Lod city council candidate shot on eve of elections in troubled city

Abd al-Karim Azbarga shot by masked assailant, suffers moderate-to-serious wounds; unclear if shooting linked to election.

Police car in Tel Aviv at night 311 (photo credit: Yoni Cohen)
Police car in Tel Aviv at night 311
(photo credit: Yoni Cohen)
Relatives of Abed Azbarga remained on vigil at the trauma ward of Assaf Harofeh Medical Center on Tuesday, where the 44-year-old Lod city council candidate remained in serious condition the morning after he was shot by a masked gunman in the crime-plagued city.
In the hallway outside the operating room, Abed’s brother Juma put his cellphone on speakerphone as a Jewish man named Yigal called and began sobbing on the line.
“Don’t cry, Yigal, don’t cry.
He’ll be okay. I’ll keep you posted,” Juma said, and hung up the phone.
Juma denied that his brother could have been shot as part of a previous criminal feud, saying that he was a well-known attorney and head of Lod’s mixed Jewish and Arab parents committee and was known as a stand-up citizen.
While police said the motive behind the shooting remains unclear, relatives of Azbarga said Tuesday it was most certainly driven by politics, with Juma pointing an accusatory finger at mayoral candidate Yoram Marciano.
“He was inciting people against Abed, because he was afraid that he would tell all the Arabs not to vote for him,” said Juma, Abed’s older brother, who added that “I wouldn’t even rule out that he sent the people who did this.”
Marciano, a former Labor Party MK, has denied that he had anything to do with the shooting and wished Azbarga a speedy recovery.
At a polling station in the city on Tuesday, Marciano made the rounds, telling all who would listen that he was being libeled and was a victim of character assassination from all sides in the mayoral race.
“On the one hand there are those saying I’m against the Arabs, and on the other there are people trying to incite the religious public against me by saying that I’m only for the Arabs,” Marciano said, and then bent over to receive a blessing from an elderly female supporter, as tears began to stream down his face.
This year’s municipality elections in Lod are the first in a decade for a city that has long suffered from a high murder rate and an image as the drug capital of Israel. Due to crippling corruption and debt, over the past decade the city has been run by an emergency committee put in place by the national government.
A series of murders of local women in 2010 led Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to deploy Border Patrol officers to the city, and at the height of the crime spree, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the city to pledge his support for an end to the violence.
At the height of the violence, Azbarga, then the head of the parents committee, was among those who organized a general strike in the city’s schools to protest the worsening threat to public safety for the children of Lod.
The city is also known for having one of the most varied ethnic makeups in Israel. A third of its 74,000 citizens are Arab, including some who have lived in the city for many generations, as well as Beduin families that arrived later and a significant number of “collaborators” moved into Israel in recent years from the Palestinian territories. The Jewish population is also quite varied, including a large number of immigrants from Russia, Georgia, Central Asia and Ethiopian.
The first arrests in the shooting of Azbarga weren’t long in coming, and by Tuesday morning Abu Ala Katifan and Farid Taha were brought in for a remand extension at the Ramle court.
Attorney Ari Kadri told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that both men have solid alibis and that Katifan was caught on camera at a local restaurant meeting with Juma Azbarga not long before the murder and that Taha was videotaped on the cameras entering his own home before the shooting and leaving shortly after. Kadri said he is sure that after their remand extension is over on Thursday, both will be released.
Alibis were of little interest to Nisrin Shehada on Tuesday morning, as she finished mopping up the blood on the tile floor of her single-level home off the corner of Harav Kook and Borochov in central Lod.
She sat on the couch and pointed at the spot a couple meters away where she said the masked gunman walked straight through the open door and shot five or six bullets before fleeing.
Shehada said that she and the other five people present – both men and women – all went into shock and were unable to move or help Azbarga until bystanders came to their aid.
She said that they called paramedics, but when they failed to arrive the men put Azbarga in the back of a car and sped off toward Assaf Harofeh.
Shehada said she was treated for shock at the hospital, and though she was released a few hours later, on Tuesday morning she still appeared shaken up, distant, and weary.
When asked about claims that Lod has managed to have success in recent years, she laughed, saying “totally,” before adding, “If I could, I’d leave this city. If I had the money to leave, I would have left years ago.”