JERUSALEM -- With the planned Gaza withdrawal consuming police attention, Israel has been hit by a crime wave that includes a 3-year-old girl being killed in a drive-by shooting, a teen being strangled on her way to a mall, and four homeless men being burned to death.
Even as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised tough action yesterday during the weekly Cabinet meeting, the slayings continued yesterday. Assailants stabbed an accountant and stole his money as he stood in front of a Ramle bank planning to make a deposit, police said. He was the fifth person slain in eight days, Channel Two TV said.
The killing brought to 72 the number of homicides recorded during the first five months of the year -- a 35 percent increase from the same period in 2004, police said.
While Israelis are used to dealing with deaths in the conflict with the Palestinians, violent crime has been relatively low.
But police already have been stretched thin by the need to plan security for Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan, scheduled to begin in August, and all agree the situation likely will worsen -- and crime-fighting could further suffer -- as the summer goes on.
The job of evacuating some 9,000 settlers from their homes will largely fall to police. They also will have to contend with withdrawal opponents, and much of their intelligence work already is focused here.
Groups of youngsters have begun burning tires and blocking highway intersections with sit-down strikes to protest the withdrawal, and police have been forced to deploy in large numbers to try to prevent the demonstrations and clear roads.
The recent series of brutal killings has set Israelis on edge. Relatives of four recent victims wrote Sharon that ''mad violence" in Israel has made ''everyone crazed with fear," and they posed holding pictures of their slain kin for yesterday's front page of the mass circulation daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot.
Public attention focused on the killings in late May when a 15-year-old was randomly attacked and strangled while walking to a mall in the quiet city of Rehovot near Tel Aviv. A youth on a furlough from juvenile detention center is suspected in the slaying.
Then, a 3-year-old girl was killed in a drive-by shooting as part of a botched mob hit outside a Ramle prison, and an 81-year-old man was set afire by a woman who owed him money.
Several teens have been stabbed to death outside nightclubs in arguments over seemingly minor issues. Last week, an alleged serial killer was arrested in connection with the slayings of four homeless men in Haifa.