Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir/TPS

Police Internal Affairs investigators have launched an investigation into a heavy exchange of fire between policemen and shooters in the Arab city of Tamra on Monday night which ended with the injuring of two civilians, one of whom died of his wounds.

The incident began when police officers who were on operational activity in Tamra in northern Israel noticed three suspects shooting at a house. The police officers tried to arrest the suspects who fired at them with automatic weapons.

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The police returned fire and hit two suspects. One was killed and the other was injured, and at least one suspect fled the scene.

Two civilians, a nursing student and a doctor who were passing by, were also shot. The student, Ahmad Hijazi, in his 20s, was killed and the doctor was lightly injured.

The police seized two M16 assault rifles with which the suspects carried out the shooting.

A manhunt is underway for the additional suspects in the shooting.

The Department of Police Investigations at the State Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into the incident. As soon as the incident occurred, IA investigators arrived at the scene, and the police officers involved were questioned.

The commander of the Northern District Police, Superintendent Shimon Lavi said in an interview with Israel Radio on Tuesday morning that it is not clear whether the civilians were hit by the police or the suspects.

He said the policemen acted as expected of them.

“I commend them. The policemen were there in an ambush in an attempt to thwart an incident of this kind. Anyone who shoots at policemen is liable to die,” he said.

Local residents responded to the incident with anger and blocked a highway while burning tires.

An hour before the shooting in Tamra, Adham Bazig, a 30-year-old resident of Nazareth, was murdered in a stabbing incident.

Police have opened an investigation on suspicion of murder and have begun operations to locate suspects.

Since the beginning of the year, 16 Arab Israeli citizens have been murdered in criminal incidents.

Over 100 Arabs were murdered in Israel throughout 2020.

The Arab sector in Israel has been suffering from a violent wave of crime in recent years, and the police have boosted its activities to counter the crime wave.

The Knesset’s Research and Information Center presented a study in June 2020 showing that police carried out 51,128 criminal arrests in 2019, of which about 39% of those arrested were Jews and 61% were non-Jews. Israeli Arabs represent about 20% of the general population.

Between 2015 and 2019, 80% of those suspected of committing firearm-related crimes in Israel were non-Jews.

The homicide rate in the Arab community in Israel increased by 60% from 2016 to 2019, and in 2018, the murder rate among Arabs in Israel was more than eight times the rate among Jewish Israelis, a new study published by the Baladna Association for Arab Youth shows.

In total, 575 homicides were reported over the course of the past nine years.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.