Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, attends the weekly cabinet...

Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. The country's far-right national security minister, Ben-Gvir, promised to crack down on crime in Israel’s Palestinian sector when he took office late last year, but the violence has intensified. Credit: AP/Ohad Zwigenberg

JERUSALEM — Five family members were killed in a mass shooting Wednesday in an Arab town in northern Israel, police and advocates said, the latest victims of a recent surge of gun violence within the country's Arab communities. Another Arab citizen of Israel was killed in a separate shooting earlier Wednesday.

Israeli police said that three men and two women were shot and killed at a house in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un. They said they were treating the incident as criminal and hunting down suspected assailants. Israeli medics said that a sixth man was shot and wounded in the rampage.

The Abraham Initiatives, a Jewish-Arab advocacy and monitoring group in Israel, identified the victims as an Arab couple and their three children.

The police declined to provide further details on the shooting or the victims due to the ongoing investigation, which they said involved several national units “diligently pursuing all leads using advanced technological resources.” Previous such shootings have involved disputes between organized crime families.

Earlier on Wednesday, masked gunmen ambushed and killed another Palestinian citizen of Israel, who was on his way to work in the nearby coastal city of Haifa. Police said they were investigating whether the two shootings were connected.

Authorities in al-Halisa, the Haifa neighborhood where Wednesday's first killing took place, shuttered all schools and asked that students study from home for at least another day.

Israel’s Arab communities long have suffered from poverty, discrimination, crime and neglect by the government.

Palestinian citizens of Israel protest over the spiraling rate of...

Palestinian citizens of Israel protest over the spiraling rate of violent crime in their communities, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. Violence has intensified since Israel's far-right government came to power, with nearly 190 people killed so far this year. Credit: AP/Ariel Schalit

The country's far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, promised to crack down on crime in Israel’s Palestinian sector when he took office late last year. But the violence has intensified, with 188 people killed this year, according to the Abraham Initiatives — more than double the number of such homicides for similar periods in recent years. Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority makes up roughly a fifth of Israel’s population.

Less than 10% of the cases have been solved this year, the group added, describing the surge in violence as a symptom of both police indifference and Arab distrust of the police. Some advocates directly blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultranationalist government for doing too little to fight crimes against Arab citizens.

“Police do not have the willingness or the capacity,” said Thabet Abu Rass, director of the Abraham Initiatives, calling on Netanyahu to fire Ben-Gvir over the rash of killings. “People are afraid to go outside. It’s a very dangerous situation right now.”

Lawmakers also expressed deep concern over the violence and demanded government intervention.

“The blood of those murdered today in the massacre are on the hands (of Ben-Gvir) and Prime Minister Netanyahu,” said Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab lawmaker, urging Netanyahu to convene a meeting on crime in Arab communities “as it did for Jewish communities years ago.”

Wednesday's shootings are separate from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has seen more than yearlong surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.

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