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Israeli PM announces tougher penalties against stone throwers

Sept. 16, 2015 10:20 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 16, 2015 4:52 P.M.)
A Palestinian runs through tear gas smoke during clashes with Israeli soldiers in al-Ram at a protest over Israeli action at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, September 15, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday announced a toughening of the penalties for stone-throwers following a third day of clashes in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem.

Despite international calls for calm, Israeli forces stormed the site for the third straight day on Tuesday, leading to fierce clashes with Palestinian protesters.

Netanyahu made the announcement at the start of an emergency meeting of ministers and security officials that was called after the death of an Israeli driver who lost control of his car on Sunday.

Israeli police have said that they suspect he lost control after a stone was thrown at his car, although they have released no evidence and the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court has issued a gag order on the details of the incident.

"It has been decided to toughen the measures in many areas; a modification of the rules of engagement will be examined as well as the establishment of a minimum penalty for those who throw stones," the prime minister said.

He added that there would be "significant fines" for minors who commit such offences, as well as for their parents.

"On the day before (Jewish) new year, it has been proved once again that stones can kill," said Netanyahu, alluding to the death of the Israeli driver.

In July, the Knesset passed a law making penalties for stone-throwing more severe. The new law allowed for stone-throwers to receive a 20-year prison sentence where intent to harm could be proven, and 10 years where it could not.

At the time the bill was passed, Palestinian MK Jamal Zahalka said: "Who will the judge send to prison? He who demolished the home, seized the land, killed the brother, or the boy who threw a stone?"

Israel detains hundreds of Palestinians for alleged stone-throwing every year, and Israeli rights group B'Tselem reported that from 2005 to 2010, "93 percent of the minors convicted of stone throwing were given a prison sentence, its length ranging from a few days to 20 months."

'Maintain status quo'

Palestinians fear Israel is seeking to change rules governing the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is the third holiest site in Islam, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access to the compound and even efforts by fringe organizations to erect a new temple.

Jews are allowed to visit the compound at certain times, but are forbidden from praying there, under an agreement between Israel and the Islamic Endowment that administers the site.

However, in recent weeks, and over the Jewish new year holiday, Israeli forces have restricted Palestinian access to the site while escorting large numbers of Jewish worshipers through it.

These actions have reinforced fears among Palestinians that Israel wants to scrap the current arrangements and impose a division of the use of the compound, with Jews in the morning and Palestinian Muslims for the rest of the day.

Netanyahu during the overnight meeting insisted that the status quo at the mosque would be maintained, under which Muslims can visit the site when they wish. However, he said that he would not let "trouble-makers" upset visits by Jews to the site.

During Tuesday's clashes at the site, the Jordanian-run Islamic Endowment said police entered deep inside the compound's southern mosque and caused damage.

Amman said Israel's actions amounted to "aggression" against Arab and Muslim nations, and said it was examining legal and diplomatic means to protect religious sites in the Holy City.

Jordan has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

Israel seized East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

(Pool/AFP/Menahem Kahana, File)

Warning over 'provocations'

The new flare-up came despite calls for restraint from the United Nations, United States and European Union.

UN special envoy for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov warned that "provocations" at the site could lead to unrest elsewhere in the Middle East.

"As the Middle East faces a vicious tide of terror and extremism, such serious provocations have the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem," Mladenov said.

Palestinian youths spent the night inside the mosque as they had over the two previous days with the aim of preventing visits by Jews to the compound in the morning.

Clashes broke out when large numbers of Israeli police stormed the site to clear way for the visitors. The clashes quickly spread through the narrow street's of Jeursalem's Old City surrounding the mosque compound.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least 36 Palestinians were wounded, with two hospitalised. Israeli police said five officers were lightly injured.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said security forces shut the door on protesters inside the mosque.

She denied that police had entered the mosque, although a spokesman for the Islamic Endowment, Firas al-Dibs, said "police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque and went inside" as far as the minbar, or imam's pulpit, as many witnesses had said.

He added police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades inside the mosque that caused fires.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
Carlos / usa
How can you toughen policy of summary execution and demolition of former home for stone throwing? Will israel now start executing the relatives of accused stone thrower? israel is losing control. it is so ridiculous and it cannot even comprehend how imbecilic this government is.
16/09/2015 21:24
Joe Fattal / USA
@Carlos / usa Israel is been losing control since they started to expand, build settlements, and annex occupy territories. They are in a point where they don't know when and where to stop beside building walls without knowing what it represent.
17/09/2015 00:12
@ Carlos / USA
Clearly Palestinians need additional incentives, so that they start acting like civil human beings, and Clearly Israel needs to provide it, by:
-1- No longer treating attempted murder (as a minor offense, and
-2- Providing the additional incentives, with increased demolitions and deportations !!
17/09/2015 01:11
@ Carlos / USA
Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians believe in execution, and frequently practice it without trial too, while
Modern Israel has only executed one person (Adolf Eichman, A Nazi Death Camp fiend) in it's entire history !!
17/09/2015 01:16
Outlier / USA
Really Carlos? Hyperbole.
17/09/2015 05:20
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