Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu excoriated the Palestinian Authority and its ruling Fatah party Sunday for its failure to condemn Friday’s terror attack in The Old City of Jerusalem, and called for intensified international pressure on the Palestinians to end stipends to terrorists’ families.
Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu noted that rather than condemn the Palestinians who killed Border Police officer Hadas Malka, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement “issued a statement in which it condemned Border Police officers for killing the terrorists and praised the murderers as heroes.”
Fatah had condemned Israel for shooting dead the three attackers, calling it a “war crime,” and saying “the international community’s silence emboldened Israel to further spill the blood of Palestinians.”
Netanyahu expressed outrage at that narrative.
“Apparently there is no limit to (their) lies and gall. The Palestinian Authority, of course, refuses to condemn the murder, and the same authority will now pay reparations to the families of the murderers,” he said. “I call on world nations to denounce the murder and those who glorify it, and to demand immediate cessation of payments by the PA to the families of terrorists, action that only encourages terror.”
Israeli officials say Palestinians have paid out some NIS 4 billion ($1.12 billion) over the past four years to Palestinian prisoners and “martyrs” — those killed during attacks against Israel. Jerusalem insists the policy is a major incentive to would-be assailants to carry out attacks.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week that the PA intended to end the practice. However following PA denials, Tillerson appeared to walk back his statement, saying there was an “active discussion” between Washington and Ramallah on the matter.
Contacted by The Times of Israel on Sunday, senior US officials said Washington had “repeatedly” expressed its concerns over the payments to Abbas and was pressuring him to end them.
“President Abbas and other senior PA officials have assured us that they are working to address the issue, but they have not stopped the payments,” the officials said. “Last month the PA announced it was stopping payments to some Hamas-affiliated prisoners, but this step is inadequate to address our concerns.
“As [Tillerson] has said, we cannot tolerate any program that results in financial gain for committing acts of violence. The US will continue to pressure Mahmoud Abbas to stop the payments,” the added.
At Sunday’s meeting Netanyahu sent his “deepest condolences” to Malka’s family. “Their sorrow is our sorrow. Their grief is the grief of entire people,” he said.
“Hadas was young and full of life. She was staunchly devoted to protecting the State of Israel. Her commanders and subordinates loved her and relied on her… she fell during her watch in a determined struggle against bloodthirsty terrorists,” he added.
Netanyahu said security forces were preparing to demolish the homes of the three terrorists in the West Bank village of Deir Abu-Mashal. He added that he had canceled Ramadan visits to Israel for West Bank Palestinians and had instructed police to bolster security in the Old City.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office Saturday said he was considering turning the area near Damascus Gate, which has been the site of frequent attacks, into a “sterile area.” It gave no further details.
The three assailants, armed with an automatic weapon and knives, carried out near simultaneous attacks at two adjacent locations on Friday. Two attacked a group of police officers at Zedekiah’s Cave with an automatic weapon and knives, and a third stabbed Malka a short distance away at Damascus Gate. All three had previously been involved in “terrorist activities,” Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.
Malka was laid to rest Saturday night in Ashdod, where family mourned her as a “fighter who loved people.”
Four other people were lightly and moderately injured in the attack — including a policeman and two East Jerusalem Palestinians. Some reports said the gun used by the attackers jammed, preventing further casualties.
Over the past 18 months the Old City, and the Damascus Gate in particular, have seen numerous “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians, and in one case a Jordanian national.
UN Middle East peace process coordinator Nickolay Mladenov on Saturday said that “terrorist acts” like the Jerusalem attack “must be clearly condemned by all.
“I am appalled that once again some find it appropriate to justify such attacks as ‘heroic.’ They are unacceptable and seek to drag everyone into a new cycle of violence,” he said.