Ahead of Monday’s arrival of US secretary of state Antony Blinken, Israel has announced a series of measures in response to two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, including expanding West Bank Jewish settlements and making it easier for citizens to obtain a gun licence.
On Friday night seven people were killed when a Palestinian gunman from east Jerusalem opened fire on worshippers leaving a synagogue after Sabbath prayers in the neighbourhood of Neve Ya’akov.
Security forces on Sunday sealed the home of the 21-year-old assailant ahead of demolition. The man had no previous security convictions, and was not connected to any militant group. Relatives said the gunman, Khairy Alqam, was named after his grandfather who was stabbed to death by a Jewish extremist in 1998.
In the second attack in Jerusalem over the weekend a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and seriously wounded two Israelis, a father and son, in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside of the Old City. An Israeli passerby shot and wounded the boy who is recovering in an Israeli hospital. He left a message in his school notebook that read: “God or victory or martyrdom. Forgive me mother, you’re going to be proud of me.”
Israel said on Sunday the boy’s family home will also be sealed.
“The terrorists seek to slaughter us indiscriminately; therefore, we must all unite as one in the relentless fight against them,” prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “We will defeat them.”
Palestinians at various locations in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza celebrated the Jerusalem attacks, firing into the air, letting off fireworks and handing out sweets.
As part of the package of measures approved by the security cabinet, Israel has decided to withdraw citizenship and withhold social security benefits from families who express support for attacks.
No details were provided about the plans to expand settlements – partly to avoid a showdown with Mr Blinken – but a number of ministers advocated building in the area of the West Bank called E1, which lies between Jerusalem and the large settlement of Maale Adumim. Such construction has been long opposed by Washington and the international community as it would block Palestinian territorial contiguity.
Mr Netanyahu urged Israelis not to carry out vigilante revenge attacks but Palestinian sources reported a series of attacks by settlers since the synagogue shooting, including the burning of homes and cars in West Bank Palestinian villages.
Israeli security forces are now on the highest state of alert, and extra forces have been deployed in Jerusalem and across the West Bank.
The weekend attacks came after a raid by Israeli forces last week in the Jenin refugee camp left nine Palestinians dead. Israel said eight of the dead were militants. In response to the Jenin attack, militants fired rockets from Gaza into Israel and Israeli aircraft hit a number of Hamas targets in Gaza, including an underground weapons factory.
The Palestinian Authority described the Jenin raid as a massacre, and president Mahmoud Abbas refused to condemn the subsequent attacks in Jerusalem. “The government of Israel is fully responsible for this dangerous escalation,” a statement from his office said, noting that 31 Palestinians have been killed so far this year.
On Saturday the EU expressed concern at the spiralling violence. “The European Union fully recognises Israel’s legitimate security concerns – as evidenced by the latest terrorist attacks – but it has to be stressed that lethal force must only be used as a last resort when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.