Benjamin Netanyahu calls for looser gun laws after synagogue attack

Large crowd holding Israeli flags - Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo
Large crowd holding Israeli flags - Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo

Israel’s government has said it will make it faster and easier for civilians to get gun licenses, after seven people were killed in an attack on a synagogue.

Jerusalem was rocked by two shootings over the weekend, marking some of the bloodiest days in the city in more than a decade. The synagogue attack, which coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day, added to fears that simmering tensions could again erupt into all-out conflict.

The attack came after the deadliest Israeli raid against Palestinians in the West Bank in more than 20 years.

In response to the attacks in Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, vowed to enforce a set of punitive measures against Palestinians, including strengthening settlements and depriving an attacker’s family members of residency and social security rights.

In his opening remarks to the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said the government will “expand and expedite the issuing of weapons permits to thousands of Israeli civilians”. He pointed to the voluntary search and rescue organisation ZAKA as an example, saying that, of their 3,000 mobile volunteers across the country, only a small number are armed.

“Imagine if they and others were armed ... we have seen, time and again, including yesterday in the City of David, that heroic, armed and trained civilians save lives,” he said.

Around two per cent of Israel’s population currently have the right to carry a firearm, and those eligible must have completed military service or have a security background with handling weapons. Most permits given are reportedly for pistols, not automatic weapons.

Wave of Israeli settler attacks

Together, the move to “strengthen” settlements – which are widely considered illegal by the international community – in occupied territory and loosen gun laws has sparked fear of further impunity among Palestinian civilians. Rights groups have previously blasted these types of measures by Israeli governments as “collective punishment”.

According to Palestinian news agency Wafa, at least 144 Israeli settler attacks were reported on Saturday across the West Bank.

Yoav Gallant, the new Israeli defence minister, told reporters in the West Bank that while they wanted calm in the area, the government would not hesitate to act if more blood is shed.

“Every terrorist will either go to court or to the cemetery,” Mr Gallant said on Sunday.

“Anyone who helps the terrorists will be harmed. If it is necessary we will destroy their houses. We will deprive them of their rights. If necessary, we will expel them”.