Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a toughening of the penalties for throwing stones, after Israeli forces stormed occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque for a third day.
Israeli forces entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in large numbers on Tuesday and Palestinians responded with throwing stones and debris, as international leaders called for calm.
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Netanyahu’s announcement at the start of an emergency meeting of ministers and security officials came after the death of an Israeli driver who lost control of his car after apparently being hit by stones in Jerusalem on Sunday.
A thug threw stones at cars in Jerusalem until he murdered an Israeli man. We are declaring war on stone throwers. pic.twitter.com/VzSiIYu9MU
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) September 16, 2015
“It has been decided to toughen the measures in many areas; a modification of the rules of engagement will be examined as well as the establishment of a minimum penalty for those who throw stones,” the prime minister said.
He added that there would be “significant fines” for minors who commit such offences, as well as for their parents.
“On the day before [Jewish] New Year, it has been proved once again that stones can kill,” said Netanyahu, alluding to the death of the Israeli driver.
Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam but also venerated by Jews as the Temple Mount.
Muslim protesters fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access to the compound and even efforts by fringe organisations to erect a new temple on the grounds of the compound.
Jews are allowed to visit the compound at certain times, but are forbidden from praying there for fear of sparking tensions with Muslim worshippers.
‘Maintain status quo’
During the overnight emergency meeting Netanyahu insisted that the status quo at the mosque should be maintained, under which Muslims can use it when they wish.
Israeli security officials said they cleared debris from the entrance of the mosque and closed the door on those inside who had been throwing stones, fireworks and other objects at the Israeli forces.
Israeli forces entered deep inside the mosque and caused extensive damage, the Jordanian-run Waqf organisation which administers the site, said.
Amman said Israel’s actions amounted to “aggression” against Arab and Muslim nations, and said it was examining legal and diplomatic means to protect religious sites in the Holy City.
The International Islamic Fiqh (law) Academy, which is part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said in a statement that it “strongly denounces the Israeli terrorist attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque, and urges the UN Security Council to stop the Israeli aggression and work to protect the Palestinian people”.
It also added that “Jerusalem is not just for Palestinians, rather for the entire Muslim nation”. The OIC is made up of 57 Islamic countries and is headquartered in Saudi Arabia.
Jordan has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
Israel seized East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was illegal under international law. The annexation was never recognised by the international community.