By ISABEL DEBRE (Associated Press)
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a series of punitive steps against the Palestinians in response to a pair of shootings in Jerusalem that killed seven Israelis and badly wounded five others.
The steps, announced late Saturday, include new moves to “strengthen” Jewish settlements, his office said.
The decision came ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The Biden administration opposes Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet approved the measures in the wake of a pair of shootings — including an attack outside an east Jerusalem synagogue on Friday night in which seven people were killed.
Netanyahu’s office said the Security Cabinet agreed to seal off the attacker’s home in preparation ahead of its demolition.
It also plans to cancel social security and health benefits for the families of attackers, make it easier for Israelis to obtain weapons and step up efforts to collect illegal weapons.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
JERUSALEM (AP) — A 13-year-old Palestinian boy opened fire in east Jerusalem on Saturday, wounding two Israelis, officials said, a day after another attacker killed seven outside a synagogue in the deadliest attack in the city since 2008.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Security Cabinet late Saturday to discuss the burst of violence — which followed a deadly Israeli military raid in the West Bank, a barrage of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and a series of Israeli airstrikes in the blockaded territory. He was expected to announce a series of punitive measures against the Palestinians later in the evening.
As the meeting began, he said his government’s response would be “strong, swift, and precise.”,
He vowed to expedite procedures to seal off and destroy attackers’ homes, make it easier for Israeli civilians to obtain weapons permits and to punish the families of Palestinian attackers by taking away their social security and health benefits.
“We are not looking for escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario,” he said.
Saturday’s shooting in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, near the historic Old City, wounded a father and son, ages 47 and 23, paramedics said. Both were fully conscious and in moderate to serious condition in the hospital, the medics added.
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.
Video showed police escorting the boy, wearing nothing but underwear, away from the scene and onto a stretcher, his hands cuffed behind his back. Authorities taped off the street, emergency vehicles and security forces swarmed the area and helicopters whirled overhead.
“He waited to ambush civilians on the holy Sabbath day,” Israeli police spokesman Dean Elsdunne told The Associated Press, adding that the teenager opened fire on a group of five civilians. Security footage showed the victims to be observant Jews, wearing skullcaps and tzitzit, or knotted ritual tassels.
Saturday’s events — on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s arrival in the region — raised the possibility of even greater conflagration in one of the bloodiest months in Israel and the occupied West Bank in several years.
On Friday, a Palestinian gunman killed at least seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, in a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move not internationally recognized.
Authorities published the names of four of the victims. They included 14-year-old Asher Natan; Eli Mizrahi, 48, and his wife Natali, 45. The fourth victim was Rafael Ben Eliyahu, 56. Funerals for the victims were scheduled Saturday night.
The attacks pose pivotal test for Israel’s new far-right government. Its firebrand minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has presented himself as an enforcer of law and order and grabbed headlines for his promises to take even stronger action against the Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters at a hospital where victims were being treated, Ben-Gvir said he wanted the home of the gunman in Friday’s attack to be sealed off immediately as a punitive measure, lashing out at Israel’s attorney general for delaying his order.
She “is not allowing us to seal the house. In my opinion this is awful. In my opinion, it can’t be like that,” he said of the top prosecutor.
He also called for demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes that Israel says were illegally built in east Jerusalem, granting more gun licenses to Israelis, and applying the death penalty to Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis.
Overhauling the justice system in the country, 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, waving Israeli flags. Some raised banners describing Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir and other members of the government as “a threat to world’s peace.”
The marchers also held a moment of silence in memory of Jerusalem shooting victims.
In an initial response to Friday’s shooting, Isareli forces fanned out in the neighborhood of the 21-year-old Palestinian gunman, who was shot and killed at the scene. Police arrested 42 of his family members and neighbors for questioning in the A-Tur neighborhood.
The Israeli army said it had deployed another battalion to the West Bank on Saturday, adding hundreds more troops to a presence already on heightened alert in the occupied territory.
In the Jenin refugee camp, the site of a deadly Israeli military raid on Thursday that sparked the latest escalation, footage showed Palestinians dancing and cheering in celebration of Saturday’s shooting. Palestinian detainees who celebrated in prison after Friday’s attack were placed in solitary confinement, the Israeli prison service said.
The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, meanwhile, upheld its decision to halt security coordination with Israel to protest the deadly raid in Jenin. After a meeting headed by President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority called on international community and the U.S. administration to oblige Israel into stopping its raids and operations in the West Bank.
The earlier Friday attack came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians in the flashpoint Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that prompted a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.
Thursday’s raid, deadliest single incursion in the West Bank since 2002, followed a particularly bloody month that saw at least 30 Palestinians — militants and civilians — killed in in confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, according to a tally by the AP.
Last year, as the Israeli military intensified its arrest raids following a string of deadly Palestinian attacks within Israel, at least 150 Palestinians were killed in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. It was the highest annual death toll for more than a decade and a half. Over 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis last year, according to Israeli figures.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
The Israeli military contends its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. But Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.
The Palestinians demand east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, and much of the world considers it illegally occupied. Israel claims as its united, sovereign capital. Palestinians also say the building of Jewish settlements in those territories threatens the prospect of a viable, contiguous future state.
Home to the shrines of all three major monotheistic religions, the contested capital been the centerpiece of spiking tensions between Israelis and Palestinians for years.
Both Palestinian attackers behind the shootings on 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.