Police Suspect Tel Aviv Youths Torched Arab Homes to Avenge Acre Disturbances

Seven young men from Tel Aviv's Hatikvah neighborhood were arrested on Monday on suspicion of involvement in the fire bombing of a number of Arab houses in the neighborhood last week.

The Tel Aviv district police believe the suspects, including two minors, were part of local group of some 10 youths, who sought to avenge the events in Acre on Yom Kippur.

Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said six suspects had been arrested on Monday on suspicion of fire bombing the Arab homes. The attacks took place late last Wednesday night. In two separate incidents, only a short time apart, two houses were set on fire. Both houses were occupied by Israeli Arabs who work in the Tel Aviv area, but no one was home at the time of the fires. The fires caused property damage but no injuries. The police and fire department determined arson was behind both fires and even found bottles of flammable liquids at the sites; they subsequently opened an undercover criminal investigation into the case.

At first, the police thought the motives were criminal, possibly due to a dispute between the residents and the underworld or loan sharks. But they quickly shifted gears, believing nationalist motives to be behind the crime.

The remands of two of the suspects, both minors, were extended by four days by a juvenile court in Tel Aviv. The remands of three other suspects were extended by three days. Yesterday another suspect turned himself in to the police after he learned the police were looking for him. All the suspects denied in court that they were in any way involved in the acts. The police say they expect more arrests in the coming days.

One of the minors had been briefly detained a month ago on suspicion of attempting to carry out a similar offense; he was quickly released. The police expressed fears that such incidents were on the rise in Tel Aviv.

The police think one apartment was attacked by mistake. However, the police also say the arrests prevented further attacks. "The group is dangerous; [the fact it is] organizing an attempt to harm Arabs on nationalistic grounds undoubtedly needs to worry all of us," said a Tel Aviv police official. He called the group a new form of Jewish underground, but added it had no extreme right-wing connection.

The police said yesterday one of the suspects had started cooperating, and admitted to taking part in some of the events.

Two Israeli Arabs who work in a nearby restaurant lived in one of the attacked apartments. The ground-floor apartment was destroyed completely, but the pair were not at home at the time. Neighbors said dozens of Israeli Arabs lived in the neighborhood; they are mostly young people, who work in the Tel Aviv area. "Actually, there are good relations between the Arabs and the older residents of the neighborhood. There is no tension at all. The Arabs have integrated into the neighborhood, and no one thought such a thing would happen," said a neighbor.

Arrests in Jerusalem

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, police arrested three young Israeli Jews on Sunday after scuffles broke out with Arabs when a garbage truck driven by an Arab was stoned on Bar-Ilan Street. The driver was treated for minor injuries.

A total of seven Arabs were injured in clashes with Jews in Jerusalem on Sunday. In one pre-dawn incident, six Arabs were injured in a brawl with a group of Jewish youths.

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski criticized the stone throwing. "This is the behavior of hooligans, and these loose canons must be judged severely," he said. He added that the incident would not damage city life.