Talking to A. of Lod about crime in his city is like mentioning the noose waiting for a convicted man. A. is a victim of the city's rising crime, which includes clan feuds, cat and mouse games between top criminals, and exhausted police.

Thirteen years ago, A. was driving through Ramle junction when men fleeing the police smashed into him, leaving him unable to walk without a cane. He was 54.

"I am a victim of this stupid mistake they call Lod," he said yesterday at a simple coffee shop on King David Street downtown. He refused to give his name for fear of revenge.

There really is nothing new in Lod. The latest spasm of violence Saturday left one man dead and three seriously injured. The face-off was a fight by rival clans over the right to pray in one of the city's mosques, police said. This is the fourth case of violence between the Azbarja and the Abu-Saluq clans this year.

Police say the Abu-Saluqs claim to own the mosque, and they control who enters.

In the latest mosque brawl, the Abu-Saluqs beat the Azbarjas within an inch of their lives, with metal rods, knives and stones. There were reports of live fire, and police found spent rounds at the scene.

Salman Azbarja, 47, was killed in the altercation. Azbarja had worked for years at a nearby taxi station. He heard the shouting and came to see what was happening, friends say, and was trying to separate the sides when he was stabbed in the back.

He had a wife and two children.

Thousands of people attended his funeral. A childhood friend, Anwar Hasuna, said the victim was a man of peace. "I can't imagine him in the midst of all that trouble," he added.

Four people were arrested, but three already have been released - police determined they played only a negligible role in the brawl.

Concerned over possible revenge attacks, police have beefed up their presence in the city.

Lod's acting mayor, Ilan Harari, said yesterday that a "frightening reality" has taken over his city. In a letter to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, he wrote: "The unbearable ease with which a firearm can be drawn at any given moment requires the police to act in a focused and determined way against weapons and shootings in the city."

A resident told Haaretz that anyone who can leave Lod does so. "The people who are left are the ones who have no choice. There is no personal safety, and the Arabs are to blame for it all. You can't have an argument with them without clan warfare breaking out," he said.

Five years ago the police conducted a major operation against Lod's thriving drug trade.

"Don't believe what the police tell you," another long-time resident said. "They're concerned with their image. You can get drugs on every corner."

"What's really bad is that you don't see any women with baby carriages. How many have you seen in the last hour?" the man said.