Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “war” on stone-throwers Wednesday with tougher penalties and new rules for security forces on when to open fire, following riots at a Jerusalem flashpoint.
Netanyahu spoke of plans to crack down on Palestinian protesters 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 labelled 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, and 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 flashpoint 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.
– ‘Relentless war’ –
The mosque complex was calm Wednesday apart from a brief scuffle between police and members of the Waqf, the Jordanian-run organisation 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 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised internationally.
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 organisations to erect a new temple there.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is committed to the “status quo”, but Palestinians remain deeply suspicious.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused Israel on Wednesday of “waging a fierce and relentless war against us in Jerusalem”.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the latest tensions were a result of “rumours and misinformation” among Palestinians.
“People are claiming that Israel wants to change the status quo” to enable Jewish prayer, he told reporters. “That’s not true.”
French President Francois Hollande warned in a phone call with Jordan’s King Abdullah II that any change in the rules governing the compound could lead to “serious destabilisation”.
And Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah urged US Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene to stop “recent Israeli violations against the Noble Sanctuary”.
In Shuafat in east Jerusalem on Wednesday 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 immediate indication of his condition.
– ‘Prayer for all’ –
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 skullcaps, but had to leave holy books at the entrance.
Some people yelled “Allahu Akbar” at the group as they toured the hilltop complex.
A 31-year-old who only gave his name as Elisha said he believed rules governing the site would eventually change.
“This place will become a house of prayer for all nations,” he said.
As they exited into the Old City’s alleyways, 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”.
Separately on Wednesday, Israel reinstated the detention without trial of Palestinian Mohammed Allan, whose recent two-month hunger strike brought him near death.
Allan, said by militant group Islamic Jihad to be a member, promptly resumed the hunger strike he had suspended while receiving medical treatment, his lawyer said.