Israel police alert after worst Arab-Jewish riots in years

October 10th, 2008 - 4:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv, Oct 10 (DPA) Israeli police were on high alert in racially mixed Israeli cities Friday after two nights of the worst Arab-Jewish clashes in years in the northern port town of Acre.Some 500 officers were deployed in Acre Friday to prevent a new outbreak of violence, Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.

Police arrested 12 of the rioters, who were to be produced in a court Friday morning to have their detention extended.

Some eight people were injured, including one man who was run over by a police horse and another who was hit in the head by a stone.

Damage was reported at as many as 40 shops, mostly Jewish-owned ones in the town’s central pedestrian shopping mall, Rosenfeld said.

Up to 100 cars were also damaged. Many shop windows and car windshields were shattered. A number of cars were also turned upside down.

The clashes broke out around midnight Wednesday on the eve of the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday, or Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Hebrew calender.

Israel comes to a 24-hour standstill for Yom Kippur, from sunset to sunset, with all shops closing for the day and streets empty of cars. Television and radio stations suspend their broadcasting.

The clashes were sparked by a violent confrontation between a local Jewish crowd and an Arab youth who, in alleged provocation, drove his car through a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, playing loud music. Local Jews saw this as a desecration of the holiday and an argument erupted.

Hundreds of Arab residents then streamed to the town’s predominantly Jewish pedestrian mall, responding to a spreading rumour that Jews had attacked an Arab and to calls over mosque loudspeakers to react, Rosenfeld said.

Thursday night, dozens of Jewish residents gathered at the entrance to the town’s Arab neighbourhoods as the Yom Kippur holiday ended after sunset. They were blocked by police, who used tear gas and water cannons to prevent the crowd from storming the Arab
neighbourhoods. Youths from both sides hurled rocks during those clashes.

Jewish and Arab Israeli legislators strongly condemned the outbreak of violence, calling on local leaders to “show responsibility.” They also urged them to call for a return to coexistence and avoid inciting calls for revenge.

Acre, which has an historic, Roman-built city centre, is normally regarded as an example of peaceful Jewish-Arab coexistence.

Arab-Israeli clashes inside Israel have been extremely rare since October 2000, when Israeli police shot dead 13 Arab-Israeli youths in northern Israel during widespread rioting by local Arab Israelis who were acting in sympathy with the outbreak of that year’s Palestinian uprising.

An Israeli government-appointed commission of inquiry later strongly condemned the police handling of those clashes. Police in Israel were under strict orders not to use live ammunition this time, Israeli media reported.

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