A police volunteer was killed and an officer seriously wounded Tuesday morning when a vehicle drove into them in the northern city of Nahariya. The two were seeking construction permits from workers at a construction site in the city when they were hit by the vehicle inside the site.
The vehicle then fled the scene. Two suspects were later arrested. Hebrew media reported that one of the arrested suspects is a building contractor and also a well-known figure in the world of Arab soccer.
Police said the two-man team had arrived at the site after residents complained of noise and work being done during the Sukkot holiday. The work was part of a project to improve flood defenses in the city.
The officer and the volunteer began questioning people at the site, demanding their building permits as well as checking whether the workers, some of which were apparently Palestinians, had valid work permits.
According to officials, a vehicle then arrived at the scene and its occupants conversed with the police officials. The driver then suddenly moved to flee, hitting the officer and the volunteer as he left.
According to Channel 12, by Tuesday evening the suspect had admitted to the incident. However, according to Kan he claimed he never noticed hitting anyone, and would have stopped to help if he had.
Some eyewitness reports, meanwhile, claimed the suspect hit the two, then ran over them again and only then drove away.
It was estimated that the deadly ramming had a criminal, rather than nationalist, motive.
The fatality was named as 32-year-old Hossam Zaghir, a Druze father of two from the town of Yarka in the north of Israel. Police said he had been volunteering since 2016.
The Magen David Adom emergency service initially said he was in critical condition while the officer was seriously wounded. The two were taken to the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, where the death of Zaghir was later confirmed.
According to Channel 12, the vehicle used in the ramming had Israeli license plates and was suspected to have been used to transport Palestinians from the West Bank who were illegally in Israel.
Hours later, police arrested a number of illegal workers they said were suspected of involvement in the deadly car incident, though they did not say how they were allegedly tied to it.
Police said they opened an investigation into the potential motive behind the car-ramming and that a search was underway to locate any further suspects. At first a nationalistic motive was suspected, but this was later largely ruled out.
Police chief Kobi Shabtai visited the injured officer in the hospital and said that an in-depth investigation was underway.
“We are taking the incident very seriously and are still collecting all the information, along with the Shin Bet, to get the full picture,” Shabtai said. “Right now what is important is the medical condition of the policeman, and getting him back on his feet and back to service.”
The incident came as security forces were on high alert during the Sukkot holiday and days after the last of six fugitive Palestinian security prisoners were captured after a two-week manhunt.