Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday warned the Hamas terrorist group against carrying out attacks in the West Bank, while announcing a series of steps — from expediting terrorists’ home demolitions to approving thousands of unauthorized settlement homes — to be implemented in the aftermath of a spate of terror attacks.
“The prime minister sent a sharp message to Hamas: We will operate against you if you carry out [acts of] terrorism from Judea and Samaria,” a senior official said, using the biblical name for the West Bank. “There will not be a situation in which there is a ceasefire in Gaza and the use of fire in Judea and Samaria.”
The warning followed a number of recent terror attacks in the region, including a shooting earlier in the day near the Givat Assaf outpost in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and two other people were severely injured.
Hamas praised the Thursday attack, but did not claim responsibility for it. The terrorist organization did, however, claim credit for the deadly shooting attack outside the Ofra settlement earlier this week. The terror attack on Sunday injured seven people, including a pregnant woman whose baby was born prematurely in emergency surgery as a result of the attack. The baby boy died on Wednesday.
Security forces reportedly believe that Thursday’s shooting attack was carried out by members of the same Hamas cell that opened fire near Ofra.
The terrorists on Thursday fled the scene near the Givat Assaf outpost, prompting a large-scale manhunt that is ongoing. The Israeli military has also warned that some of the Ofra shooters may still be at large.
Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, ordered a string of measures aimed at cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank, while vowing to bolster settlements by giving formal approval to thousands of homes whose legality has been in question, his office said.
“Likewise, the prime minister decided this evening to legalize the status of thousands of homes in communities throughout Judea and Samaria which were built in good faith and whose legal status was not regulated until now, some for several decades,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
The formal registration of thousands of settlement homes have been stalled due to legal challenges by local Palestinians over claims the homes were built on private Palestinian land.
Netanyahu also asked the attorney general to take legal measures enabling the building of 82 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, the site of the Sunday shooting attack.
Two Israeli industrial zones are also to be established in the West Bank, near the settlements Avnei Hefetz and Betar Illit, the statement said.
“They think they can uproot us from our land; they won’t succeed,” Netanyahu said.
In addition to the two fatalities, another IDF soldier was critically injured and a civilian woman was seriously hurt in Thursday’s shooting terror attack. Hours earlier, a stabbing attack in the Old City of Jerusalem lightly injured two Border Police officers, and a suspected car-ramming in the West Bank lightly injured another IDF soldier. The Palestinian stabber and the driver were both shot dead by security forces during the respective incidents. A Channel 10 TV report, citing defense officials, cast doubt on IDF claims the alleged car-ramming was a terror attack.
Following meetings with security officials, Netanyahu on Thursday ordered the cordoning off of el-Bireh, near Ramallah, a statement from his office said.
Netanyahu also ordered that any work permits held by family members of the terror suspects, granting them entry to Israel, immediately be canceled.
The prime minister called for increased use of administrative detention for Hamas terror group operatives in the West Bank, under which they can be arrested and held without formal charges for an extended period.
Netanyahu also ordered that the process of demolishing the homes of terrorists be expedited to take just 48 hours from the moment a decision is taken to carry out the punishment, reducing the time allotted to residents of the building to appeal against the measure. In the past, residents have usually had at least a week to appeal the controversial punitive measure in Israel’s courts.
Security for Israeli traffic along West Bank roads is to be increased, additional security checkpoints will be set up, and there is to be an increased deployment of security forces in the West Bank in an effort to catch the terrorists, the PMO said.
Two members of the nationalist Jewish Home party had earlier conditioned their continued coalition membership on the closing of Route 60 — the main north-south West Bank artery — to Palestinian vehicles to prevent further drive-by shootings. The coalition currently has only a 61 to 59 seat majority in the Knesset so their departure would bring down the government.
The Jewish Home party earlier this week had also demanded the Israeli government legalize Ofra.
The Ofra settlement was established in 1975 on an abandoned Jordanian military base, with the approval of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who were prime minister and defense minister respectively at the time.
While the base itself sat on what is considered state land, the vast majority of the property on which the community now sits was built on land registered to private Palestinians by the Jordanians before 1967.
Earlier, Netanyahu vowed that those who carry out attacks against Israelis will pay with their lives.
“Our guiding principle is that whoever attacks us and whoever tries to attack us – will pay with his life,” Netanyahu said, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv during a changeover ceremony for the IDF deputy chief of staff. “Our enemies know this and we will find them. We will settle accounts with whoever did this.”
Late Wednesday night, Israeli security forces conducted a series of raids in the Ramallah area to find the terrorists responsible for Sunday’s shooting.
At least four suspects were arrested and one, Salih Omar Barghouti, 29, was shot dead after troops said he tried to attack them while attempting to escape in the village of Kobar, outside Ramallah. Hamas later claimed Barghouti as a member.
The Israeli raids to apprehend the killers of the two Israeli soldiers — Yovel Mor Yosef, 20, and Yosef Cohen, 19 — in Thursday’s terror attack were ongoing.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.