Israel’s hardline new government has said it will make it easier for civilians to carry guns and strengthen settlements in the occupied West Bank, after Jerusalem was hit by two shootings in less than 24 hours.
Seven Israelis were killed and three injured in the first shooting, which took place near a synagogue in a Jewish settlement on Holocaust Memorial day on Friday. It was the bloodiest attack in the city since 2008. Two more were injured in the second shooting, which took place near the historic Old City on Saturday.
Israel’s security cabinet said that in response to the attacks, Israel would expand firearms licensing, which it said would “enable thousands of additional citizens to carry weapons”.
It added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also decided on “steps to strengthen settlement” in the West Bank, which makes up the bulk of the Palestinian territories, but has been occupied by Israel since 1967, following “celebrations” by some Palestinians in the wake of the shootings.
On Saturday evening, Netanyahu said that Israel’s response to the shootings would be “strong, swift and precise”. “While we are not seeking escalation, we are prepared for any scenario,” he said.
The surge in violence, which follows the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank for two decades and an exchange of rocket fire between Israel and militants in Gaza, has exacerbated fears that long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian tensions could erupt into a broader conflict.
It also poses an early test for Netanyahu’s new government, which is dominated by extreme right and ultrareligious politicians, and came to power last month pledging to take a hard line against the Palestinians.
On Sunday morning, police sealed the house of the gunman behind the first attack, a 21-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem who was killed by police at the scene, as a prelude to demolishing it. The attacker in the second shooting, a 13-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, was shot and hospitalised.
The security cabinet did not give further details of the steps to strengthen settlements, which it said would be submitted this week. The military said on Saturday that it had already moved an additional battalion to the West Bank.
Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal. However, important positions in Israel’s new government are held by ultranationalists and settlers, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who are committed to expanding settlements.
The security cabinet also approved a series of other measures, including revoking the national insurance rights of “families of terrorists that support terrorism”, reinforcing military and police units and expanding operations to collect illegal weapons.
It also said that the government would discuss legislation to revoke Israeli identity cards for “the families of terrorists that support terrorism” at a meeting later on Sunday.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the plans as “racist collective punishments that incite further escalation and violence”.
The latest cycle of violence erupted after Israeli commandos killed nine Palestinians during a raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank on Thursday which targeted militants from Palestinian Islamic Jihad. More than 30 Palestinians, including both militants and civilians, have been killed by Israeli forces this year.
In response to the raid, the Palestinian Authority cancelled security co-operation with Israel — an arrangement that helps Israel prevent attacks.
The US has urged the PA to reverse the decision. Secretary of state Antony Blinken is due to visit both Israel and the West Bank this week as part of a pre-planned trip to the region.