3 Killed in Attempt on Life of Underworld Kingpin

Sharon says cabinet will convene Sunday to discuss issue; mafia figure Ze'ev Rosenstein lightly injured in explosion; 30 others wounded.

Roni Singer-Heruti
Ran Reznick Haaretz Service
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Three people were killed Thursday afternoon and at least 30 were injured in an explosion on Yehuda Halevy street in Tel Aviv in an apparent attempt on the life of underworld kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein.

The explosion took place inside a foreign currency exchange booth, close to a busy intersection.

Killed in the blast were Moshe Mizrahi, 28, from Eilat, who was passing by at the time; Tel Aviv resident Rehamim Suriya, 43, and 19-year-old Naftali Meged, son of the owner of the foreign currency exchange.

Police believe that the blast was criminally motivated due to the fact that underworld figure Rosenstein was lightly hurt in the explosion, as was one of his bodyguards.

Channel One TV reported that a Tel Aviv Court placed a gag order on all details regarding the explosive device itself, but the report said that the device was a professional one.

Rosenstein is allied with the Netanya-based Abutbul family, whose patriarch Felix was murdered last summer outside one of his casinos in Prague. Opposing them are the Alperon and Abergil families. The current round of fighting goes back to an attempted murder of Nissim Alperon, who survived the attempt and came to believe Rosenstein was behind it.

Yarkon region police commander Ezra Aharon said that police forces, assisted by a helicopter, were searching for Rosenstein, who apparently left the area shortly after the blast, and later arrived at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava. After being treated at the hospital, Rosenstein was transferred to the police for questioning.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Thursday that the cabinet would convene for a special meeting Sunday to discuss organized crime.

Police commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki convened senior police officers Thursday evening for talks on the implications of the Tel Aviv explosion, as well as to discuss the fight against organized crime.

At a press conference on Thursday evening, Aharonishki said the incident in Tel Aviv would alter the police's attitude towards crime.

"I want to declare that todays attack is the Park Hotel for the police. Just as that attack was the turning point in Israels fight against terror, I see todays attack as a turning point in the polices attitude towards crime and criminals," Aharonishki said, referring to the terror attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya on March 28, 2002, in which 29 people attending a Passover seder were killed. The Israel Defense Forces responded to the attack by commencing Operation Defensive Shield, in an effort to uproot Palestinian terror.

According to the initial investigation into Thursday's incident, a powerful explosive device was placed on the change booth's awning.

A witness told Haaretz that he saw Rosenstein and his security guards running out of the store with blood on their clothes, and that they drove off in a Mercedes car. Rosenstein was apparently sitting at a restaurant adjacent to the foreign exchange booth.

Several cars on the street were damaged as a result of the explosion, and a porch on a nearby building collapsed.

There were several previous attempts to assassinate Rosenstein, a foremost police intelligence target who is believed to be the most powerful figure in the Israeli underworld.

Rosenstein, the owner of casinos here and abroad, has survived at least four attempted hits since 1996. In July 2003 Rosenstein was lightly hurt in a blast in Tel Aviv's port, along with five bystanders.

Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv opened a telephone line for receiving information on the wounded in the blast. The number is 1255133.

Eight innocent bystanders have been killed in the past year in assassination attempts of various underworld figures in Israel's city centers.

Daniel and Ella Nahshon were killed a month ago after a grenade exploded in a used-car lot in the city of Hadera. The couple were walking in the lot, looking for a car, when a grenade was hurled at them from a passing vehicle. They suffered critical injuries and later died from wounds sustained in the blast.

Police believe the incident was related to attempts by criminals to scare lot owners into paying them protection money.