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66 killings so far this year

New undercover police unit formed to clamp down on crime in Arab communities

Sinai Unit will include 45 officers, who will target hotspots and organized crime in violence-plagued Arab communities throughout country

Police at the scene of the murder of Sahar Ismail, the education minister's aide for Arab society, in the northern Israeli town of Rameh, August 15, 2021. (FLASH90)
Illustrative: Police at the scene of the murder of Sahar Ismail, the education minister's aide for Arab society, in the northern Israeli town of Rameh, August 15, 2021. (FLASH90)

The Israel Police on Tuesday unveiled a new undercover unit tasked with tackling rampant crime and violence in Arab Israeli communities.

The Sinai Unit was introduced in a ceremony attended by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. It will include 45 undercover officers, who will target hotspots and organized crime in Arab communities throughout the country.

It will be the first undercover unit tasked with combating crime, rather than terrorism, and will be tasked primarily with enforcement among Israeli citizens.

Shabtai had pushed to enlist the Shin Bet security agency in the effort to combat crime in Arab Israeli communities, but received pushback from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit as well as the Shin Bet itself, which argued that such a task is not within its mandate.

Just hours before the unveiling of the Sinai Unit, a 57-year-old man shot dead by unknown gunmen in his home in the northern city of Haifa.

Eyewitnesses said the assailants knocked on the door of Muhammed Faiz Dhiab’s home, and after he did not open, they opened fire into the house, the Ynet news site reported. Other reports said he had opened the door to head to work and was then shot.

Dhiab, a father of three, worked as a truck driver.

Protesters light up flares while others wave Palestinian flags during a demonstration by Arab Israelis in the mostly Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel on March 5, 2021, as they march against organized crime and calling upon the Israeli police to stop a wave of intra-communal violence. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Dhiab’s death marked the 66th killing of an Arab Israeli this year, according to the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, as Arab cities and towns have seen a surge in violence in recent years, driven mainly by organized crime. Another 12 Palestinians were killed in alleged criminal homicides inside Israeli territory.

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

Arab Israelis blame police, whom 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.

Shabtai on Sunday called an emergency meeting on the violence after four Arab Israelis were killed in apparent homicides over the weekend.

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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