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Police scramble to curb violence after 4 murders in 48 hours in Arab community

‘We have lost control of the streets,’ warns police official; Segev Shalom man found shot in a torched car, in latest apparent homicide

Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai seen during a visit in the southern city of Ashkelon, May 18, 2021 (Flash90)
Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai seen during a visit in the southern city of Ashkelon, May 18, 2021 (Flash90)

Police on Sunday rushed to find a solution to the rampant violence plaguing Israel’s Arab community after four people were killed in apparent homicides over the weekend.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai summoned Central District commander Moshe Barkat and other police officials for an urgent meeting on the violence, the Ynet news site reported.

“We have lost control of the streets,” an unnamed police official told the news site.

“The workplan must be changed and we must really act with all our might in the problematic cities, and where we know there is a bloody conflict,” the senior officer said.

“So far, we are only reacting to these incidents belatedly, and the next murder is only a matter of time.”

Ibrahim Abu Amra, 26, from the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva was shot dead Friday night, in what police suspect was a murder tied to a family feud. On Saturday, 18-year-old Anas Al-Wahwah was shot dead in the city of Lod while sitting inside a car, in what police also suspected to be a family feud. Later on Saturday night, Abed Qurmata, 26, was killed in a shooting in the central town of Kafr Qasim, but there was no immediate word on a suspected motive.

Composite photo: 18-year-old Anas Al-Wahwah (L), 26-year-old Ibrahim Abu Amra (C) and 26-year-old Abed Qurmata (R), all shot dead in separate gun violence incidents August 28-29, 2021 (Courtesy)

On Sunday morning, the body of 26-year-old Nur Ajaj, from the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom, was found in a burned car near the central town of Hagor. Police suspect he was shot prior to his vehicle being torched.

Ajaj, originally from the central town of Ramle, was recently released from prison, Ynet reported. His body was transferred to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv for further examination.

26-year-old Nur Ajaj, from the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom was found shot dead in a burnt-out car near the town of Hagor, August 29, 2021. (courtesy)

The emergency meeting is set to take place at the police’s central district headquarters in Ramle. Barkat, who is currently heading the district, notified the commissioner last month he would be leaving the force once a replacement is found.

Meanwhile, Shabtai met with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Sunday at police national headquarters in Jerusalem to discuss strengthening cooperation between the Israel Police and the Justice Ministry, among other subjects, the police said.

The police said the two discussed tougher punishments for violence and weapon crimes, stronger enforcement on arms smuggling, and increasing activities against economic offenses.

Police chief Kobi Shabtai meets with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar on August 29, 2021, at the police headquarters in Jerusalem. (Israel Police)

Since the beginning of the year, 65 Arab Israelis have been murdered, as Arab cities and towns have seen a surge in violence in recent years, with organized crime seen as the main driver. Another 12 Palestinians were killed in alleged criminal homicides inside Israeli territory, including East Jerusalem residents and West Bank Palestinians.

2020 saw 96 Arab Israelis killed in violence, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.

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.

According to a 2020 Knesset report, some 400,000 illegal weapons are circulating in Israel, the vast majority in Arab communities.

Last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that violence and crime in Arab Israeli communities was a “national calamity,” as he met with senior government and police officials to formulate a national plan to tackle the issue.

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