The police announced today that they arrested six residents of the Israeli-Arab town of Shfar'am - Moslems, Bedouins and a Christian - in connection with the lynching murder of soldier Yitzchak Natan-Zada. A seventh resident of the Galilee town later turned himself in. The six were arrested in a complex overnight operation - three in their homes, one north of Haifa, one in Eilat, and one was already in jail on another crime.

Natan-Zada, an Israeli soldier, was riding on a bus in Shfar'am in late August 2005 when, for unexplained reasons, he opened fire, killing the driver and three passengers. It was never ascertained whether he planned the attack or whether something happened on the bus to provoke it. It is known, however, that after he had been handcuffed by two police officers on the bus, an Arab mob surrounded the bus, broke in, and killed him. A video of the lynching, with Natan-Zada seen alive and in the presence of two policemen, was aired by Channel 10 shortly after the incident.

Arab MK Muhammed Barakeh threatened shortly afterwards, "If the police think for a second that they will open an investigation against the residents of Shfaram, we'll bring the masses out to the streets."

In September, a month after the quintuple murder, Channel Ten that the police knew the identities of the Arab killers, but had not arrested them "so as not to cause riots on the Arab street." A senior police official told Channel Ten that the Regional Police Commander had given instructions not to make arrests, for fear of enflaming the Arab sector in the north and its leaders on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Israeli-Arab riots in which 13 Arabs were killed. The officer also said that the top commander feared that riots might endanger his chances of being promoted.

Police today rejected such claims, however, saying no political considerations were taken into account during the investigation. The police were also criticized at the time for not protecting Natan-Zada, and allowing him to be killed. Two policemen are seen on the bus in the Channel Ten video, and at least ten are seen outside it.

Commander Dan Ronen told reporters today, "If the police had opened fire, there would have been 40 dead. They could have opened fire, because their lives were in danger... We were accused baselessly."

The soldier's family says that aside from the testimony of one woman on the bus, there is no evidence that the young soldier shot without being previously provoked or threatened. Click here to read an interview with the soldier's family.