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Jerusalem crackdown could cause 'broad flare-up', Israeli officials warn PM

Senior security leaders urge Netanyahu to end Ben-Gvir's punitive crackdown on Palestinians
A Palestinian man reacts while standing on rubble after an Israeli military excavator demolished the house of Adham Bashir in the Jabal Mukaber neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem, on 13 February 2023 (AFP)
A man stands on rubble after Israeli forces demolished the house of Adham Bashir in the Jabal Mukaber neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, on 13 February 2023 (AFP)

Israel's security leaders warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the current crackdown on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem could lead to a breakout of violence, Israeli media reported on Thursday.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir launched a series of punitive measures against Palestinians in the city last week, following three deadly car-ramming and stabbing attacks.

This operation involved demolishing at least seven buildings, arresting 100 people, setting up dozens of roadblocks and checkpoints, and confiscating money and assets from former and current political prisoners, among other measures. 

Israeli prison authorities, which are part of Ben-Gvir's remit as national security minister, have also begun imposing harsher conditions against Palestinian prisoners such as closing the canteen, cutting hot water, and removing kettles and single gas hobs used to heat food. 

However, Ben-Gvir's crackdown has raised concerns among senior Israeli officials that such measures will fuel Palestinian anger and lead to more violence.

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The military chief of staff, director of the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet, and the police commissioner all told Netanyahu at a meeting this week that the crackdown must stop, Kan 11 broadcaster reported. 

They asked the prime minister to urge Ben-Gvir to halt his measures.

Netanyahu reportedly sent his military secretary, Avi Gil, to speak with the minister and persuade him to end the operation.

'Collective harassment'

Shin Bet director Ronen Bar - who normally reports to the prime minister - separately made a rare call to Ben-Gvir and warned him that he was "creating a feeling of collective harassment," in East Jerusalem, Channel 13 reported on Wednesday.

"This is agitating [East] Jerusalem and may cause a broad flare-up at this sensitive time," Bar told Ben Gvir, who reportedly dismissed the warning. 

Several media reports have said the far-right minister has clashed in recent days with Netanyahu, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and other senior security officials over policing strategy in East Jerusalem. 

Senior officials prefer a more cautious approach to security measures against Palestinians to avoid instigating mass anger, especially ahead of the month of Ramadan, set to start in late March.

Ben-Gvir reportedly told senior officials they were "prisoners" to the long-standing security perception, according to Channel 12. 

Israel-Palestine: CIA chief warns current tensions resemble Second Intifada
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Tensions in the region have been growing amid increasing Israeli violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since last year. 

Israeli forces and settlers have killed 49 Palestinians since the start of January at a rate of more than one fatality per day. 

Palestinians have killed 10 Israelis in the same period. 

Last year, at least 220 Palestinians were killed during Israeli attacks while 30 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.

The 2022 Palestinian death toll in the West Bank was the highest since 2005. 

The US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns warned earlier this month that current tensions bear an "unhappy resemblance" to the Second Intifada. 

He added that the CIA is working with Israeli and Palestinian security services to prevent "explosions of violence", but admitted that it's "going to be a big challenge".

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