Two people were killed, including a nursing student, and two were wounded overnight Monday in an exchange of fire between police and criminal suspects in the Israeli Arab city of Tamra.
Twenty-year-old nursing student Ahmad Hijazi, a Tamra resident, was killed by stray fire and a doctor who accompanied him was moderately injured. The Justice Ministry unit is investigating whether they were shot by the police or the suspects.
The Justice Ministry unit that probes police misconduct has opened an investigation into the incident and interrogated the two police officers involved. They were released unconditionally on Tuesday afternoon.
The police officers were waiting in ambush outside a home that had been shot at on Friday. After midnight on Tuesday, three men armed with automatic weapons arrived at the house and opened fire. At this point, the police called on the armed men to stop, but they shot at the officers instead. The officers returned fire.
A preliminary investigation shows that one of the suspects was killed and another seriously injured by the police fire, and that they are both known to the police. The third armed suspect in the gunfire fled. Police said they uncovered two M-16 rifles at the scene.
Before the shooting, Hijazi was with the doctor, Muhammad Armoush, and his brother, who studied with him. Armoush said that Hijazi and his brother were in his family home in Tamra when they heard the gunfire. "Sadly, they thought it was just another shooting," Armoush told Radio Al-Shams from Rambam Medical Center. "Ahmad went outside and I went out after him, and after a minute or two I suddenly saw that Ahmad had been hit by a bullet to the chest," he said.
"I just started screaming and telling them 'I'm a doctor, I'm a doctor,' and I was hit in the leg by what turned out to be gunfire," he added. "I'm in shock and it's hard for me to process what happened. I don't understand how Ahmad, who a moment ago was sitting and studying with my brother, is suddenly not with us after a few minutes. If anyone wants proof of where we are now, then here, more evidence that this is a war."
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In the wake of the shooting, the Tamra Municipality declared a three-day general strike. Dozens of residents of the lower Galilee city gathered on the main road to protest what they called the police's excessive weapons use in the incident. Mayor Suhail Diab met Monday night with police commanders and criticized the forces' conduct.
The Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Palestinian Citizens of Israel also fiercely criticized the police. "The police's heavy-handed use of live fire towards Arabs has once again claimed innocent victims. A professional police force does not fire at every passerby in a residential neighborhood," a statement from the organization said. It added that they expect an investigation by the Justice Ministry unit to begin immediately: "The incident could have ended with injuries, and there was no need for it to end with harming innocents."
The Israel Police Northern District Commander, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Lavi, told Kan Bet public radio Tuesday morning that "We send our condolences to the family, but the bottom line is that we must understand that our active operations are intended to improve the personal safety of Tamra residents, who are suffering because of the same few criminals who are effecting the sense of security."
He added, "There is no doubt that the officers there engaged with determination out of a risk to their lives, as is expected of them, and we will of course come for the third suspect. There is, at the edge of the incident, an undoubted sorrow, but in the long term, we must understand that we are trying to send a message to all of these armed gangs. This isn't a PlayStation game, this is a very dirty and very tough business."
Overnight Sunday, police arrested 19 people in Tamra suspected of violence, arson, drug trafficking and gunfire. Eight others were arrested in the city in the past week on suspicion of drug trafficking, armed robbery and arson. Officers raided a number of places in the city Sunday night following acts of violence and arson that took place recently between criminals, during which they uncovered ammunition, pistols and over one million shekels in cash, among other finds.