Vandals set fire to packing house in retribution for arrest of crime organization leader

Vandals set fire to a packing house at Yesod HaMa'ala causing millions of shekels worth of damage. It is believed that a gang that collects protection fees from farmers in the area is responsible and that they acted in response to the recent arrest of the head of a major crime organization in northern Israel. The suspect was arrested in Jericho last Thursday after he was on the run for six months.

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Vandals set fire to a packing house in Yesod Hama'ala, destroying about 7,000 fruit containers and causing damage estimated at millions of shekels. No injuries were reported. Local authorities believe that the arson attack was caused by a group of criminals who collect protection fees from farmers in the northern region of Israel who acted in response to the recent arrest of their leader. "This is an incident of terror, no matter what the background is- nationalist or criminal," said council head Ilan Or. "Damage to the property is extensive and there was a very high probability of causing people harm."

On Thursday night, the Israel Police arrested a resident of Tuba-Zangariyye, a Bedouin town in the north, who headed a gang that collected protection money from local farmers. Police suspect that it was his arrest that led the vandals to act. The suspect was arrested in a hiding place in Jericho after being on the run from the authorities for six months. He was brought to court today to face a ruling on the extension of his detention.

The crime organization, uncovered last January, has apparently been extorting business owners in the north for years. The organization was finally exposed after an eight-month covert investigation conducted by the Israel Police in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies. The organization offered "guard services" to farmers and those who refused their 'help' had to face the consequences, which often meant damaged tools, fields, factories and more.

According to the Israel Police, 280 testimonies were filed in the affair and indictments were filed against 40 suspects- 14 of whom remained in custody until the end of the proceedings. Police also seized property worth NIS 30 million during their operation.

"The story of arson in agriculture is part of a struggle waged by criminal organizations in an attempt to force farmers to pay protection fees, or alternatively, to take control of their land," the HaShomer HaChadash organization said. "We call upon the authorities to act with determination and with zero tolerance towards offenders who want to harm the sovereignty of the state...they must act to bring the perpetrators to justice." HaShomer HaChadash provides voluntary security and protection to vulnerable agricultural communities in the Negev and the Galilee.

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