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Israel vows tough measures to 'strengthen' settlements following deadly attacks

“Whoever tries to hurt us, we will hurt him and anyone who helps him,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a Cabinet meeting Saturday.
Image: Funerals Take Place Of The Victims Of A Mass Shooting At Jerusalem Synagogue
Relatives and friends of Eli and Natali Mizrahi, who were killed in a shooting attack in Jerusalem, mourn at their funeral Saturday in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Seven people were shot and killed at a synagogue in East Jerusalem on Friday, with at least three others injured.Amir Levy / Getty Images

TEL AVIV — Israel will increase security and “strengthen the settlements” in response to gun attacks in Jerusalem on Friday and Saturday that killed seven Israelis and badly wounded five others, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday.

“In response to the abhorrent attacks and the celebrations in their wake, Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided on steps to strengthen the settlements that will be submitted this week,” Israel’s political and security Cabinet said in a statement Saturday night. 

The statement presented a six-point list of measures to “fight terrorism and exact a price from the terrorists and their supporters,” including loosening the rules on the sale of firearms to Israeli citizens and reinforcing military and police powers.

The list also included a number of punitive measures for Palestinians, among them revoking national insurance rights and benefits to “families of terrorists” and proposals to deny identity cards to “families of terrorists who support terrorism.” 

“Our response will be strong, swift and precise,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the opening of the Cabinet meeting Saturday. “Whoever tries to hurt us, we will hurt him and anyone who helps him.” 

In an atmosphere of heightened tensions Sunday, the Israeli Defense Forces said they had fatally shot a Palestinian man carrying a handgun on the outskirts of a West Bank settler community.

Israeli officers on Sunday sealed off the Jerusalem family home of a Palestinian gunman who killed seven people and wounded three others, a police spokesperson said Saturday, adding that the gunman’s relatives had also been arrested. The attack, which took place outside a synagogue on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, drew international condemnation and fears of spiraling violence. 

Two people were alleged to have been injured Saturday in a separate gun attack in east Jerusalem by a Palestinian shooter in his early teens. Police said they shot and overpowered the 13-year-old shooter, who was taken to hospital on a stretcher. 

An Israeli raid in the West Bank killed at least nine Palestinians on Thursday, the deadliest Israeli raid on the area in two decades. In response, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets into Israel, which triggered retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. At least 32 Palestinians have been killed in fighting this month.

The attacks present a challenge for the recently re-elected Netanyahu, who on Sunday visited those injured in Friday's attack at two hospitals in Jerusalem.

He has built a government coalition alongside the Jewish Power and Religious Zionism parties, which oppose Palestinian statehood and are aligned with the hard-line West Bank settlement movement. Netanyahu could come under pressure from Cabinet members to take even tougher action, at risk of triggering more violence and potentially involving the Hamas militant group in Gaza. 

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a member of the far-right Jewish Power party, tweeted Saturday that he would bring new death penalty laws for terrorist acts before the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, next week.

Israel has experienced weeks of democracy protests throughout January as a result of government proposals to weaken the Supreme Court, making it difficult for the body to overturn laws it deems unconstitutional. Netanyahu’s government says judges and legal advisers have too much sway over lawmaking and governance. Critics argue the plan would upend Israel’s system of checks and balances on government power, stripping it of judicial oversight. 

At protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Saturday night, demonstrators held a moment of silence for the Jerusalem shooting victims. In Tel Aviv, some carried banners describing Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir as “a threat to world peace.”

“We are here to protect the Israeli democracy in order to protect both the Palestinian and Israeli citizens so there will be less terror attacks like this, because if we won’t have the Supreme Court, then we won’t have a democracy, then we think these terror attacks will just be more and more,” Anat Shalam told Reuters at a demonstration in Jerusalem. 

The weekend’s events cast a shadow over a diplomatic visit from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who is scheduled to speak to Israeli and Palestinian leaders Monday.

 The Biden administration opposes Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are territories Palestinians want to use to build a future state. 

Leila Sackur reported from London; Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv.