JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure over a five-month wave of violence, said Wednesday he wants to expel to Gaza relatives of Palestinian attackers involved in their assaults.
Netanyahu asked the attorney general to examine the possibility of carrying out such expulsions, his office said, while rights groups immediately denounced the move.
“Expelling family members of Palestinian terrorists who aided attacks to Gaza will lead to a significant decrease in terrorist attacks,” a spokesman for Netanyahu said on Twitter.
The proposal could prove to be a fresh source of tension ahead of a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden next week.
The White House said Wednesday Biden would visit Israel and the West Bank, beginning on March 8.
Talks with the Israelis are expected to include defence aid, Israeli-Palestinian violence and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
A wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories since October has killed 180 Palestinians as well as 28 Israelis, an American, a Sudanese and an Eritrean, according to an AFP toll.
Most of the Palestinians who died in the violence were killed by Israeli forces while carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.
Others were shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes or demonstrations.
The Gaza Strip, hit by three wars with Israel since 2008 and run by Islamist movement Hamas, is under an Israeli blockade that severely restricts the movement of people and goods.
It also has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, and the UN development agency said in September that conditions in the strip could make it uninhabitable by 2020.
The Palestinian enclave, separated from the occupied West Bank by Israeli territory, has remained relatively calm during the current wave of violence.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly said previously that such expulsions would violate both Israeli and international law.
Mandelblit was said to have made his recommendation after a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet who is also a political rival of the prime minister requested expelling relatives of attackers to Gaza or Syria.
Netanyahu has come under heavy pressure from right-wing members of his coalition over the continuing wave of violence.
Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for Israeli rights group B’Tselem, said “it seems obvious that the prime minister is under a lot of pressure from the right now, from politicians accusing him of being soft against the wave of attacks.”
“Any form of collective punishment is illegal and in this case the point is trying to punish the relatives of attacks who aren’t actually accused of anything,” she said.
“This is a complete breach of international law and the Geneva Convention.”
Legal analyst Moshe Negbi said he did not think the attorney general would agree to the proposal.
Expulsions of those directly involved in attacks had occurred in the past under defence regulations dating back to British mandatory Palestine, said Negbi.
“I find it hard to believe that the attorney general would agree to legislation which is even more draconian than the mandatory law,” he told public radio.
Further violence occurred Wednesday when two 18-year-old Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops after infiltrating a West Bank settlement and wounding a settler, the military said.
Later in the day, the army said, “two assailants stabbed two soldiers” guarding another settlement, Har Bracha, near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
“The assailants fled the scene,” it said in an English-language statement, adding that troops were sweeping the area.
Palestinians said soldiers searched the neighbouring Palestinian village of Burin.
Israeli rescue services said one of the soldiers was moderately wounded and the other lightly hurt.
Many analysts say Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation and settlement building in the West Bank, the complete lack of progress in peace efforts and their own fractured leadership have fed the unrest.
Israel blames incitement by Palestinian leaders and media as a main cause of the violence.
Many of the attackers have been young Palestinians, including teenagers, who appear to have been acting on their own.