OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “war” on Palestinian stone-throwers Wednesday with tougher penalties and new rules for security forces on when to open fire, following confrontations at a Jerusalem holy site. Netanyahu spoke of plans to crack down on Palestinian protesters who hurl rocks and firebombs as he visited the site of a weekend car accident that killed a Jewish man.
Police have said the accident was caused by Palestinian stone-throwing, the latest in a number of such incidents in and around Jerusalem.
“This stone is one too many,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying. “We are declaring war on those who throw stones and bottles, and rioters.” Hundreds attended Wednesday’s funeral of 64-year-old Alexander Levlovich who died in what Israeli officials described as a nationalistic stoning attack.
Netanyahu also held an emergency meeting Tuesday with security officials and discussed minimum sentences for those who throw stones or petrol bombs, as well as his intention to alter rules of engagement.
He said authorities planned to “massively increase fines for minors and their families” involved in such activity. He has not said how rules of engagement could be altered.
The statements, while mainly referring to street protests and rioting, followed three days of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound over the Jewish new year.
Police staged raids over the three days to stop Muslim youths who had barricaded themselves inside the mosque from harassing visiting Jews, the Israeli authorities said.
Protesters threw stones and fireworks and security forces responded with stun grenades.
The mosque complex was calm Wednesday apart from a brief scuffle between police and members of the Waqf, the Jordanian-run organization that administers the site.
The complex in Jerusalem’s Old City is the site of frequent clashes.
The third-holiest site in Islam and home to the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, it is also the holiest site in Judaism, which venerates it as the Temple Mount. Jews are allowed to visit but cannot pray there to avoid provoking tensions.
Israel seized East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the 1967 Middle East war. Muslim protesters fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access and even efforts by fringe organizations to erect a new temple there.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is committed to the “status quo,” but Palestinians remain deeply suspicious.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel Wednesday of “waging a fierce and relentless war against us in Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the latest tensions at the complex were a result of “rumors and misinformation” spread among Palestinians.
“People are claiming that Israel wants to change the status quo” to enable Jewish prayer, he told reporters. “That’s not true.”
Elsewhere in East Jerusalem tensions continued. In Shuafat, suspected Palestinians stoned the light rail system, and in Issawiya border policemen shot a Palestinian about to throw a firebomb at them, police said.
There was no indication as to his medical condition.
Around 10 Jews among the first to visit the compound Wednesday were closely watched and escorted by Israeli police and the Waqf.
They were allowed to wear their religious skullcaps, but had to leave their holy books at the entrance. Some people yelled “Allahu akbar” at the group as they toured the perimeter of the hilltop complex.
A 31-year-old who only gave his name as Elisha said he believed rules regarding the site would eventually change.
“This place will become a house of prayer for all nations,” he said.
As they exited into the alleyways of the Old City, a group of Muslim women protesters yelled at them. One protester, Hoda Abu-Snenieh, said of Al-Aqsa that Jews want to “put a temple over it.”