14-year-old Hit as Gun Battle Leaves Thousands in Bedouin City Without Power

Rahat residents say shooting carried on through the night, even after Rimas Abu Ali was wounded by a stray bullet. 'Arabs in this country have no security at all,' her mother says

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Rahat, last month.
Rahat, last month.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A 14-year-old girl was hit overnight into Sunday by a stray bullet fired into her home in the Bedouin city of Rahat, in Israel's south. Local residents reported hearing gunshots through the night, and police suspect two rival families are responsible for it.

Rimas Abu Ali, who is in moderate condition, was taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where she underwent surgery.

Eleven suspects were detained over the shooting, including Rushdi al-Bahiri, the leader of one of the rival clans, and two other men in their 20s, all from the same family. The two latter suspects' detention was extended on Sunday by a single day, with the court saying that police presented little evidence linking them to the crime.

Police also seized an M16 weapon and a handgun. 

Witnesses said a gun battle began a few minutes before the iftar meal, which marks the end of the Ramadan fast for the day. Five uninvolved families said bullets hit their homes, and residents said the shots caused a power outage in that part of the city.

Mayor Fayez Abu Sahiban reported that some 3,000 families were left without power, which was also out in the municipality building and other local institutions. As of midday on Sunday, the power supply has not been restored.

"There were shots all night long," Abu Ali's mother, Nahamidu, said, adding that she saw no police forces in the area, despite having reported the gun battle. "Since the shooting started and until I got here [to the hospital] I saw no police cars in Rahat. They only got there after we told them at the hospital that she was wounded."

"Arabs in this country have no security at all," she said. "My girl was wounded at home. Until now, I have no idea how it got in or where from." She said the shooting continued even after her daughter was hit.

Israel's police chief Kobi Shabtai said that "Israel Police considers shooting at cafés and cultural institutions to be terrorism, no matter the motive." He added that police have been on high alert during the holidays and have been deployed throughout the country, "with an emphasis on Jerusalem."

"We will invest large forces in Rahat," Shabtai said. He ordered over 100 border police officers to be stationed in the city, as well as the establishment of large headquarters to be headed by the commander of the southern border.

"We will not accept a reality where residents who want to live in peace and security are afraid to leave their homes," Shabtai said, adding "Anyone who carries illegal weapons and endangers innocent civilians knows he has blood on his head."

In an interview with Kan Bet public radio, Mayor Abu Sahiban described the situation in his city as "a true Wild West," calling on police and the government to do more to quell the violence. "When there's no police, everyone wants to carry guns and fire at each other. If this goes on, Rahat will become a training ground for terrorists."

Mediation effort fails

Last night, a meeting between members of the rival families and representatives of the Bedouin community failed after the groups were unable to come to an understanding.

Police sources say the police hope to achieve calm between the parties, and are working to arrest those involved in the recent shootings who recorded and uploaded the events to social networks.

Police said two local businesses were also shot at on Sunday morning, and no casualties were reported. It wasn't immediately clear whether these incidents are related to the late-night shootout, and police have launched an investigation into the new cases.

Police said Sunday evening that they had received a report of another shooting in a home in Rahat, potentially related to a family rivalry in the city, and have opened an investigation.

The overnight shooting is a sign that an agreement between the al-Bahiri family and rival al-Ubra family, reached following a shooting at a local coffee shop that left five people wounded, wasn't holding up. Two members of the al-Ubra family own the café that was targeted.

One source said talks between the two families failed after the al-Bahiris refused to accept the proposed mediator.

Four suspects were arrested a day after the shooting two weeks ago, but local officials said they have all been released since.

A senior official at the municipality said that local and regional police officials "all know who the lawbreakers are. These criminal terrorists, their names are known to anyone who needs to know, and still they walk around freely and even dare shoot, documenting what they do and sharing it on social media with no shame or fear."

"The worst thing that ever happens to them is that they're arrested for a day or two and then released," the official added. "We're beginning to wonder whether there's someone high up protecting them and covering for them."

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