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Israel's government temporarily suspended from parliamentary meetings three Arab lawmakers who met with families of Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks

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JERUSALEM — Israel's government on Monday temporarily suspended from parliamentary meetings three Arab lawmakers who met with families of Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks.

The Arab parliamentarians, Hanin Zoabi, Basel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalka, met the Palestinian families last week to help lobby for the release of some of their relatives' bodies. They then held a moment of silence to honor the "martyrs," according to Israeli media.

The meetings stoked outrage in Israel, which has seen five months of near-daily Palestinian stabbing, shooting and car-ramming assaults that have killed 27 Israelis. Some 155 Palestinians, 110 of whom Israel says were attackers, have been killed by Israeli forces.

Parliament spokesman Yotam Yakir released a statement saying Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas will be suspended from parliament meetings and committees for four months and Jamal Zahalka for two months. He said they will still be able to vote in those platforms. The decision came after a meeting of parliament's Ethic Committee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at them earlier in parliament, saying they had crossed every acceptable boundary in a democratic country. Netanyahu compared their actions to British parliamentarians standing at attention for the Islamic State group's Jihadi John or members of the American Congress honoring the San Bernardino attackers.

"We are not willing to accept a situation where members of parliament will support the families of those that murdered Israeli civilians and will stand to attention in memory of those that murdered our children," Netanyahu said. "We won't accept it and we will act against it," he said.

The three lawmakers could not be reached for comment.

They are part of the Joint List, an alliance of Arab-backed parties. A statement from the bloc circulated to Israeli media condemned the decision.

"The vengeful punishment will not deter us and we will continue to fight against policies of racism and fascism, and in favor of real equality and real democracy, that Netanyahu is trying with all his power to annihilate," it said. It also said it would continue to demand the return of bodies.

PHOTO: Jamal Zahalka an Israeli-Arab lawmaker from the Joint Arab List, is taken from the plenum in the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Israel’s government is promoting legislation to ban three Arab lawmakers who met with families of Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks. The Arab parliamentarians, Hanin Zoabi, Basel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalka, met the families last week to help lobby the release of some of their relatives’ bodies. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Jamal Zahalka an Israeli-Arab lawmaker from the Joint Arab List, is taken from the plenum in the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Israel’s government is promoting legislation to ban three Arab lawmakers who met with families of Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks. The Arab parliamentarians, Hanin Zoabi, Basel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalka, met the families last week to help lobby the release of some of their relatives’ bodies. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

"We know we are paying a political price for an ethical position," Jamal Zahalka told the Israeli news website Ynet. He said his party will approach international bodies about the suspension.

Among the Palestinians the lawmakers met with was the father of a Palestinian who on Oct. 13, 2015, carried out one of the deadliest attacks in recent months, Israeli media reported. Two Palestinian men boarded a bus in Jerusalem that day and began shooting and stabbing passengers, while another assailant rammed a car into a bus station before stabbing bystanders. Three Israelis were killed and several other people were wounded.

Among those killed was an American, Richard Lakin, a 76-year old elementary school principal and 1960's civil rights who worked for peace and coexistence when he moved to Israel. He was seriously wounded and later died of his injuries.

The parliamentarians have said they met with the families to help them get the bodies of their relatives released by authorities.

Israel is holding the bodies of some attackers and has handed others over to relatives, sometimes long after they were killed. Israel has defended the practice based on security concerns, as Palestinian funerals can attract thousands and lead to clashes with security forces.

Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have held frequent demonstrations calling for the bodies' release. About two dozen bodies were transferred to the Palestinians last month.

The three Arab lawmakers have angered Israelis before. Zoabi boycotted the playing of the national anthem when she was sworn into parliament and is active in pro-Palestinian causes.

Israel's Arabs make up a fifth of the country's 8.4 million people. They enjoy full citizenship but often face unfair treatment in areas such as housing and employment opportunities. They are often seen as identifying more with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza than with Israel.

Israel says the ongoing violence is fueled by a campaign of incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders that is compounded on social media sites that glorify attacks. Palestinians say it stems from frustration at nearly five decades of Israeli rule with little hope of gaining independence.

Also Monday, the government supported a bill that would allow a lawmaker to be suspended by a 90-vote majority in the 120-seat parliament. The bill, which still needs to pass a series of readings to become law, would provide for the suspension of anyone whose behavior is deemed "unbecoming" for a parliamentarian.

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