Suspect Shot Dead by Undercover Police After Opening Fire in Southern Israel

According to police, the incident occurred during a Shin Bet arrest of two suspects. There were no police casualties reported

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Rahat, in southern Israel, in 2020.
Rahat, in southern Israel, in 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israeli undercover officers shot dead on Tuesday a suspect who opened fire on them in the southern Israeli city of Rahat, police said.

He was identified as 27-year-old Salem al-Harbad.

The incident occurred during a Shin Bet arrest of two suspects. According to the security service, one of them was wanted for staying in Israel without permits and the other for security-related offenses. There were no police or Shin Ben casualties reported.

Salem al-Harbad.

The Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers has launched a probe into the incident, which found that the police officer initially shot al-Harbad in the leg after he approached him with a gun, and only shot him in the upper body after he aimed his gun at him again.

The police issued a statement after the incident, saying the suspect "put the forces' lives at risk," and therefore they had to "neutralize" him.

Even though the officers were undercover, they identified themselves as police. It wasn't immediately clear, however, at what point they did so.

Officers found the suspect's gun at the scene, police said, along with a magazine and ammunition. A police source said that a round was chambered in the pistol, which was used to shoot at the officers.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai addressed the shooting, as well as that of two Palestinians in separate incidents, in a statement backing the forces: "Undercover Border Police forces work each night, under a veil of secrecy, and this morning Israeli citizens received a rare glimpse of their activities around the country and deep inside hostile and dangerous territory," it said.

"The troops were forced to return fire towards threats, and as a result three suspects were killed. One of them, it appears, was pointing a firearm at them, a second fired at them and a third hurled explosives during a very violent riot, and the details are still being clarified."  

The attorney representing the remaining suspect, Rinat Yahav of the Public Defender's Office, said, "This is a father of five with no criminal record, who worked as an electrician. He vehemently denied the charges, and claims the ammunition seized did not belong to him – and that other people had access to the area in which the ammunition was found."

Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh also related to the three shootings: "We warn of an escalation and explosion in the situation due to crimes of the occupation and the events this morning in Nablus, Qalandiyah and Rahat," he said, adding that the PA holds Israel responsible for the escalation, which has taken the lives of 20 Palestinians in the West Bank since the beginning of the year.

"The Israeli government is a refuser of peace and is playing with fire. The government must act to end unilateral steps on the ground against Palestinians and to respect extant agreements with the Palestinian Authority," he said.

Israel's Public Security Ministry, Omer Bar-Lev, responded to the incident: "During police activity this morning against crime in Rahat, a lone policeman came across a local man holding a gun aimed at him. The policeman shot the resident in self-defense. After the shooting, it also turned out that the gun was unlicensed. The policeman acted as expected. I call on the mayor of Rahat to join me in the continued fight against crime in the city."

In a press release on Tuesday, the Rahat Municipality spokeswomen said that following the killing of Rahat resident Salem al-Harbad by police, the city had decided to hold a general strike on Wednesday, March 16. All city institutions and municipal activities will shut down, as well as the entire education system apart from special education.

Faiz Abu Sahiban, the city's mayor, called on all members of the city council and senior officials to stand up for the city and demonstrate their unity at this difficult time. 

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