Police dispatched to Taiba, near Kfar Saba, on Wednesday encountered masked gunmen from a notorious crime family and opened fire in their direction, killing a cousin of the clan’s leader.

Officers said they saw Kalashnikov assault rifles and handguns pointed at them during the police operation near a home owned by the Abd al-Khader clan, leading them to open fire.

The clash represents a dramatic escalation in tensions between the clan, which is dominant in Taiba, and police. Law enforcement has been systematically working to decrease the clan’s influence.

“It is unfathomable that in Israel, a police unit arrives and is met by gunmen,” Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said. The minister praised police for acting “professionally against crime families,” and offered his full support.

weapons used by gunmen (Courtesy Police)

“We won’t allow a group of outlaws to harm the daily lives of residents,” he said.

Following the shooting, police arrested five suspects for illegal possession of weapons, and said more arrests would follow soon. One of the suspects was injured while being arrested, and is in moderate condition.

Police maintained a heavy presence in the town after nightfall.

Tensions between criminal elements and police in Taiba have been on the rise for several months.

In April, police moved in to clear a compound under the control of the Abd al-Khaders.

Dozens of officers from the Taiba police station and the Border Police raided the site, tearing down CCTV cameras installed on the premises that filmed public areas, while bulldozers demolished roadblocks and piles of waste set up to block public roads.

A day after the operation, Taiba police chief Dep.-Cmdr. David Pilo and a second senior officer whose identity was withheld had their lives threatened by members of the Abd al- Khader family, police said. The unnamed officer received a threatening call to his personal cellphone. Police from the central district’s elite Central Unit arrested nine members of the clan and brought them in for questioning after the threats.

A police source said last month that the clan is “heavily involved” in criminal activities in the area.

Police in the central district have stepped up arms raids in Arab towns; they seized no fewer than 250 illegal firearms in 2011.

In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, central police district head Cmdr. Bentsi Sao said he has seen a dramatic change in the approach to police from the Arab Israeli public.

“They are calling for us to make our presence felt in Arab areas,” he said, adding that ordinary Arab citizens were frightened of the presence of heavily armed criminal gangs.

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