Israel launches new campaign against crime in Arab towns

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Wednesday it arrested more than 40 criminal suspects in a wave of police raids across the country marking the launch of a new plan to combat crime in Arab communities.

Israel’s Arab minority has called for improved law enforcement as it has grappled with a wave of violent crime in recent years. Arab activists accuse Israeli authorities of ignoring violence that doesn’t target Jews, while the police blame a lack of cooperation from community leaders.

Improving law enforcement was a key demand of the United Arab List, which became the first Arab party to sit in a ruling coalition when the new government was sworn in in June.

In an operation launched early Wednesday, some 1,000 police raided more than 280 targets across the country, apprehending 41 suspects and seizing hundreds of thousands of dollars related to weapons trafficking, police said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the raids are part of a new plan to combat crime in Arab communities approved in July, which includes a new branch devoted to the task.

“My government is determined to take action and wage an unceasing, constant and persistent fight, with full force, against crime and violence in the Arab sector,” Bennett said in a statement.

The plan calls for speeding up the prosecution of alleged criminals, breaking up organized crime and improving cooperation with community leaders. The Israeli police will add some 1,100 personnel to its ranks.

“In the past decade, previous governments of Israel presented lofty plans more than once, but we have come to act,” said Public Security Minister Omar Barlev.

Israel’s Arab minority makes up around 20% of the population. They have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face widespread discrimination and say their communities have long been neglected by authorities. They have close familial ties to the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and largely identify with their cause, leading many Israeli Jews to view Arab citizens with suspicion.

Jewish-Arab tensions boiled over during the Gaza war in May, when many mixed cities saw an eruption of violence in which large groups of Arabs and Jews fought each other in the streets, torched property and assaulted passersby.

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