Sunday, 29 January 2023 07:53

Israel to ‘Strengthen’ Settlements After Attacks




Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday announced a series of punitive steps against the Palestinians, including plans to beef up Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in response to a pair of shooting attacks that killed seven Israelis and wounded five others.

The announcement cast a cloud over a visit next week by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and threatened to further raise tensions following one of the bloodiest months in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in several years.

Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet, which is filled by hardline politicians aligned with the West Bank settlement movement, approved the measures in the wake of a pair of shootings that included an attack outside an east Jerusalem synagogue Friday night in which seven people were killed.

Netanyahu’s office said the Security Cabinet agreed to seal off the attacker’s home immediately ahead of its demolition. It also plans to cancel social security benefits for the families of attackers, make it easier for Israelis to get gun licenses and step-up efforts to collect illegal weapons.

Mourners carry the bodies of eight Palestinians, some draped in the flag of the Islamic Jihad group, during a joint funeral in the West Bank city of Jenin, Jan. 26, 2023. Mourners carry the bodies of eight Palestinians, some draped in the flag of the Islamic Jihad group, during a joint funeral in the West Bank city of Jenin, Jan. 26, 2023.

The announcement said that in response to public Palestinian celebrations over the attack, Israel would take new steps to ‘strengthen the settlements’ this week. It gave no further details.

There was no immediate response from Washington. The Biden administration, which condemned the shooting, opposes settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank — lands sought by the Palestinians for a future state. The topic is likely to be high on the agenda as Blinken arrives Monday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The weekend shootings followed a deadly Israeli raid in the West Bank on Thursday that killed nine Palestinians, most of them militants. In response, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets into Israel, triggering a series of Israeli airstrikes in response. In all, 32 Palestinians have been killed in fighting this month.

Early Sunday, the Israeli military said that security guards in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim had shot a Palestinian who was armed with a handgun and released a photo of what it said was the weapon. There were no further details on the incident or the alleged attacker’s condition.

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It remains unclear whether the Israeli steps will be effective. The attackers in the weekend shootings, including a 13-year-old boy, both appear to have acted alone and were not part of organized militant groups.

In addition, Netanyahu could come under pressure from members of his government to take even tougher action. Such steps could trigger more violence and potentially drag in the Hamas militant group in Gaza.

’If it’s even possible to put this violent genie back into the bottle, even for a little while, this would require the reinforcement and proper deployment of forces ... and carefully managing the crisis without being guided by the widespread calls for revenge,’ wrote Amos Harel, the defense affairs commentator for the Haaretz newspaper.

Israeli emergency service personnel close off the site of an attack at a synagogue in a settler neighborhood of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, on Jan. 27, 2023. Israeli emergency service personnel close off the site of an attack at a synagogue in a settler neighborhood of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, on Jan. 27, 2023.

Seven Killed in Synagogue Attack as West Bank Violence Spirals

Friday’s shooting, outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem on the Jewish sabbath, left seven Israelis dead and three wounded before the gunman was killed by police. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in 15 years.

Mourners lit memorial candles for the victims near the synagogue Saturday evening, and in a sign of the charged atmosphere, a crowd assaulted an Israeli TV crew that came to the area, chanting ‘leftists go home.’

In response to the shooting, Israeli police beefed up activities throughout east Jerusalem and said they arrested 42 people, including family members, who were connected to the shooter.

But later Saturday, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy opened fire elsewhere in east Jerusalem, wounding an Israeli man and his son, ages 47 and 23, paramedics said.

As police rushed to the scene, two passers-by with licensed weapons shot and overpowered the 13-year-old attacker, police said. Police confiscated his handgun and took the wounded teen to a hospital.

The recent attacks pose a pivotal test for Israel’s new far-right government.

Both Palestinian attackers behind the shootings Friday and Saturday came from east Jerusalem.

Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem hold permanent residency status, allowing them to work and move freely throughout Israel, but they suffer from subpar public services and are not allowed to vote in national elections.

Residency rights can be stripped if a Palestinian is found to live outside the city for an extended period or in certain security cases.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future independent state. Israel has annexed east Jerusalem in a step that is not internationally recognized and considers the entire city to be its undivided capital.

Speaking to reporters at a hospital where victims were being treated, Israel’s new firebrand minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir said he wanted the home of the gunman in Friday’s attack to be sealed off immediately as a punitive measure — and lashed out at Israel’s attorney general for delaying his order.

Overhauling Israel’s justice system, including the attorney general’s office, has been at the top of the agenda of the new government, which says unelected judges and jurists have overwhelming powers.

The divisive issue helped fuel weekly protests by Israelis who say the sweeping proposed changes would weaken the Supreme Court and undermine democracy.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the central city of Tel Aviv Saturday evening for a new protest. Some raised banners describing Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir as ‘a threat to world peace.’

The marchers also held a moment of silence in memory of Jerusalem shooting victims.