Suspected Burglary Ring Caught by Kibbutz Children

Children on an overnight trip yesterday helped end a string of safe robberies that has been plaguing kibbutzim in the country's north.

For a group of children from a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, a nighttime field trip turned into a police chase. In the end, four suspects police called "dangerous and violent" were taken into custody, thanks to the children's vigilance, police said.

Nine kibbutzim in the Jordan and Jezreel valleys have had their communal safes broken into in recent weeks. Last week, three kibbutzim - Mizra, Ginegar and Degania Bet - were hit. The total amount stolen from the safes is estimated at hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Police described the burglars as daring and sophisticated, who didn't hesitate to crack the same safes several times. The Kibbutz Kinneret safe was broken into three times, despite additional reinforcements being added after each incident. On one occasion, police said, the criminal gang stole a car from one of the kibbutz residents to drive the safe away. Both the car and the safe were later found nearby.

The kibbutz members are to blame for some of the criminals' success, police sources said. "In some cases the alarm would sound and no one would do anything," one officer told Haaretz.

On Monday night the burglars attempted to enter the offices of Kibbutz Poria-Kfar Avoda, but a passerby surprised them and they escaped. The attempt was reported to the Tiberias police station, and large forces were sent out to the area.

"Previous experience has shown that when they didn't manage to crack one safe, they would immediately move on to the next," said Chief Superintendent Efi Partuk, commander of the Tiberias police. Security officers on other kibbutzim were also alerted.

At the same time, a group of children were on an overnight field trip. "At around 2 or 3 in the morning we went to check on the poyke, and we suddenly saw two guys in black shirts," said 10-year-old Moli Levi. "We thought it was weird and called the guide. I knew something dangerous was going on, because of all the talk about break-ins on the kibbutzim."

The children reported what they saw to kibbutz guard Ofer Maman, who arrived at the scene and ordered the suspects to stop.

They tried to escape, but ran into a police ambush near their getaway car. The driver was also arrested. Police said three suspects were from the village of Hura in the south, and another from the village of Shibli.

A change of clothes and instruments believed to be used for burg lary were found in the car, police added.

Hila Kinereti, the supervisor of the children's group, said that they acted according to instructions they received before going on the field trip.