Ramallah – A massive Israeli military operation in the West Bank seems to be winding down, but the government is pursuing legal steps to hold hundreds of Palestinians indefinitely and reinstate its policy of home demolitions.
Thousands of troops have deployed throughout the occupied territory since June 12, when three Israeli settlers disappeared while hitchhiking home from their religious seminary in an illegal settlement near Hebron.
Hundreds of Palestinians were arrested and more than 1,400 homes searched during nearly two weeks of nightly raids. Eight Palestinians were detained on Monday night, far less than the dozens held on previous days, and army officers said the operation was “reaching its conclusion.”
The Israeli government has admitted that many of the raids were punitive and an effort to target Hamas, which Israel blames for allegedly kidnapping the young settlers.
Israel has not yet offered any evidence linking Hamas to the disappearance of the teenagers. On Monday night, Khaled Meshaal, the group’s leader, told Al Jazeera that “we do not have any information about what happened,” but said their kidnapping would be “a logical and natural reaction to the violations of occupation forces”.
They became a particular focus on Monday, when the Shin Bet security service announced that another prisoner from the swap, Ziad Awad, has been charged with the April murder of an Israeli police officer near Hebron. His arrest has raised pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek lengthy jail terms for the dozens re-arrested this month.
Judicial sources said that prosecutors will indict some of them and push to reinstate their original sentences. Others will be kept in administrative detention, a tool Israel uses to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial.
A military court has already approved administrative detention orders for more than 100 Palestinians arrested this month, and that number is expected to double in the coming days.
Also arrested on Monday was Samer Issawi, who was released in December after an eight-month hunger strike against Israel’s use of administrative detention. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, said that a magistrate ordered Issawi held until June 29 for “interrogation”.
Meanwhile, the justice ministry is pushing a new law that would significantly raise the punishment for Palestinians convicted of throwing stones.
The amendment would set maximum penalties of ten to 20 years, depending on whether the accused had “specific intent to cause harm.” It has not yet been sent to the Knesset. “It’s at the very early stages,” said Eden Klein, a spokeswoman for the ministry.
Netanyahu also announced that Israel will renew its policy of punitive house demolitions, which was largely discontinued in 2005, starting with Awad’s family home.
“I have given instructions to demolish the house of the terrorist who committed this act,” he said at a meeting of his Likud party on Monday, referring to the murder. “And there will be additional steps, including [more] demolitions of terrorists’ homes”.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, called the decision “an official policy of harming the innocent”.
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