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Israel to deal flexibly with extremist settler group

The Israeli cabinet decided on Sunday not to designate as terrorists the extremist "Price Tag" settlers' group, reported Haaretz. The group is responsible for many attacks against Palestinians, their properties and their holy places in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deal with this group "more flexibly", claims the newspaper.

Recommendations for Price Tag to be declared "terrorists" were made by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Abramovich and the Shabak Intelligence Services. Netanyahu has rejected this move and decided instead to label them as a "forbidden organisation". His move is a result, it is believed, of pressure from settlers' leaders and his Jewish Home coalition partner. A vote on the issue would have provoked a crisis in the government.

Netanyahu justified his decision by saying that this Jewish group cannot be compared with "terror organisations" such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad; to do so would also reflect badly on Israel. The groups will be regarded in the same light as charities with alleged connections to Hamas.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister's office said: "This decision recommends widening the circle of information gathering about the attacks of the group carried out against Palestinians in the West Bank and against Islamic and Christian sites inside Israel."

According to Haaretz, declaring the group to be a "forbidden organisation" allows the authorities to seize properties and bank accounts belonging to group members. It also allows the security services to take more severe measures against them and impose stricter punishments in the courts.

Israeli settlers claim that they carry out such attacks against Palestinian properties and holy sites in the West Bank as a response to the Israeli governments' alleged "anti-settlement" decisions, such as the evacuation of illegal (even in Israeli law) settlement "outposts". The attacks are the "price" that the government has to pay, say settlers.

Price Tag attacks have spread into Israel recently. Just last week, the Orthodox Christian Cemetery in Jaffa was desecrated with graffiti scrawled on the tombstones. Racist words were sprayed on Arab property as well. Despite carrying out hundreds of attacks, no Price Tag member has been prosecuted in recent years.

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