Dozens injured as Israeli police clash with Eritrean asylum seekers

TEL AVIV  -  Dozens of people were injured, including some from live gun­fire, during clashes between Eritrean asylum seekers and Is­raeli police in Tel Aviv.

Stun grenades, tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets were used against hundreds of protesters. The unrest was sparked after activists opposed to the Eritrean government said they asked Israeli authori­ties to cancel an embassy event on Saturday. But protesters also clashed with supporters of the Eritrean regime.

An investigation has been opened into whether the use of live fire was within the law, with evidence being gathered at the scene.

The divisions within Eritrea over the rule of President Isa­ias Afwerki have spilled over into the diaspora, and this is the latest outbreak of violence in recent weeks.

According to Israeli news reports, the demonstrators marched towards a venue where the event was due to take place. They were initially held back by police barricades but later managed to break through them. Residents said the streets of central Tel Aviv sounded like a war zone as po­lice helicopters buzzed over­head and Israeli officers fired live rounds into the air. 

Protesters fought with police, damaged cars and smashed the windows of nearby businesses. 

A statement by Israeli po­lice said that officers used their guns as they felt their lives were in danger. It added that 27 were injured.

Photos from inside the hall that had been hired by Eritrean diplomats for the event showed tables and chairs overturned af­ter angry demonstrators broke in. Videos shared on social me­dia also showed street battles between Eritreans who sup­port the regime in their home country, and those who oppose it. Israeli police said they tried to separate the two sides. In a message put out on X, previ­ously known as Twitter, the po­lice asked uninvolved members of the public to stay away from the scene.

Earlier this week, police said at a news conference that dif­ferent Eritrean factions had agreed to rally in two separate locations this Saturday. 

Supporters of the govern­ment in Asmara were supposed to meet close to the embassy venue. Opponents were due to protest at the old central bus station, which is a short dis­tance away. However, the two sides did not stick to their com­mitments, police said. 

An unnamed senior po­lice source was quoted by the Haaretz newspaper as saying: “We were very surprised by the level of violence, scenes you only see in the West Bank.”

Hundreds of officers have since been deployed in the area, according to the police.

In the middle of the after­noon, the Magen David Adom emergency medical service said it had treated 114 wound­ed people. Most had minor in­juries, including 30 police offi­cers - most of whom were badly bruised. Eight were in a serious condition and 13 in a moderate condition.

There have been previous cases of violence between dif­ferent factions of Eritrean asy­lum seekers. In 2019, one asy­lum seeker who was a regime supporter was fatally stabbed in south Tel Aviv amid a turf war - between those for and against the Eritrean govern­ment - in poorer neighbour­hoods where many people from the community live.

It is estimated that there are about 18,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea in Israel, most of whom arrived illegally years ago by crossing Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. They said they fled danger, persecution and com­pulsory military conscription in one of the world’s most re­pressive countries. 

Although Eritreans support­ing the regime would not ap­pear to be in need of interna­tional protection as refugees, the authorities in Israel have not made differentiations be­tween asylum seekers based on their political affiliations, ac­cording to local media.

As Eritrea marks 30 years of independence from Ethiopia, festivals have been held by its diaspora.

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