JERUSALEM - Israel intensified its crackdown on Jewish extremists Sunday, jailing two high-profile ultranationalist Israelis for six months without charge and arresting additional suspects in West Bank settlement outposts, security authorities said.
The crackdown comes after a deadly July 31 firebomb attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank that killed an 18-month-old boy and severely wounded his parents and brother. The boy's father died of his wounds Saturday.
Authorities called the arson attack an act of "Jewish terrorism," and Israel's Security Cabinet approved the use of harsh measures to combat the trend, including administrative detention, which allows the holding of suspects for lengthy periods without charge. The measure has been mainly used against Palestinians suspected of involvement in militant groups, and rarely against Israelis.
Meir Ettinger, the grandson of the late U.S.-born ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane, and Eviatar Slonim, another Jewish extremist, were placed under administrative detention Sunday for their suspected involvement in an extremist Jewish organization, the office of Israel's Defense Minister said.
The two, who are in their early 20s, were arrested last week. Another suspected Jewish extremist, Mordechai Mayer, was placed under six-month administrative detention last week.
Israeli human rights activists who advocate on behalf of Palestinians, as well as lawyers for the Israeli suspects, criticized the use of administrative detention, portraying it as a draconian measure intended to appease an Israeli public shocked at the firebomb attack.
"It is carried out based on an administrative order only, without indictment or trial, and the detainee cannot defend himself against the allegations as the evidence is classified," a statement by human rights group B'Tselem said.
"This measure is dangerous...for the entire legal system and for democracy," said Aharon Rozeh, a lawyer for Ettinger and Slonim, who said his clients were innocent.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency has accused Ettinger of leading an extremist Jewish movement responsible for encouraging attacks on Palestinian property and Christian holy sites, including an arson attack on a well-known church near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel that marks the New Testament story of the miracle of the loaves and fish.
In late July, Israel arrested five young Israelis in connection with the arson attack, including Mayer.
Israeli authorities also carried out arrest raids Sunday in two West Bank settlement outposts. Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri would not say whether the arrests were linked to the arson attack. The arrests, carried out by a nationalist crime unit, were connected to "a number of events that occurred recently" in the West Bank, she said.
Authorities said one of the raided outposts was Adei Ad. In January, Jewish settlers near Adei Ad threw stones at U.S. consular vehicles carrying American officials who were visiting the area.
Authorities would not name the other outpost raided, but Israeli media identified it as the Baladim outpost. Both outposts - small, isolated Jewish settlements built without government authorization - are located in an area known for its hard-line settler population.