'Police fired into room where Alon held hostage'

Commander says decision in Beersheba attack unjustified; MK Abu Arar asks for probe into handcuffing of Beduin shooting victim.

Policeman at Beersheba shooting scene 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Policeman at Beersheba shooting scene 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Police fired into the bathroom where Beersheba gunman Itamar Alon was holed up with a hostage on Monday, a decision that was unjustified, Southern District Police Commander Yoram Halevy said Wednesday.
During a special meeting of the Knesset's Interior and Environmental protection committee held to examine the circumstances of the Beersheba bank branch shooting that left four dead on Monday, and the criteria for private gun ownership in Israel.
At the meeting, Commander Halevy said that police received a call of shots fired in the bank branch at 12:59 and that detectives arrived minutes later with the understanding that there was a robbery in place. They saw the shooter and told him they were on the scene, at which point he told them he had a hostage. Minutes later police went into the bank and began evacuating the killed and wounded, including an innocent Beduin man who was handcuffed by police and kept restrained at the hospital until he was treated for his gunshot wounds.
According to Halevy, officers then made their way to the bathroom where one officer heard voices from within the bathroom and asked for permission to fire a shot into the stall “even though it was clear that Itamar Alon was inside with a hostage".
Halevy added that at 1:20 pm police decided to launch negotiations, with an Arab affairs expert spending 50 minutes in vain trying to reach out to Alon. Finally, police heard a gunshot after which hostage Miriam Cohen ran out of the building into the arms of police, with Alon inside dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
During the meeting MK Taleb Abu Arar asked police to hold a committee of inquiry into the decision to handcuff the Beduin man, adding that he had seen video showing that the man was beaten by police while exiting the bank. Halevy said that the Beduin was in serious condition after the shooting and tit was the quick action of police that helped save his life, and added in regard to the decision to handcuff him that "in battle there are situations like this" where mistakes are made.
An official representing Bank Hapoalim's security branch said that the Neve Zeev bank branch did not have a security guard because they followed police guidelines saying that the small branch could be guarded through technological means.
Also at the meeting, MK Boaz Toporovsky asked if there are special criteria for bank personnel to follow when telling customers that their accounts have been closed.
Committee head MK Miri Regev (Likud) asked for police to examine more critically the criteria for receiving weapons, if there are figures for the number of people holding weapons in Israel, and for MK Abu Arar to hand over to police any footage showing the alleged abuse of the Beduin man, so they can investigate the incident.