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June 12, 2002

Guess who's gambling on suicide bombings?

Fri Jun 14, 8:30 AM ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Police are probing an Israeli gambling ring suspected of putting its money on a grim game of chance -- predicting the target of the next Palestinian suicide bombing.

The betting ring was set up in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi, where local gamblers can fill out a form that gives odds for different cities and regions in Israel, the Tel Aviv weekly Zman Tel Aviv reported Friday.

"We are checking into it to see if there is a violation of the gambling laws," police spokesman Gil Kleiman said. "We're not getting into the moral aspect."

Israeli law prohibits gambling, but gaming thrives in illegal hideouts across the country and on cruise ships that pick up gamblers in Israeli ports.

But this particular type of betting carries a bitter irony.

Israelis frequently compare their daily lives to a game of Russian roulette. Palestinian suicide and car bombings have struck buses, cafes, restaurants and family celebrations in a 20-month-old uprising against Israeli occupation.

According to the weekly, cities which have been frequent targets of Palestinian attacks bring the lowest returns. Jerusalem's odds are shortest at 3-2, the report said.

Bookies give the longest odds to places largely untouched by violence, with the southern port city of Ashdod cashing in at 13-1 and the Red Sea tourist resort of Eilat scoring 17-1, it said.

The weekly described the punters as an informal group who originally got together to wager on soccer and basketball. The bets are set at a minimum of 10 shekels ($2) at one city per wager and must be renewed each time an attack has taken place.

The gambling form stresses that bets are only valid "when there is an attack of Arabs against Jews and not vice-versa, and when the attack is reported in the media," the weekly reported.

At least 509 Israelis have been killed, more than half of them in suicide and car bombings, in addition to at least 1,395 Palestinians since the start of the Palestinian revolt in September 2000.

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