Israel cracks down on fire-bombing, rock-throwing

Palestinians hurling stones at police last week at a checkpoint between the Shuafat refugee camp and Jerusalem. The government is preparing legislation for minimum prison terms for adults who throw rocks and firebombs.
Palestinians hurling stones at police last week at a checkpoint between the Shuafat refugee camp and Jerusalem. The government is preparing legislation for minimum prison terms for adults who throw rocks and firebombs.PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM • Israel's security Cabinet approved a series of measures on Thursday as part of a crackdown on rock-throwing and fire-bombing by Palestinians in Jerusalem, including minimum prison sentences and greater leeway for the police to open fire - steps that opponents say contravene basic legal principles and may only escalate the violence.

Police officers will now be authorised to use Ruger rifles that fire .22-calibre bullets, which have less impact than other types of live ammunition but can still be lethal or cause serious injury.

Under the new regulations, police have permission to open fire not only when their own lives are threatened, as was the case previously, but also when there is "an immediate and concrete danger" to civilians, according to a government statement.

In addition, the government is preparing legislation to impose minimum prison terms of four years - the maximum is 20 years - for adults who throw rocks and home-made firebombs or shoot fireworks directly at people during confrontations.

Despite disagreement over the proposed measures last week, the attorney-general approved the Cabinet decisions, according to a Justice Ministry spokesman.

The legislation for minimum prison sentences will be introduced as a temporary emergency procedure covering the next three years, although the attorney-general had wanted it limited to one year, according to human rights advocates opposing the changes.

The government has been under pressure to take action in the face of growing unrest in the predominantly Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and along the seams between those areas and some predominantly Jewish parts of the city.

But B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, said that, rather than restoring order to Jerusalem, the use of rifles was likely to have lethal results and "exacerbate the cycle of violence".

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Israel cracks down on fire-bombing, rock-throwing'. Print Edition | Subscribe