Israel: Police clash with Eritrean asylum seekers

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Dozens of people have been 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 deployed against hundreds of demonstrators.

The unrest was triggered after activists opposed to the Eritrean government requested Israeli authorities to cancel an embassy event on Saturday.

However, protesters also clashed with supporters of the Eritrean regime.

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 scheduled to take place. They were initially held back by police barricades but later managed to breach them.

Residents reported that the streets of central Tel Aviv resembled a war zone as police helicopters circled overhead, and Israeli officers discharged live rounds into the air.

Protesters engaged with law enforcement, damaged vehicles, and vandalized nearby businesses.

A statement by Israeli police indicated that officers resorted to using their firearms due to feeling their lives were in jeopardy.

Images from inside the hall rented by Eritrean diplomats for the event revealed overturned tables and chairs after enraged demonstrators gained access.

Videos circulated on social media portrayed street skirmishes between Eritreans who support the regime in their home country and those who oppose it. Israeli police stated that they attempted to separate the two factions.

In a message posted on X, previously known as Twitter, the police urged uninvolved members of the public to stay away from the scene.

Earlier this week, the police, in a press conference, disclosed that different Eritrean factions had agreed to rally at two separate locations on Saturday.

Supporters of the government in Asmara were slated to gather near the embassy venue, while opponents were scheduled to protest at the old central bus station, which is a short distance away.

However, both sides failed to adhere to their commitments, according to police.

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

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

In the middle of the afternoon, the Magen David Adom emergency medical service reported treating 114 injured individuals. Most sustained minor injuries, including 30 police officers, most of whom suffered severe bruising. Eight were in a serious condition, and 13 were in a moderate condition.

Previous instances of violence have occurred between different factions of Eritrean asylum seekers.

In 2019, a regime-supporting asylum seeker was fatally stabbed in south Tel Aviv during a turf war between factions for and against the Eritrean government in impoverished neighborhoods where many community members reside.

It is estimated that around 18,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea are in Israel, with most having arrived illegally years ago by crossing Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. They have claimed to have fled danger, persecution, and compulsory military conscription in one of the world’s most oppressive countries.

Although Eritreans supporting the regime may not appear to require international protection as refugees, the Israeli authorities have reportedly not made distinctions between asylum seekers based on their political affiliations, as per local media.

As Eritrea commemorates 30 years of independence from Ethiopia, diaspora celebrations have taken place.

However, in addition to Israel, some events 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.

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