Unrest in Israel and the West Bank is likely to continue, albeit at a lower simmer, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Thursday, as police faced off with rioters in a restive corner of East Jerusalem.
Aharonovitch said recent days had seen a drop in rioting, attributing the improvement to decisive action by police against violent protesters. But he warned that fresh attacks by so-called lone-wolf terrorists, acting impulsively without instruction from terror organizations, remained possible.
“We are seeing a period of grassroots terrorism,” Aharonovitch said. “I assess that there will continue to be attacks and incidents in the coming period.”
He added that police aimed to maintain the status quo and prevent Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount.
The minister was speaking at a ceremony marking the official appointment of new Jerusalem District Police Chief Moshe Edri. Edri took over from Yossi Pariente, who was resigning from the force.
Security forces on Thursday raided the the East Jerusalem home of Mu’taz Hijazi, the gunman who attempted to assassinate right-wing activist Yehudah Glick on October 29 and was later killed by police during a shootout.
Israel Radio reported that police confiscated a computer and cellphones from Hijazi’s home as part of an investigation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week instructed security officials to demolish the homes of terrorists involved in recent deadly attacks, but it was unclear if that would take place Thursday or at a later date.
Earlier, several dozen protesters hurled rocks at police forces in the Issawiya neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which has seen several incidents of rioting over the last several weeks. Police dispersed the crowd, and there were no reports of injuries.
On Wednesday night a stun grenade was detonated at Jerusalem’s Old Train Station site, which houses many cafes and restaurants, with no injuries. The perpetrators were not caught.
The violence has come amid a period of extended unrest in the capital and the West Bank, as well as some Arab-Israeli towns, sparked by tensions over the Temple Mount holy site and the police shooting of an Arab man.
While the Israeli media has dubbed the wave a new intifada, officials have been reluctant to do so, noting the disorganized nature of the disturbances and attacks.
Police said Thursday morning that they had arrested overnight a Palestinian teen in the West Bank who said he intended to stab a bus driver in Jerusalem. The suspect, a 17-year-old resident of Ramallah, was stopped near the Dolev settlement and was found to be carrying a knife and a screwdriver in his bag, police said.
In a separate incident overnight Wednesday, Border Police officers arrested a Palestinian man in his twenties who was carrying a combat knife near the entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, according to police.
Aharonovitch said Wednesday that members of Knesset and Jewish visitors would be prevented, where necessary, from going to the Temple Mount so as to avoid a deterioration of the already tense security situation in East Jerusalem and across the country.
“Those who want to heat things up on the Temple Mount, from right or left, be it the Islamic Movement, Fatah or Israeli rightist movements, including MKs, we have the authority to prevent them from going,” Aharonovitch said in an interview with Channel 1.
“When there’s an operational need, and we see that it may lead to riots, I will not allow them to go,” he added.
The minister further presented new security measures to be implemented on the Temple Mount, where clashes have flared up in recent weeks.
Aharonovitch said police are set to begin using magnetometers as part of a screening process to check for concealed guns or other metallic weapons. Muslim worshipers, who until now were able to access the site freely, will undergo these screenings.
“We’re going to have magnetometers on the Temple Mount. This was discontinued in 2000 [before the outbreak of the Second Intifada] and I am bringing it back, to check people and their personal belongings,” he said.
The new measures were costing the ministry some NIS 4 million, according to the Walla news site.
While the minister had some harsh words for East Jerusalem rioters, advocating for the annulment of their residency permits (after Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, it granted permanent residency status to people in the annexed areas), he said that Israel was not on the brink of a third intifada.
“I’ve been in intifadas, the first one (1987-1993) the second (2000-2004)… at the moment it doesn’t look like [there will be a third],” he said.
Security officials said Tuesday they believed Arab rioting in Israel and the West Bank would end soon, despite days of unremitting violence and terror attacks, explaining that despite their intensity, the protests remained relatively contained and were not receiving sweeping popular support on the Arab street.
“The assessment is that the riots will end soon,” senior police officials told Channel 2 News. “If we can restrain [the situation on] the Temple Mount we will be able to slowly, gradually restrain the other elements in the country.”
A military official told Ynet News the Palestinian public “is still indifferent and uninvolved in the escalation and is not coming out in great numbers to protest and create unrest, as was the case at the beginning of the Second Intifada.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has detailed a series of new measures Israel will take to check the wave of violence that has spread from East Jerusalem and the West Bank to Arab Israeli cities.
“We are in the midst of a campaign of incitement and terrorism directed against the State of Israel and its citizens,” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “This campaign has continued since the foundation of the state and even before then. We have defeated terrorism until today and we will defeat it this time as well.”
Netanyahu said Israel would deploy increased numbers of security personnel across the country, push for the demolition of terrorists’ homes, and adopt harsher measures against rioters, including fining the parents of children who throw stones.