Nashat Melhem, the terrorist who killed three people in central Tel Aviv a week and a half ago, was buried in a late-night ceremony in his hometown of Arara. The funeral was attended by about 40 people, mostly family and some close friends.
Melhem was killed last Friday in a shootout outside his hiding place in Arara. In his attack on a café on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on January 1, Melhem shot and killed Alon Bakal and Shimon Revimi, Hy”d. Later, as he was escaping the scene, he murdered cab driver Amin Sha’aban in his cab in north Tel Aviv.
Melhem was finally caught and eliminated last Friday when Yamam special police forces and Shin Bet officers surrounded the hiding place where he had been holed up. Melhem emerged from the building and opened fire at the forces, firing at them with the same weapon he used in the Tel Aviv murders.
Security forces had combed the country for a week, looking for clues that would indicate where Melhem had escaped to after his shooting rampage, but according to sources, it was ultimately a slip-up by one of his accomplices – who made a call using a cellphone that had belonged to the murdered cab driver – that tipped off security forces as to Melhem’s whereabouts.
Throughout the week, police conducted extensive searches in north Tel Aviv on the theory that Melhem couldn’t have gotten far, but Shin Bet officials said that even when it became clear that Melhem had returned to the Arara area – they kept up the pretense of searching for him in Tel Aviv in the hope that he would make a careless mistake that would allow them to discover his exact whereabouts.
Officials said it appears that “many” people – at least several dozen – had known that Melhem was in Arara, and provided him with hiding places, security, food, and other assistance to enable him to remain in hiding. Throughout the week, Arabs in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas celebrated Melhem’s successful evasion of police, calling him a “martyr” and a “hero.”
After he was killed, Israeli officials took custody of his body, and were reluctant to release it, for fear that Melhem’s funeral would turn into a celebration of terrorism. On Tuesday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that the body would not be released until Israel received assurances that such a celebration would not occur. While there were no security officials at the funeral itself, IDF troops and police fanned out throughout Arara and the surrounding villages to prevent any outbursts of incitement or rioting that might take place. No disturbances were reported.
Speaking on Motzoei Shabbos, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu congratulated Israeli security forces for their capture and elimination of Melhem. The forces “acted very professionally day and night to fulfill their mission of capturing him. Those who try to kill Israelis must know that sooner or later we will reach them, whether they hide inside or outside the borders of Israel. No one is exempt from being punished for their actions. We will reach all the murderers, and those who help them as well.”
Meanwhile, a Haifa court extended the remand of five Arara residents who are accused of assisting Melhem evade the police. Police said they were continuing to put together a full picture of exactly how he fled Tel Aviv and managed to “hide in plain sight” for a week.