The government of Israel on Thursday approved harsher measures to combat the practice of stone-throwing amid a recent surge in Palestinian violence, widening the rules of engagement for police and vowing to raise minimum penalties for offenders to four years’ imprisonment.
The measures, approved by the Security Cabinet, allow police officers to fire live ammunition when there is an “immediate and concrete danger to police or civilians,” according to a government statement.
A Palestinian terrorist died on Erev Yom Kippur near Chevron when a bomb he was trying to throw at Israeli forces blew up.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said the man was killed when an improvised explosive device he tried to throw at an army patrol near the village of Kharsa, southwest of Chevron, detonated.
Hours later in the same area, the military said troops shot a Palestinian woman as she tried to stab a soldier. A family member said Hadeel al-Hashlamun was taken to an Israeli hospital where she was later declared dead.
Israeli soldiers said that she advanced toward them — with a knife drawn — at a checkpoint, after ignoring warnings and shots fired at the ground to stop.
Palestinian sources disputed the IDF’s account, however, and military officials said on Wednesday that the death of al-Hashlamun was being investigated.
After her funeral, about 200 Palestinians rioted at the checkpoint where the incident occurred and threw stones and firebombs at soldiers.
According to the new measures, officers will also be permitted to fire from 0.22 caliber “Ruger” rifles, an American-made firearm that police said uses a smaller bullet and would offer a quicker response against those throwing stones or firebombs or lighting fireworks. The rifle was not allowed previously, the police said.
“We intend to change the norm that has become established here, that the state of Israel allows these deadly and murderous objects to be thrown without response and without being thwarted,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, according to a statement from his office.
In recent months, stone-throwing has become a near-daily occurrence in some neighborhoods in the eastern part of Yerushalayim. But after an Israeli motorist was killed last week when his car crashed after being pelted with stones, the Israeli government pledged to crack down on the practice.
The Cabinet also decided to advance legislation to impose a minimum penalty of four years’ imprisonment for those throwing rocks, according to the statement.
It said steps would be taken to jail and fine stone-throwing minors aged 14-18 and even their parents, who could also face various fines.
Netanyahu’s government has been pushing for tougher rules of engagement for police, and tougher minimum sentences for offenders, though Israel’s attorney general said this week he opposed such changes and insisted the existing regulations were sufficient.
Tensions have been rising in Yerushalayim following last week’s deadly rock-throwing incident, along with days of clashes at Har HaBayis. Since the beginning of last week, Israeli police said that 137 suspects were arrested over “public disturbances,” including 61 minors. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the newly approved regulations meant that “police officers have further tools that can be used in life-threatening situations only.”
(With reporting by Reuters)