Israel’s decision to expand firearms licensing for Israelis will only escalate tensions and further violence with Palestinians, Volker Türk – the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – has warned.
“Plans by the Government of Israel to expedite and expand the licensing of firearms, with the stated intention of adding thousands of (Israeli) civilians carrying firearms – coupled with hateful rhetoric – can only lead to further violence and bloodshed,” Türk said in a statement.
“We know from experience that the proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore, the Israeli authorities must work to reduce the availability of firearms in society,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that more Israelis would be permitted firearms licenses last week.
The move comes amid rising tension in the Palestinian territories following an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin last week that left 10 Palestinians dead. Seven Israelis were also killed in a shooting attack in occupied East Jerusalem.
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“Rather than fueling a worsening spiral of violence, I urge all those holding public office or other positions of authority – indeed everyone – to stop using language that incites hatred of the other,” Türk said. “Such fomenting hatred is corrosive for all Israelis, Palestinians, and society.”
The U.N. commissioner noted that 32 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli army fire since the start of the year, while seven Israelis have also been killed.
“The people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory need their leaders to work – urgently – to create conditions conducive to a political solution to this protracted, untenable situation,” he added.
The Palestinian Health Ministry accused Israeli forces of deliberately firing tear gas inside a hospital’s pediatric ward, leaving children choking – a claim denied by an Israeli army spokesperson who added that gas may have drifted into the clinic through a window.
The bloodiest day in the West Bank in years erupted during a raid on the crowded refugee camp in the northern city of Jenin, where gunshots rang through the streets and smoke billowed from burning street barricades.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said the death toll from the clashes rose to “nine martyrs” including a woman, and that 20 people were wounded before the Israeli forces withdrew midmorning.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem told Reuters: “This operation is a response to the crime conducted by the occupation in Jenin and a natural response to the occupation’s criminal actions,” though he stopped short of claiming the attack.
World condemns attack The United States quickly condemned the attack.
“This is absolutely horrific,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.
“We condemn this apparent terrorist attack in the strongest terms. Our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad, and we are in direct touch with our Israeli partners.”
“We stand with the Israeli people in solidarity,” he said.
Patel told reporters at a news briefing that U.S. officials were in touch with their Israeli counterparts and that he did not expect changes to Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s vist to Israel next week.
U.S. President Joe Biden directed his national security team to offer support to their Israeli counterparts.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack.
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack,” his spokesman said. “It is particularly abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship, and on the very day we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
However, he urged the sides to exercise the “utmost restraint.” Guterres is “deeply worried” by the current escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also condemned Friday’s synagogue attack on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, state news agency (WAM) reported citing a foreign ministry statement.
Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, also condemned the attack. “To attack worshippers at a synagogue on Holocaust Memorial Day, and during Shabbat, is horrific. We stand with our Israeli friends,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Clouds of smoke engulfed the small village as two houses were levelled with explosives shortly after sunrise on Monday.
The army later said “a violent riot was instigated” when troops entered the village.
“Rioters burned tyres, shot live fire and hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails and explosive devices at the forces, who responded with riot dispersal means and live fire,” the statement said. “Hits were identified,” it added.
Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that 18 others were arrested by the Israeli army in overnight raids across the West Bank.
But Israel says the practice is effective in deterring some Palestinians from carrying out attacks.
The two deaths are the first in the West Bank for 2023.
According to United Nations data, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians since the 2002-2005 uprising, known as the Second Intifada, with at least 150 Palestinians and 26 Israelis killed across Israel and the West Bank, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the most right-wing in Israel’s history, has sparked fears of a military escalation in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Two of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, sworn in on Thursday with the rest of the new government, will take charge of critical powers in relation to Palestinians in the West Bank.
After a stint in opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu will return to power in Israel on Thursday, leading what analysts describe as the most right-wing government in the country’s history.
Senior security and law enforcement officials have already voiced concern over its direction, as have Palestinians. (Watch Video Here)
“It becomes for Netanyahu’s partners a dream government,” Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, told AFP.
“And one side’s dream is the other side’s nightmare,” he said, adding: “This government is expected to take the country in a completely new trajectory.”
Netanyahu, 73, who is fighting corruption allegations in court, already (Watch Video Here) served as prime minister longer than anyone in Israeli history, including a record 12-year tenure from 2009 to 2021 and a three-year period in the late 90s.
He was ousted from power in the spring of 2021 by a motley coalition of leftists, centrists and Arab parties headed by Naftali Bennett and former TV news anchor Yair Lapid.
It didn’t take him long to come back.
Netanyahu will present his new government to the Israeli parliament for a ratification vote at 11:00 am (0900 GMT). (Watch Video Here)
Following the election on November 1, Netanyahu entered into negotiations with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties, among them Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism formation and Itamar Ben Gvir’s Jewish Power party.
Both have a history of inflammatory remarks about the Palestinians.
They will now take charge respectively of Israeli settlement policy in the West (Watch Video Here) Bank, and of the Israeli police, which also operate in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967.
‘Thirst for power’ Even before the government was sworn in, the majority parties passed laws that would allow Aryeh Deri, a key ally from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to serve as a minister despite a previous guilty plea to tax offences.
They also voted to expand powers of the national security minister, a portfolio set to be handed to Ben Gvir who will have authority over the police.
The assignment comes despite Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s warning against the “politicisation of law enforcement”. (Watch Video Here)
On Monday, in a phone call to Netanyahu, armed forces chief Aviv Kochavi expressed his concerns regarding the creation of a second ministerial post in the defence ministry for Smotrich, who will oversee management of civilian affairs in the West Bank.
Israel’s ally the United States has also spoken out.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Washington would oppose settlement expansion as well as any bid to annex the West Bank.
But in a statement of policy priorities released Wednesday, Netanyahu’s Likud party said the government will pursue settlement (Watch Video Here) expansion.
About 475,000 Jewish settlers — among them Smotrich and Ben Gvir — live there now in settlements considered illegal under international law.
Analysts said Netanyahu offered the extreme-right vast concessions in the hope he might obtain judicial immunity or cancellation of his corruption trial. He is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, allegations he denies.
Denis Charbit, professor (Watch Video Here) of political science at Israel’s Open University, told AFP the government “is the addition of Netanyahu’s political weakness, linked to his age and his trial, and the fact that you have a new political family of the revolutionary right that we had never seen with this strength in Israel”.
Smotrich and Ben Gvir “have a very strong thirst for power” and their priority remains the expansion of West Bank settlements, Charbit said.
‘Explosion’ Ben Gvir has repeatedly visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam. It is also Judaism’s holiest, known as the Temple Mount. (Watch Video Here)
Under a historical status quo, non-Muslims can visit the sanctuary but may not pray there. Palestinians would see a visit by a serving Israeli minister as a provocation.
“If Ben Gvir, as minister, goes to Al-Aqsa it will be a big red line and it will lead to an explosion,” Basem Naim, a senior official with the Islamist movement Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip, told AFP.
Israel and Hamas fought a war in May 202l. This year, other Gaza militants and Israel exchanged rocket and missile fire (Watch Video Here) for three days in August.
In the West Bank, violence has surged this year and many are afraid of more unrest.
“I think that if the government acts in an irresponsible way, it could cause a security escalation,” outgoing Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday, expressing fear over the “extremist direction” of the incoming administration. (Watch Video Here)
Then-U.S. President Donald Trump sent a secret letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, approving his controversial annexation plan of Palestinian territories, according to a report.
The Jerusalem Post said the three-page letter, dated Jan. 26, 2020, says: “Israel would be able to extend sovereignty to parts of the West Bank if Netanyahu agreed to a Palestinian state in the remaining territory.”
Netanyahu received the letter just two days before Trump announced his so-called “deal of the century” to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a plan that was vehemently rejected by the Palestinians.
Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed in 2014 due to Tel Aviv’s refusal to release Palestinian detainees and stop settlement building.
Trump’s “deal of the century” refers to Jerusalem as “Israel’s undivided capital” and recognizes Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the occupied West Bank.
The plan involves the establishment of a Balkanized Palestinian state in the form of an archipelago connected by bridges and tunnels.
Palestinian officials say that under the U.S. plan, Israel will annex 30%-40% of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem.
Under international pressure, Netanyahu didn’t announce his annexation plan as was scheduled in July 2020, claiming he only delayed its announcement.