Israel: Police clash with Eritrean asylum seekers
Numerous individuals have sustained injuries, including some from live ammunition, amid confrontations between Eritrean asylum seekers and Israeli law enforcement in Tel Aviv.
Crowds of protesters, numbering in the hundreds, faced off against authorities, who employed stun grenades, tear gas, and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse them.
The turmoil began after activists critical of the Eritrean government requested Israeli authorities to cancel a scheduled embassy event on Saturday. However, clashes also erupted between demonstrators and supporters of the Eritrean regime.
An inquiry has been initiated to determine if the use of live ammunition complied with the law, with evidence collection ongoing at the scene.
The internal divisions within Eritrea, particularly concerning President Isaias Afwerki’s leadership, have extended to the diaspora, resulting in this recent surge of violence.
According to Israeli news accounts, protesters marched toward the venue designated for the event. Initially, they were prevented by police barricades but later managed to breach them.
Residents reported that the streets of central Tel Aviv resembled a war zone, with the constant noise of police helicopters overhead and Israeli officers firing live rounds into the air.
Protesters engaged in confrontations with law enforcement, vandalized vehicles, and damaged nearby businesses by breaking windows.
An official statement from the Israeli police indicated that officers resorted to using their firearms because they believed their lives were at risk, resulting in 27 injuries.
Photographs from inside the hall rented by Eritrean diplomats for the event revealed overturned tables and chairs after agitated demonstrators gained entry.
Videos circulated on social media also depicted street clashes between Eritreans who support their home country’s regime and those who oppose it. Israeli police attempted to separate the two factions.
In a message disseminated on X (formerly known as Twitter), the police urged uninvolved members of the public to steer clear of the scene.
Earlier in the week, during a press conference, the police announced that different Eritrean factions had agreed to hold separate rallies at two distinct locations on the upcoming 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 were 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 neighborhoods 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.
But as well as Israel, some in Europe and North America have been marred by protests and outbreaks of violence – last month a three-day Eritrean cultural festival in Toronto, Canada was canceled after supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s regime clashed.