JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he hopes to curb a wave of Palestinian assaults by expelling to Gaza families of assailants found to have encouraged them to attack Israelis.
Netanyahu, in a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit released to the media, asked for a legal opinion on such a move, which he said would "lead to significant reduction in terrorist activities against the state and its citizens".
Mandelblit, who assumed his post last month, and his predecessor have rejected similar expulsion proposals floated by right-wing cabinet ministers, political sources said.
But with pressure growing on Netanyahu to take tougher action against violence now in its sixth month, he appeared to have little to lose politically by formally asking for Mandelblit's approval, even if it was unlikely to be granted.
Since October, Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car rammings have killed 28 Israelis and a U.S. citizen. Israeli security forces have killed at least 172 Palestinians, 114 of whom Israel says were assailants, while most others were shot dead during violent protests.
In the occupied West Bank, the Palestine Liberation Organisation condemned the expulsion proposal as "ethnic cleansing and collective punishment". Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, said expulsions would "escalate the current Palestinian uprising".
Israel Radio's legal analyst, Moshe Negbi, said expulsions from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas where most the violence has taken place, would be "ultra-illegal" and contravene international and Israeli law.
Palestinian leaders say many Palestinian attackers have acted out of desperation in the absence of movement towards creation of an independent state.
Israeli officials have said assailants are being incited to violence by their leaders and on social media. In his letter to Mandelblit, Netanyahu said some of their families had also been complicit.
"Many of the terrorist activities in recent months have been carried out by terrorists profiled as 'lone wolves', Netanyahu wrote. "These assailants sometimes come from families that encourage and abet their actions."
With the declared aim of deterring Palestinian attacks, Israel has destroyed the family homes of several alleged assailants in the West Bank in recent months.
Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a 1967 war. It removed its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and the Palestinian enclave has been run by the Islamist Hamas movement since 2007.
Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in both areas.
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Alison Williams