Police deploy reinforcements to Ashkelon to combat gangland surge

Police directed operational reinforcements to Ashkelon in an effort to restore a sense of security to the southern city whose citizens seem to be caught in the crosshairs of an underworld war. The decision to send in police operational units including Border Police troops was taken Tuesday afternoon during an urgent situation assessment. That meeting was called after a morning drive-by shooting caused damage, but fortunately no injuries, outside a crowded mall. The drive-by occurred just outside the city's Lev Mall, where police said the sidewalks and stores were filled with Ashkelon residents fleeing the heat wave and taking refuge in the air conditioning. But the refuge proved to be anything but, when an unidentified person on a motorcycle sprayed the mall's entrance with a hail of bullets. One Lachish Subdistrict police officer said that it was only "by a miracle" that passing civilians were spared injury, or even death. Police in a patrol car stationed nearby heard the shots and sped over, but the officers only arrived in time to see the motorcyclist speeding away. Investigators were probing all possible directions in the hours after the shooting, but believed that it was most likely an assassination attempt against a local crime figure who was present on the sidewalk at the time. Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mehatzri wrote a letter hours after the incident expressing his concern in light of the shooting as well as a crime-related bombing that was carried out two weeks ago today on a residential Ashkelon street. In response to the mayor's concerns, police decided to bring in reinforcements to patrol the city's streets, in order to boost personal security in the city. "What is most important is that we manage to restore the people's feeling of security, of calm," said one Lachish Subdistrict officer. The subdistrict's Central Investigative Unit has been tasked with investigating Tuesday's shooting. For the past two weeks, it has also been probing the bombing. In the bombing, known criminal Arik Korkus was killed and another underworld figure seriously wounded in an explosion outside an apartment building. But in that incident - unlike Tuesday's - bystanders were not spared. Eight people who were in the vicinity of the explosion were treated for shock.