Yafit and her teenage children could hear the screams from their sixth floor balcony in Petah Tikva Monday morning, as a man, caught in a car torn apart by an explosion, screamed for help as he burned alive on the street below.
“‘Shma Yisrael, Shma Yisrael,’ he kept screaming from inside the car,” Yifat said, adding that her family saw a second man, charred and burned “like charcoal,” pulled from the scene by paramedics.
“It’s such a cruel way to die,” Yifat said.
The two men, both known to police, were driving in the car when it exploded on Hameginim St. in Petah Tikva around 4 a.m. Monday. Their names have still not been released for publication.
After the first explosion they managed to drive a couple dozen more meters before they came to a stop, police said, at which point the car burst into flames as secondary explosions rocked the neighborhood.
Police are working under the assumption that the explosion was not a targeted mob hit, but rather that the two men were transporting the bomb when it detonated prematurely – what’s known as a “work accident.”
Four people were arrested in connection to the blast and they will appear at the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday at noon.
Magen David Adom paramedics said when they arrived at the scene they found the four-door Hyundai engulfed in flames and impossible to reach. Nearby they also found three people suffering from light injuries caused by flying glass, including a mother and father and their three-year-old child.
Pulling into her house just a few meters from the blast site midday Monday, a young woman named Adi said the blast shook her house and that for a few moments she was sure a missile had struck. She said she came outside to see one man stuck inside the burning car and a second, further up the street, lying motionless.
She shrugged when asked if she felt any fear, saying only that “this neighborhood is fine. It’s not connected to any of this stuff, and this wasn’t supposed to go off here; it was meant for somewhere else.”
Wherever the bomb was meant to go off, Monday was by no means the first time this quiet, middle-class suburban neighborhood was the site of gangland violence.
In June of last year, two men, Eli Orkabi and Eran Fartush, were gunned down in a driveby shooting outside a residential building just a couple blocks away on Mishmar Hayarden St.
That shooting, which police believe was linked to a feud involving an associate of Orkabi and a member of the Alperon family, took place at the foot of a building where Avi Ruhan – the reputed head of a mob family operating in central Israel – had purchased a house, along with one of his top associates, Chico Ben- Adeh.
In July, two men, Dekel Tzafar and Sharon Farhi, were killed by a car bomb as their car neared the Yarkonim junction in Petah Tikva, also not far from Monday’s blast.
Ruhan was arrested in November on suspicion of being involved in the bombing, but was released without charge.
Like the double murder in June, Monday morning’s blast took place just meters away from two daycare centers. On Monday the centers told parents that they would open only at 9 a.m., to give police the opportunity to continue to clear the area and to ensure no danger remains for the children.
At midday, outside one of the centers, parents began picking up their children and one mother talked to her daughter about the blast, asking her: “Do you know what happened here this morning? Do you know about the car that burned?” Across the street, young boys stood next to the charred patch of pavement where the car exploded, taking pictures of the site and trading anecdotes about the blast and rumors they’d heard.
A young mother named Avital stood with her daughter outside one of the centers a little past noon, Avital said she’d gone out with her husband for a late night walk just an hour before the blast, walking directly past the blast site.
She said the explosion was “terrifying and very powerful,” and that in terms of her children “they heard the blast, but they don’t really know what it was. They just saw all the police, so we told them that police had to come to the neighborhood to do work but that everything’s fine.”
Since the car bomb in Ashkelon on October 24, which left Jacky Benita dead and blew off the leg of Shalom Domrani’s associate Avi Biton, there have been eight car bombs in Israeli cities. The blasts have left three dead, one critically wounded and four seriously hurt.
Along with those blasts, there has been an almost daily string of fragmentation and stun grenades thrown at houses and affixed to cars as criminals try to settle accounts with rivals across Israel.
Like the explosives used in car bombs, grenades are cheap and easy to attain, with the army a ready source of ordnance for underworld warfare.