Khaled Musrati- Moti Milrod- Oct. 20, 2010
Suspect Khaled Musrati in court Oct. 20, 2010 Photo by Moti Milrod
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Two brothers from Ramle, Ramadan and Khaled Musrati, were arrested yesterday on suspicion of involvement in four recent murders in the city of Lod.

Police suspect the two were hired hit men in a string of so-called "honor killings," offering their services to locals who wanted to attack their family members. The investigation has reportedly linked them to the killings of Jawdat Jasus, Amal Halili, Sami Hijazi and Abir Abu Ktifan.

Police now believe that the four victims were actually two couples, with Jawdat Jasus linked to Amal Khalili, and Sami Hijazi, married with two children, linked to divorced Abir Abu Ktifan.

The two brothers are suspected of various offenses, including conspiring to kill Jawdat Jasus, illegal possession of firearms and possession of drugs not for personal consumption. A police source told Haaretz the connection to the three other killings is still being investigated.

At yesterday's remand hearing, the Ramle Magistrate's Court remanded Khaled until Sunday but released Ramadan to house arrest. The judge noted that the evidence against Khaled provided reasonable grounds for suspicion, but the evidence against Ramadan was weaker.

But police asked the court to delay Ramadan's release while they appealed, and tomorrow, the matter will be heard by the Petah Tikva District Court.

Three of Abu Ktifan's relatives - her husband Ghazi, his brother Abdelmati and his nephew Hassan - were also arrested. They are suspected of involvement in the murder of both alleged lovers.

All three of them were remanded until Sunday yesterday. A police officer told the court the three deny any involvement in the murders, but "confirm certain things that are at the heart of the matter, and which have been detailed for the court."

When one of the defense attorneys, Zvi Avnon, asked the officer whether the suspects had confirmed that two or more of the deceased were connected in any way, the officer declined to comment, merely reiterating that the relevant matters had been detailed to the court. Avnon persisted, asking the officer if police believe two of the deceased had a romantic relationship, but the officer again declined to comment, saying a reply might damage the ongoing investigation.

"Police are trying to imply an intimate relationship between the two murder victims, but the entire family completely denies that there was any kind of relationship" Avnon later told Haaretz.

Another attorney for the suspects, Ari Cadri, said his clients "know nothing about the murder. They're shocked and surprised. The brother-in-law was in Eilat, nowhere near the area ... The couple's relationship was very good. They were all very shocked by the murder, which left a widower and four orphans."

Cadri also accused the police of favoring the "honor killing" explanation without good cause. "With all due respect to the police, which bases its account of the murder on family honor, maybe there's a psychopath roaming around here and killing only Arabs? Get away from that assumption and check other possibilities."

Relatives of Abu Ktifan, who was buried yesterday, declined to comment.

Cadri, who also represents the Musrati brothers, said the defense was "considering whether to sue all the media that published claims the two were hit men or operating a business for honor killings. They were brought to court today on suspicions of conspiracy ... This is the only thing they were accused of, and the judge clearly said there was no reasonable suspicion of that offense. So this most certainly applies to the accusation of being hired hit men. This is a very grave allegation that's damaging the family."

A spokesman for Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch released a statement yesterday saying the minister has instructed police to increase their presence in Lod, move reinforcements from the Border Police into the city and announce an operation to collect illegal weaponry. "The minister's instructions continue to be carried out," the statement said.

It also noted that Aharonovitch has visited the city six times since taking office, and will continue to visit it regularly. "It's important to stress that the police's job is to arrest criminals and increase the feeling of security. Preventing murder, especially 'honor killings,' is not done by increasing law enforcement but by changing the culture, education, deterrent sentences, engaging with the welfare authorities and improving local infrastructure. We can't reach a situation in which a policeman sleeps in every house in Israel.

"We call on all ministries to prepare similar plans and begin them in Lod immediately. When crimes come to the attention of the police, it means all other agencies have failed. Policing is no substitute for health care, social workers, infrastructure, teachers and parents," the statement said.