West Bank.

The sole passenger in the vehicle said the shooting was unprovoked, describing apparent Israeli fire hitting the back of the vehicle before it overturned several times. The incident prompted an expression of concern from the White House and an uncommonly quick pledge from the Israeli police to investigate.

But Israeli police have still not released any new findings in the case.

A video shared with the AP by Abdel Jabbar’s father raised new questions of the police’s original theory, which never mentioned that the teen had been shot while driving.

Instead, the police said that a civilian, an off-duty police officer and a soldier had targeted people “purportedly engaged in rock-throwing activities” along a main West Bank thoroughfare.

The video, which the father said was taken moments after the shooting, shows two Israeli soldiers standing about 20 meters (yards) from the vehicle, guns cocked — indicating that soldiers were in the vicinity that day.

Abdel Jabbar’s father said that Israeli investigators took the vehicle into custody for under a week before returning it.

He said that last week U.S. Embassy investigators collected medical and legal reports issued by the Ramallah prosecutor’s office and the hospital that treated Abdel Jabbar.

The reports indicated that the cause of Tawfic’s death was a gunshot wound to the right side of the head.

Tawfic was from Gretna, Louisiana, and had been in the West Bank for under a year. Like Khdour, he was planning to return to the U.S. for college.

In an unrelated incident, Israel arrested a 46-year-old Palestinian-American woman, also from Gretna, last week for alleged incitement in posts on social media. The woman’s family says they have not seen or heard from her since.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said a week ago that he was “confident” that Ambassador Jack Lew was looking into Samaher Esmail’s case, as well as circumstances around the detention of two Palestinian-Americans in Gaza that Israel says are affiliated with Hamas.

“Obviously, this is the kind of thing we take very seriously, so we’ll be talking to our Israeli counterparts and trying to get information, more context here about what happened,” he said.

The deaths come as violence surges across the occupied territory. Since the shock attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 from Gaza into southern Israel, Israel has held the West Bank in a tight grip.

Biden’s administration has provided military and diplomatic support for Israel’s war against Hamas. Still, the administration has condemned rising violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, most recently releasing sanctions targeting four settlers.

Since Oct. 7, 395 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli fire, according to Palestinian health officials. Most have been killed in clashes during near nightly Israeli army raids aimed at suspected militants.

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