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Israel says too early to try suspects over torching of Palestinian home

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is still trying to gather evidence against far-right Jews arrested for a lethal arson attack in July on a Palestinian home in the occupied West Bank, the public security minister said on Friday, playing down prospects of an imminent trial.

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A police announcement on Thursday that several “youths belonging to a Jewish terror group” were in custody stirred speculation of a breakthrough in the killing of three members of the Dawabsheh family, which raised Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Palestinian anger over the attack in Duma village has been a factor fuelling a wave of street assaults since Oct. 1.

In the West Bank on Friday, a Palestinian stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier and was then shot dead, and in a separate incident a Palestinian motorist was shot dead after injuring two soldiers in a ramming attack, the army said.

Details on the arson case have been kept under wraps by Israel, drawing Palestinian allegations of foot-dragging, while lawyers for the suspects said their clients were pressured by interrogators to confess. Israeli authorities deny both charges.

“There are not many investigations that get as high a priority as the investigation into the murders in Duma village,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel’s Army Radio.

But he described the suspects as “very, very difficult” to crack because they had often eluded state surveillance.

“For example, these are not people who go around with mobile telephones. They are people who really live in the hills, disconnected from their close families.”

Still, Erdan said, “the Shin Bet (security service) and police made progress in this investigation in recent months and we are doing everything in order that we might also have evidence that would allow prosecution and indictments”.

More than two months of Palestinian knifings, car-rammings and occasionally shootings have killed 19 Israelis and a U.S. citizen. Israeli forces have killed 102 Palestinians in the same period, of whom 63 were identified by Israel as assailants or caught on camera carrying out assaults, while most others were killed in clashes with police or the military.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich