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Eliezer Shmailov, 38, of Or Akiva, has been arrested on suspicion of indecent acts against children between the ages of 7 and 10 who came to learn Torah in one of the city's synagogues. Shmailov, who has 18 sex offense charges and three prison terms in his past, read Psalms with the children and volunteered to watch over them on Shabbat afternoons, which is when he allegedly perpetrated the recent offenses.

The police are checking how a sex offender was given the opportunity to spend time alone with minors. The synagogue, for its part, is outraged that the police did not notify the congregants of Shmailov's criminal past. Tuesday his remand was extended by four days.

The investigation into Shmailov's activities began four months ago, after the mother of one of the youngsters complained that Shmailov committed indecent acts against her 10-year-old son. A Hadera police investigation revealed that the suspect was a well-known sex offender who had only been released from prison in October 2007. Immediately after his release, he began visiting the synagogue used by the Caucasian community in Or Akiva.

For about a year the synagogue has been running a program for boys aged 7-12 from single-parent families. "Instead of the children wandering the streets, they come to the synagogue to do their homework, and learn Torah and good manners," explained Rabbi Shalom Suissa, the program's director.

Suissa said he first invited Shmailov to join the Psalms lessons eight months ago. "On Shabbat afternoons he would open the synagogue for the children, supervise them and give them candies," continued Suissa, "but he was not a youth counselor and did not teach Torah."

Then about four months ago one of the mothers complained. "I asked Eliezer not to be in the synagogue at the same time as the children. He could only come there for prayer services," continued Suissa.

The deputy commander of the Hadera police, Superintendent Ran Ophir, said that so far testimony has been collected from five children, and an indictment will soon be filed against Shmailov.

While Hadera police were astonished that Shmailov had been given responsibility over children, the synagogue's congregants countered with their own complaints. "I cooperated with the investigator," said Suissa. "Whatever she wanted, I gave her - names, telephone numbers. Still, the police did not bother to inform us that he was a dangerous sex offender with a past. No one bothered to warn us, to protect the children from him and keep him away from the synagogue. People who come to the synagogue to pray are not screened by an acceptance committee, and the police should have told us."

No response was available from the Hadera police before press time.