Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s adviser on Arab affairs was shot dead just outside his home on Sunday morning in the town of Rameh, officials said.

Sahar Ismail, 50, was pronounced dead by Magen David Adom Adom medics in the northern Arab town after being gunned down.

“When we arrived at the scene, we saw the wounded man suffering from a penetrating injury to his body. He was unconscious, with no pulse or respiration,” an MDA medic said in a statement. “We performed medical tests, but he was without vital signs and we had no choice but to pronounce him dead.”

Rameh mayor Shawki Abu Latif told The Times of Israel from the scene of the incident that Ismail, a well-known figure in the town, was married and had a four-year-old son.

“He had left his house and he was gunned down by unknown figures with automatic weapons,” Abu Latif said, adding that almost twenty shots had been fired.

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Ismail was placed 17th on the New Hope party’s slate ahead of March’s election, although the party only won six seats. A long-time Likud activist, Ismail was a close colleague of New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar. When Sa’ar split from the Likud last year, Ismail followed him into the new party.

Following the shooting, Sa’ar called Ismail a “dear and beloved friend and partner.”

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope political party, seen during an election campaign tour in Raanana, February 8, 2021. (Flash90)

“A kind-hearted man, a loving man and a lover of the country, an honest and brave leader, a true friend. I am having a hard time coming to grips with never seeing the ever-smiling Sahar again. I am sure that the police will find the vile murderers and bring them to justice,” Sa’ar added.

Shasha-Biton’s office in a statement said the education minister was shocked to receive word of the incident and was in contact with Ismail’s family. “The Education Ministry family shares in the heavy grief of the family,” the statement read.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton attends New Hope faction meeting, at the Knesset on August 2 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The New Hope party said it was “shocked and hurt by the murder of our friend Sahar Ismail. A brave and honest leader.”

Abu Latif, who said he was Ismail’s “friend and neighbor,” pronounced himself shocked by the killing. “He was friendly and straightforward, helpful and responsible. He would always work to help those in need.”

Police have opened an investigation into the matter.

Arab cities and towns have seen a surge in violence in recent years, with organized crime seen as the main driver. More than 90 percent of shootings in Israel last year took place in Arab communities, according to police, though Arab Israelis account for only around one-fifth of the country’s population.

Arab Israelis blame police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women.

Scene of the shooting in in Rameh on August 15, 2021, in which Sahar Ismail, 50, was shot dead. (Israel Police)

According to the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, 58 Arab Israelis have been killed in homicides since the beginning of 2021. In 2020, 96 Arab Israelis were killed, by far the highest annual toll in recent memory.

Another 12 Palestinians from West Bank and East Jerusalem were killed inside Israel in apparent homicides.

“Hopefully the horrible death of the minister’s adviser will make us all wake up and stop the horror,” Meretz MK Mossi Raz tweeted on Sunday.

Last month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that violence and crime in Arab Israeli communities was a “national calamity,” as he met with senior government and police officials to formulate a national plan to tackle the issue.

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