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Israel: Police begin mass arrests of Palestinians

Palestinian citizens of Israel call the 48-hour operation, set to arrest 500 people, a 'declaration of war'
Israeli security forces detain a man at the entrance of Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque compound, 21 May 2021 (AFP)

Israeli police on Monday launched an operation of mass arrests of Palestinian citizens of Israel, following two weeks of protests in mixed cities against Israeli settlement policies in the occupied East Jerusalem and the bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli police planned to arrest 500 Palestinians inside Israel under operation “Law and Order”, authorities announced on Sunday, in a plan approved by the Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana and the Commissioner of Israeli Police Kobi Shabtai.

The 48-hour arrest campaign, which began on Monday morning, aims to target “criminal elements in the Arab sector [of society], including some senior targets”, and some linked to organised gangs, Ynet reported, without giving names.

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Israeli police concluded that their power of deterrence had been severely damaged among the Palestinian community inside Israel, after confrontations in mixed cities including Lod, Acre and Haifa, the news site reported, and are attempting to regain it with this campaign.

Israel has mobilised thousands of police officers from all districts and units, including the Border Police, to carry out the arrests.

Authorities have reportedly prepared a “bank of targets” of 500 names, and say that they have already built up cases with evidence to allow for speedy indictments to be filed in court. Charges will vary from vandalism to violence and incitement, all documented by the Lahav 433 cyber unit, the Israeli equivalent of the FBI.

'Declaration of war'

Two Palestinian citizens of Israeli have been killed in the past two weeks - Mousa Hassouna, in Lod, known as Lydd by Palestinians, during a confrontation with Israeli far-right group backed by settlers from the occupied West Bank; and Mohammad Kiwan, who was shot by police near Umm al-Fahm, in the north of Israel.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20 per cent of the country's population, have widely shared a social media post warning of the Israeli mass arrests.

"This is a declaration of war, the Israelis will storm more than 500 homes to kidnap our children and youth," the post reads.

"This is not just an attempt at intimidation, and it is not just a policy of intimidation. This is an unprecedented war on Palestinians at home, and it will be carried out under the cover of a humiliating silence," it continued.

"Our people must act now and immediately to thwart this war. The whole world must be shaken now."

Since early May, Israel's State Attorney's Office has filed more than 140 indictments against 230 people - mostly Palestinian Arabs - who were involved in recent protests and confrontations in mixed cities.