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Israel weighs measures as violence with Palestinians escalates

Israeli security forces stand guard in Jerusalem's predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan, where an assailant reportedly shot and wounded two people, on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
February 01, 2023

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Saturday a vigorous and targeted response to deadly Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians over the past two days, suggesting that soaring tensions were unlikely to ease soon.

He told an emergency Cabinet meeting the recent killing and wounding of Israeli civilians by Palestinian gunmen would lead to the expedited sealing and demolition of their families’ homes and he would seek to increase the number of licensed armed civilians.

The meeting came 24 hours after a 21-year-old Palestinian from east Jerusalem shot dead seven Israelis emerging from Sabbath evening prayers and hours after a 13-year-old shot a man and his son headed toward the Western Wall in the Old City. Those attacks appeared to have been prompted by an Israeli military raid on the West Bank city of Jenin in which eight Palestinian militants and a civilian were killed. It has been one of the bloodiest months in Israel and the occupied West Bank in years.

“We are not looking for an escalation but we are ready for any scenario,” Netanyahu told ministers according to Ynet, and he called on citizens not to take the law into their own hands.

Tensions escalated just days before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to arrive, scheduled to meet both with Netanyahu and members of his new Israeli government as well as Palestinian leaders.

The violence adds to the social unrest facing Netanyahu’s coalition government, which was sworn in a month ago. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday to light candles for the weekend’s attack victims before protesting a government-planned justice system overhaul that opponents view as undemocratic and a potential blow to the economy.

Police, meanwhile, reinforced their presence in Jerusalem and a national counterterrorism unit took up permanent position in the city.

“I instructed Israel’s defense establishment to increase defense activities, particularly in the Jerusalem area, and to increase preemptive operations against anyone planning attacks,” said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

On Saturday evening, Israeli media reported another shooting outside a Jewish settlement in West Bank’s Jordan Valley — the shooter’s gun malfunctioned after one shot was fired — and an attempted car ramming near another settlement.

Palestinians reported Jewish settlers were burning cars in a village near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Biden call

Before the second shooting Saturday, security forces arrested 42 people associated with Friday’s 21-year-old Palestinian shooter — his family members, neighbors and friends, police said. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but in the Gaza Strip the Islamic Hamas movement celebrated the Israeli deaths by firing in the air and in the West Bank cars honked and fireworks were set off.

President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu late Friday and offered his support to the government and people of Israel. “The President made clear that this was an attack against the civilized world,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz tweeted on Saturday that he was appalled by “the terrible assassinations in Jerusalem and the European Union published a statement saying it was “horrified” by the two attacks in the city that Israel has named its capital. “These terrible events demonstrate once again how urgent it is to reverse this spiral of violence,” the statement said.

Fatah, the main branch of the Palestine Liberation Movement, said that the Palestinian people “are not helpless” and called the Friday attack the “inevitable result” of the Israeli occupation’s latest actions. Hamas, which runs Gaza, warned that Israel would “pay the price for the massacre” in Jenin.

“The situation is headed for a wider confrontation,” said Jehad Harb, a researcher at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

The policies Netanyahu’s coalition is planning to adopt are bound to make it harder to restore calm. These changes include easing open-fire rules for some security forces and expanding construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a territory which is part of the area the Palestinians seek for their independent state.


© 2023 Bloomberg L.P

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