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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A police informer
from the criminal underworld has led to the arrests of 32 suspected gangsters belonging to at least three crime
organizations in the South and Center, police revealed on Thursday, following
the lifting of a media gag order.
The informer, who has turned state's witness, helped uncover at least 3 murders
- including the homicide of a former soccer player – eight attempted murders,
and dozens of arson attacks, grenade attacks, extortion attempts, and arms and
drug trafficking, allegedly carried out over the past two years, according to
Dep.-Cmdr. Yossef Cohen, head of the Negev Police's Central Unit.
"The state's witness has risked his life," Cohen said during a press conference held at a
Beersheba police station on Thursday.
All of the alleged offenses took place among criminals, Cohen told The Jerusalem
"The South will be quieter after this," he added. The murders were
all carried out using firearms, Cohen said. The murder victims have been named
as Nati Ohion, Moshe Zitun, and Eli Uzan, a former Hapoel Beersheba soccer
Leading the list of suspects is ex-convict Hagai Zagori, considered by police
to be "Beersheba's
godfather." Zagori completed a prison sentence in 2008 for attempting to
bribe Hapoel Beersheba players and match fixing. Since his release, a number of
his rivals have been shot dead.
Zagori is suspected of murder and attempted murder, Cohen said. "The
Zagori family is heavily involved in crime in the area," he added. Zagori's
brother, Yaniv, is serving a seven-year prison sentence for a variety of severe
Other suspects under arrest include Zachariya Edri, of Beersheba, considered by police to be
Zagori's deputy. Dadi Ben Haim, Sharon Ben Haim and Victor Atiya are also among
The suspects have all denied the suspicions against them.
"Not all of the offenses we detailed are attributed to all suspects. Every
suspect will have his own case to answer, and indictments will be served after
the evidence is assembled and sorted," Cohen said at the press briefing.
Dozens of detectives from the police's southern district and the National
Serious and International Crimes Unit raided the homes of suspects on Tuesday
morning, carrying out arrests, searches, and seizing cash, vehicles and other
assets. The arrests mark the end of a two-year-long undercover investigation.
Cohen said the three criminal organizations operating in the South and Center
targeted in the arrests were not engaged in wars against one another, nor were
they linked by alliances. "Each group looked out for its own
interests," he said.
Despite acknowledging the existence of the crime syndicates, police are still unsure
whether they have amassed sufficient evidence to charge the suspects with
belonging to a criminal organization.
Police are describing the investigation as one of the most complex ever
conducted, adding that the criminal activities crossed police district
boundaries and required high-level police oversight and cooperation.
"We are waging a determined struggle against crime organizations... this
is not a slogan, it has been seen in our action over the past year, in which
the number of arrests have grown significantly, and cases have been pursued
until the offenders were brought to justice," said Southern Police
Commander Yochanan Danino during a briefing of police commanders before
"We will continue to fight crime on all levels from street crime to severe
offenses using all available means, in order to safeguard the security southern
residents," Danino added.