JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian rammed his vehicle into an Israeli police officer in the West Bank on Wednesday, seriously injuring him before he was shot and killed, police said. It was the latest in a nearly two-month rash of violence that has seen almost daily Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says the officer was seriously wounded in the attack.
In a bid to deter attackers, Israel's parliament this week passed a law toughening penalties against Palestinians for throwing rocks at civilians and security personnel, a daily occurrence that has caused casualties.
The law places a minimum sentence of three years on offenders and strips rock-throwers of their social security benefits, a punishment that applies to Palestinians in east Jerusalem. The parents of minors convicted of rock-throwing could also have their social security benefits annulled during the period of the offender's sentence.
Israel's parliament, the Knesset, announced the adoption of the law on its website Tuesday. The legislation was first introduced months ago, before the current unrest began.
The violence began with clashes at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site and quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Eleven Israelis have died, mostly in stabbing attacks, while 70 Palestinians have been killed, including 44 Israel said were attackers.
"A minimum punishment is necessary to create a deterrent and uproot the assumption that 'it's just a stone,'" said lawmaker Nissan Slomiansky, who sponsored the legislation. He said that "throwing a rock is an attempt to murder and there should at least be a minimum punishment."
Arab lawmaker Jamal Zahalka condemned the law, saying that "fires cannot be put out with gas, and this law is throwing gas on a fire."
The first fatality in the current round of violence was a 64-year-old Israeli, Alexander Levlovitz. He died and two passengers were hurt after Palestinians pelted their car with rocks as they drove home from a meal marking the Jewish New Year in Jerusalem.
Israeli leaders have accused Palestinian political and religious leaders of inciting the violence. Palestinians say the violence is due to a lack of hope for gaining independence after years of failed peace efforts.
Meanwhile, the leader-in-exile of the Islamic militant group Hamas on Wednesday urged Palestinians to step up unrest to "liberate Jerusalem and the West Bank," saying efforts by his internationally backed Palestinian rival are insufficient.
However, Qatar-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal was short on details as he spoke to reporters in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip by Skype.
Hamas has mostly stayed in the background since the current round of violence began.
Most of the violence has been portrayed as "lone wolf attacks" by Palestinians without apparent ties to factions such as Hamas or the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The West Bank-based Abbas has ordered his security forces to try to prevent armed attacks on Israelis, saying such violence goes against Palestinian interests.
Mashaal's comments appeared largely aimed at Palestinian public opinion.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting pro-Abbas forces from the coastal territory in bloody street battles in 2007.
Since then Hamas fought three wars against Israel.
Also Wednesday, Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency said it arrested a Gaza resident last month after he "he transferred hundreds of tons of building materials, which had been earmarked for the rehabilitation and development of the Gaza Strip, directly to Hamas."
Shin Bet said the materials were financed by donor countries and other agencies and were intended to help rebuild houses destroyed during fighting in last year's Gaza war.