JERUSALEM (AP): Five people were killed in a shooting Thursday in an Arab town in northern Israel, police said, the latest in a wave of criminal violence tearing through the country’s Palestinian communities.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said a gunman arrived at a car wash in the town of Yafa an-Naseriyye, near the city of Nazareth, and opened fire. Police said they believed the shooting was connected to a dispute between organized crime families.
Shortly afterward, a shooting in a nearby Arab town left a 30-year-old man and 3-year-old girl seriously wounded, police said. The circumstances of that shooting and the identities of the two wounded were not immediately known.
Israel’s Palestinian sector has long suffered from poverty, discrimination, crime and neglect by the national government.
Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, promised to crack down on crime in Israel’s Palestinian sector when he took office late last year. But the violence has only worsened, with nearly 100 people killed this year.
In a statement at the crime scene, Ben-Gvir said years of neglect had turned Israel’s Arab sector into the “wild west.” He also blamed a manpower shortage in the national police force and vowing to halt the crime wave, called for the establishment of a controversial “national guard” that he has proposed.
Ben-Gvir says the force is meant to fill in gaps in areas where police are spread thin, including in crime-ridden Arab communities. Critics say that Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist with a history of violent rhetoric against Palestinians, will use the force as a personal militia.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “shocked” by Thursday’s killings. “We are determined to stop this chain of murders,” he said.
He vowed to enlist Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency — whose main task is to monitor the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip — in the effort.
Mansour Abbas, leader of the Arab party Raam, accused the government, and especially Ben-Gvir, of failing the country’s Palestinians.
“To bring into the ministry of national security (of) Itamar Ben-Gvir, who doesn’t know what his powers are, in no normal country would they allow such a minister to continue,” he told Israel’s Army Radio station.
Merav Michaeli, leader of the opposition Labor Party, also blamed Ben-Gvir for the growing violence.
“This is exactly the opposite of what the boss promised,” she said. “The worst police minister in history. A disgraceful government. Go home.”
Thursday’s shooting is separate from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has seen more than yearlong surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. That fighting has picked up since Israel’s new far-right government took office in late December.
Nearly 120 Palestinians have been killed in the two areas this year, with nearly half of them members of armed militant groups, according to an AP tally. The military says the number of militants is much higher. Meanwhile, Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis have killed at least 21 people.