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The Knesset yesterday approved an amendment in final reading that mandates jail time for anyone convicted of assaulting an elderly person, unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances.

If a judge wishes to refrain from handing down a prison sentence, his verdict must explain the exceptional circumstances that make such a sentence inappropriate.

The new law is based on several bills aimed at tightening sentences for those who assault the elderly - according to the bill, anyone 65 and over - all submitted in response to a recent upsurge in such assaults. Some of these bills sparked harsh criticism, such as one by MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) that would have mandated 10 years in prison for assaulting a senior citizen in general and 20 years if the assault caused serious injury. That would have made the penalty for an assault on an elderly person that ended in serious injury stiffer than the penalty for an assault on anyone else that ended in the victim's death.

Another proposal, by MK Moshe Sharoni (Pensioners), would have raised the maximum sentence for causing serious injury to a senior citizen from seven to 14 years.

The final version, however, is considerably more moderate than most of the original proposals: It mandates jail time, but does not specify the length of the sentence.

The bill increases the maximum sentence for causing nonserious injury to an elderly person from three years to five, but this maximum is not obligatory. The maximum penalty for causing serious injury will remain unchanged at seven years.

"Violence against the elderly is a social ill, and we are sending a message that this phenomenon cannot be ignored," declared Knesset Constitution Committee Chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson, whose panel prepared the final version.