Israel moves to toughen sentences for stone-throwers

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli cabinet ministers approved on Sunday legislation aimed at imposing tougher penalties on stone-throwers, a measure that stemmed from a wave of Palestinian protests last year in occupied East Jerusalem. A draft law that won preliminary parliamentary approval late last year allowed for sentences of up to 20 years in jail for throwing a rock with the intent of causing bodily harm. But far-right politician Ayelet Shaked, Israel's new justice minister, complained that far lighter punishment would probably be handed down because of the difficulty of proving such intent, especially in cases of stone-throwing in mass street protests. On Twitter, she announced that a ministerial committee approved her proposed amendments, which included an additional tier of 10 years' imprisonment without the need to prove an accused rock-thrower intended to harm anyone. Currently, legal officials said, prosecutors usually seek sentences of no more than three months in jail for rock-throwing that does not result in serious injury. As a result of the legislation committee's decision, the amended draft law can now be fast-tracked through parliament, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government controls 61 of its 120 seats. The original legislation was promoted by Shaked's predecessor as justice minister, centrist Tzipi Livni, after a wave of violent Palestinian protests in Jerusalem in 2014 that included frequent stone-throwing at the city's light railway. Those demonstrations erupted after the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teen in the city in July. Three Israelis are accused of murdering him in revenge for the deaths of three Jewish teenagers killed by Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank. Confrontations between Palestinian youths and Israeli police routinely degenerate into violent clashes and stone throwing in Jerusalem and across the West Bank. (Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Crispian Balmer)