Ashkelon car bombing kills local crime family’s top moneyman

Victim identified as Avi Bitton, who narrowly survived a previous hit amid feud between two southern gangs; man shot dead in Ramle hours later

Police at the scene of a car bombing that killed a senior member of a crime family, in the southern city of Ashkelon, on February 14, 2022. (Flash90)
Police at the scene of a car bombing that killed a senior member of a crime family, in the southern city of Ashkelon, on February 14, 2022. (Flash90)

The victim of a deadly car bombing in the southern city of Ashkelon on Sunday night was identified the following morning as Avi Bitton, a senior figure in a local crime family.

Bitton 42, was a senior member of the Shalom Domrani crime family. A resident of Ashkelon, Bitton was known to police as a “moneyman” for the gang, according to reports. One of the two other occupants of the car suffered serious injuries and the other was left in moderate condition.

There were no injuries to passersby, though other vehicles were damaged.

Bitton had barely survived another deadly car bombing in 2013, also in Ashkelon. The explosion tore through a vehicle he was driving, killing passenger Jackie Benita, another underworld figure. Though critically injured and losing his legs, Bitton survived and recovered from the attack.

Domrani was released from prison last October after serving six years for two attempted murder convictions, and has since then allegedly been working to strengthen and financially rehabilitate his organization, whose bitter rival is the Benny Shlomo crime family.

His exit from prison came after Shlomo was also released in August, having served time for assault.

Local police had expected the tensions between the two to eventually erupt into attempted hits and have recently uncovered and seized bombs that were ready for use, the Ynet news site reported.

A police source told the outlet that Bitton was aware that he was a target and that it was unclear why he got into a booby-trapped car.

“A figure of his standing doesn’t get into a vehicle without thoroughly checking it,” the source said and speculated that the assassins had outwitted him.

The source said that Bitton’s death was a “serious blow” to Dimrani’s organization and would lead to revenge attempts, a great concern for police. He called it “a miracle” that no bystanders were injured in the blast.

Benny Shlomo (Screen grab from archive footage broadcast by Channel 13)

Bitton was killed when a powerful blast went off as his vehicle was traveling on Yitzhak Rabin Street in Ashkelon. The other two occupants were taken to the Barzilai Hospital for treatment. They weren’t named.

Police said sappers and investigators examined the scene of the attack and southern region commander Superintendent Peretz Amar was conducting an assessment of the situation with local police commanders.

It was the second suspected car-bombing linked to organized crime in recent days, after two people were killed and a third man was injured when an explosion ripped through their vehicle early Saturday near the central city of Ramle.

Ramle man shot dead

On Monday morning, hours after the Ashkelon bombing, a man was shot dead in Ramle, in another suspected act of gang violence. It was not clear if the incidents were linked.

The Ramle resident, an Arab Israeli man in his 30s, was declared dead at the scene by medics. He was not immediately identified.

Police opened an investigation, collected evidence, and began looking for the perpetrators, officers said in a statement. A photo released by police showed a silver sedan with the driver’s door open.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been three homicides in Ramle that were tied to the criminal underworld.

According to the Abraham Initiatives, a non-government group lobbying against violence in the Arab community, since the beginning of the year, 11 Arabs have been killed in Israel in incidents of violent crime.

Arab communities have seen a surge in violence in recent years, driven mainly by organized crime.

Arab Israelis blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women. The community has also suffered from decades of neglect.

Budget plans passed late last year call for billions of shekels over the next five years to be funneled toward addressing violence in Arab society and developing the community’s economy.

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