Israel West Bank
A Palestinian throws stones at Israeli soldiers during clashes in the West Bank City of HebronReuters

The Israeli cabinet has authorised a law amendment which will see stone throwers face harsher sentences of up to 20 years after last week's unrest in the capital, Jerusalem.

The previous maximum sentence for those caught throwing stones was up to two years in prison but the legal change could see a stone thrower jailed for 20 years if it can be proven that they were throwing objects in order to cause harm.

A committee found that the current law gave police and courts limited power to punish stone throwers as they had to prove that there was intent to cause harm.

The new bill still needs to pass the ministerial committee on legislation and a vote in the Knesset but, if passed, the changes will see two major sentences handed to stone throwers.

The first would be 10 years imprisonment for endangering the safety of a person inside a vehicle without any proof that there was an intent to cause harm. The second would be 20 years imprisonment for throwing stones at people without proof needed that they had intended to cause serious harm.

The decision comes after continued unrest in Jerusalem which has seen riots in the city's restive eastern districts where Palestinians have thrown objects such as rocks and fire bombs at police and civilian targets.

Violence has escalated around the al-Aqsa compound, or Temple Mount, which is viewed as Islam's third-holiest site and a sacred destination for Jews.

"Israel is taking vigorous action against terrorists and those who throw stones, fire bombs and fireworks," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the turmoil in the Israeli capital.

"We will also pass stronger legislation on the issue. All of this is in order to restore quiet and security throughout Jerusalem.

"I have ordered massive reinforcements be brought into Jerusalem and that additional means to used in order to ensure law and order in Israel's capital."

Barak Medina, professor of law at Hebrew University, said harsher sanctions on stone throwers was not going to be effective. "Many young people who throw stones are unaware of the law and are not often rational about their actions. I don't think the justice system should be giving up on the rights of the accused just because of panic and concern."

Israeli blogger Marc Goldberg wrote: "Making punishments as draconian as possible isn't going to stop anyone throwing stones, they're simply going to lead to the imprisonment of a greater percentage of the Palestinian populace."

Tensions were stoked before the Gaza conflict this year when the Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered by right-wing Israelis in retaliation for the capture and murder of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank.

Last month, a hit-and-run attack by an Arab-Israeli man killed a three-month-old baby before he was shot dead by Israeli police.

In another incident, far-right Jewish activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick was seriously wounded in an alleged attempted murder by a Palestinian man, Muataz Hijazi, before he was himself killed by Israeli police in a raid on his residence.