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Israel looks to use snipers, harsher punishments to quell rock throwing

Prime minister says families of underage offenders will be held accountable for their children’s actions and pay massive fines

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, left, seen with mayors of the southern Israeli towns on an Ashkelon-Beersheba train leaving from the southern Israeli city of Netivot, September 17, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, left, seen with mayors of the southern Israeli towns on an Ashkelon-Beersheba train leaving from the southern Israeli city of Netivot, September 17, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Israel’s government is looking to fast track a number of measures to crack down on rock throwers and allow live fire to be used against rioters, in response to ongoing unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he was determined to see significant changes in policy to counter the uptick in attacks.

The measures would include increased use of rubber bullets and the use of live sniper fire by police in Jerusalem in some cases, as well as severely increased penalties against those convicted of throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails.

“We decided to change policy and wage war on stone throwers, bottle throwers, firecrackers shooters and those who disrupt the peace — quite simply a change,” Netanyahu said, repeating comments he has made in the wake of several days of violent confrontations in the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem and the death of an Israeli man in the capital after his car was stoned.

Netanyahu spoke with reporters as he joined Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on a train journey to inaugurate a new Israel Railways line connecting the port city of Ashkelon with Beersheba in the Negev desert.

The changes, he said, will be applied on both sides of the Green Line, the boundary separating Israel from the West Bank, and “will be expressed first of all in a change of the rules of engagement. A Molotov cocktail or rock — these kill within the Green Line and over the Green Line.”

Israeli forces in East Jerusalem, which Israel effectively annexed in 1981, have until now operated under different guidelines than those applied to the West Bank. But the new directives would allow for the first time the use of live fire snipers in certain cases as well as increased use of rubber bullets, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Other measures being pushed by Netanyahu include harsher penalties for convicted stone throwers. The measures would see the minimum sentence for stone throwers increased to 4-5 years in prison, while those caught throwing firebombs would serve no less than 10 years behind bars.

According to the Channel 2 report, parents of stone-throwing minors would be fined NIS 100,000 ($26,000).

Harsher punishments against offenders were necessary, Netanyahu asserted.

“We will enforce much more massive fines on youths below the legal age of imprisonment, on them and their families, including forfeiting of property if necessary in order to create a new deterrent. In Israel people will not throw bottles, they won’t shoot at trains and they won’t throw rocks as they please,” he said Thursday. “When I want something I get it, and I want to change this situation across the board.”

Even with Netanyahu pushing the legislation through the Knesset, it will likely take several months before such laws are enacted.

Netanyahu’s comments came a day after he declared “war” on those who throw stones and Molotov cocktails.

On Sunday evening, 64-year Jerusalemite Alexander Levlovitz was killed when his vehicle was struck by rocks as he made his way home from a Rosh Hashanah dinner. In the Old City of Jerusalem, police clashed with protesters on the Temple Mount for three straight days starting Sunday, though Wednesday saw the holy site return to relative normalcy as extra police were deployed.

Police stormed the compound Sunday morning after getting reports of rocks, firecrackers, Molotov cokctails and others weapons being stockpiled in the al-Aqsa Mosque for use against Jewish visitors.

The Israeli action drew harsh condemnation from the Arab world, with Jordan’s King Abdullah threatening diplomatic sanctions over what he termed “Israeli violations” at the sensitive holy site.

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