Official: Decisions are not made in statements on a sidewalk

Ben Gvir to cops: Prepare for major East Jerusalem op; senior official slaps him down

Minister wants police to ‘root out terror nests’ in area, but any major operation requires cabinet okay; defense minister orders seizure of terror stipends from 87 convicts

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a deadly terrorist car-ramming attack near the Ramot junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a deadly terrorist car-ramming attack near the Ramot junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following Friday’s deadly ramming attack in Jerusalem, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said he had instructed police to prepare for a major operation in East Jerusalem starting Sunday, “to root our terror nests… and reach the terrorists at their homes.”

In his statement, the minister specifically called the operation he desired “Defensive Shield 2” — a reference to a major 2002 Israeli military campaign in the West Bank in response to numerous deadly terror attacks of the Second Intifada, in which forces entered Palestinian cities and carried out large-scale raids against terror groups.

It was not clear what such a police operation in East Jerusalem would entail. Any major security operation would require approval by the cabinet, and cannot be ordered by Ben Gvir alone.

In response, a senior government official was quoted in Hebrew media outlets saying “decisions of such a scale are not made in statements by one minister or another on a sidewalk at the scene of an attack.”

The official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will decide on any operation only after conferring with the security establishment and after an orderly discussion in the cabinet.

The official added that there was no intention “to collectively punish the East Jerusalem public” and that any actions would also need to take into account the coming Ramadan holiday and the need to allow freedom of worship in the capital.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he had decided to seize Palestinian Authority stipends from 87 “terrorists and their families” in East Jerusalem, including individuals currently in jail and some former prisoners, “at a sum total of millions of shekels.”

The minister said the funds to be seized were paid by the PA “as recompense for terrorist acts [the individuals] carried out.”

A six-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man were killed and at least five others were wounded in the car-ramming terror attack at a bus stop near East Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood, police and medics said. One of those wounded was a child in critical condition.

An Israeli police forensic team works at the site of a car-ramming attack at a bus stop in Ramot in Jerusalem, Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The minister, of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, ran on campaign promises of cracking down on Palestinian attacks and Arab Israeli crime. He has faced criticism from the hard right after several deadly terror attacks in recent weeks, with detractors saying he has so far failed to deliver on his vows to crush terror and introduce punishments of unprecedented severity against attackers and their families, including the death penalty for convicted terrorists.

Arriving at the scene of Friday’s attack, Ben Gvir was met with heckles from several angry bystanders. “The biggest terror attacks were on your watch,” one shouted. Two Fridays ago, seven Israelis were killed in a terror shooting attack near a synagogue in the capital’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood.

Ben Gvir said he had ordered police to set up roadblocks around Issawiya, where the terrorist came from, “and to stop and check each and every car.”

“We have to act with determination and aggression to protect our children,” he said.

“I wanted to have a full closure [on Issawiya], but there is a legal question on that matter and we will discuss it. I know the steps I’m setting out are not enough. I want to enact the death penalty for terrorists.”

Channel 12’s police correspondent Moshe Nussbaum said Friday evening that police officials had been caught by surprise by Ben Gvir’s call for a major operation. Nussbaum said Ben Gvir reacted in anger to police officials who told him it was not possible to enact a closure in Issawiya. He said police officials were perturbed by Ben Gvir’s recent temperamental reactions and statements, and that the word “childish” had been used by several officials in describing his conduct.

Netanyahu’s office said the premier was being updated on the attack and had decided to seal the home of the attacker.

“On behalf of all the citizens of Israel, I send my condolences to the families of those murdered in the attack in Jerusalem. I conducted a security assessment and ordered an increase in forces, to carry out arrests and act immediately to seal the terrorist’s house and demolish it,” Netanyahu said.

As a matter of policy, Israel demolishes the homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out deadly terror attacks. Sealing the homes of attackers is often a replacement or stopgap for demolishing them. Last month, police welded the doors and windows shut of the home of a Palestinian terrorist who killed seven in Jerusalem, as a temporary move ahead of its full demolition.

The attack occurred at a bus stop near the Nebi Samuel site, between Jerusalem and the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The terrorist, Hussein Qaraqa, an Israeli citizen, ran his car into a group of people, killing six-year-old Yaakov Yisrael Paley and 20-year-old Alter Shlomo Lederman, and wounding five others, one of them an eight-year-old boy who was critically injured.

The other casualties included two men in their 20s in serious condition, a man in his 40s in moderate condition, and a 10-year-old boy in light condition, medical officials said.

The victims were taken to the Shaare Zedek and Hadassah Mount Scopus hospitals in the capital.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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