Human rights groups have condemned Israel's approval of a new law allowing the imprisonment of children as young as 12 for "terrorist offences", and which is expected to apply mostly to Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem.

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The "Youth Bill" allows authorities to imprison minors convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter, even if he or she is under the age of 14, the Israeli government said in a statement on Wednesday.

Attacks in recent months "demands a more aggressive approach, including toward minors", the government said in the statement.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem criticised the law and Israel's treatment of Palestinian youth in general.

"Rather than sending them to prison, Israel would be better off sending them to school where they could grow up in dignity and freedom, not under occupation," the group said in a statement.

"Imprisoning such young minors denies them the chance of a better future."

Military law, which is currently applied to Palestinian residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, already allows imprisonment of 12-year-olds.

Since October, Israeli forces or settlers have killed at least 219 Palestinians, including attackers, unarmed protesters, and bystanders. During the same period, Palestinian attackers have killed 34 Israelis in mostly stabbing or shooting incidents. 

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Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, gave the Youth Bill her full backing when it came before a ministerial committee last year.

While still a parliamentarian during the 51-day war on Gaza in 2014, Shaked drew criticism when she posted on Facebook the text of an unpublished article, by the late Israeli writer Uri Elitzur, that referred to Palestinian children as "little snakes" and promoted deadly violence against Palestinians. 

At least 414 Palestinian children were in Israeli jails as of July, according to the West Bank-based Addameer Prisoner Support Network.

A 12-year-old Palestinian girl from the West Bank, convicted of attempted murder by a military court, was released in April as part of a plea bargain after serving four months in jail.

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Source: Al Jazeera and agencies