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Visiting family of toddler shot dead, police and defense chiefs vow to find culprits

Benny Gantz and Kobi Shabtai also promise to crack down on gun violence while at home of Ammar Hujayrat, 4-year-old killed at playground by stray gunfire

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) pays a condolence visit to the family of Ammar Hujayrat in Bir al-Maksur, on January 8, 2022. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) pays a condolence visit to the family of Ammar Hujayrat in Bir al-Maksur, on January 8, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

Police chief Kobi Shabtai and Defense Minister Benny Gantz paid condolence visits on Saturday to the family of Ammar Hujayrat, a four-year-old boy who was shot dead on Thursday during a gun battle between criminals while he was at a playground.

Gantz visited the Hujayrat family in Bir al-Maksur along with Blue and White MK Mufid Mari, and Khaled Hujayrat, the head of the village’s local council.

“We as a society must fight against crime and illegal weapons,” said Gantz. “We are making every effort to prosecute those responsible, and to act to prevent the next killing. We have to work together — the government, leaders, families, to ensure that it can be safe to grow up anywhere in the country.”

Shabtai separately paid a visit to the family on Saturday, along with other police officials.

“We are making every effort to get our hands on those murderers,” said Shabtai. “I share in [the family’s] grief, their pain is our pain.”

Hours after Hujayrat was gunned down on Thursday by stray gunfire, police detained multiple suspects allegedly involved in the incident. On Friday, the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court extended the remand of four suspects said to be connected to the shooting; all deny involvement.

Police said they believed Hujayrat was hit by a bullet fired during a gunfight at a construction site some 300 meters (984 feet) away from the playground.

“This is a shocking incident of a toddler hit by gunfire from criminals using firearms with such ease, without any respect for human life, causing such a terrible tragedy,” police said in a statement hours after the killing. “We will do everything to reach the gunmen.”

Thousands of people turned out for the boy’s funeral on Friday.

President Isaac Herzog spoke with Muhammad Hujayrat, the father of Ammar, and expressed his “deep horror” at the child’s killing and offered the family his condolences.

Ammar Muhammad Hujayrat. (Courtesy)

Arab communities have seen a surge in violence in recent years, driven mainly, but not exclusively, by organized crime. Hujayrat’s killing marked the first fatality from Arab community violence in 2022, after a particularly bloody 2021. A second Arab man was shot dead later in the day, in the town of Lod.

The Abraham Initiatives, which monitors and campaigns against violence in the Arab community, said there were 125 Arabs killed in Israel in 2021 as a result of violence and crime, of whom 62 were below the age of 30.

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