Skip to main content

Israel arrests four over lynching of Eritrean immigrant

Two of the arrested work in Israel's prison system
Official figures claim 45,000 undocumented immigrants reside in Israel, almost all from Eritrea and Sudan (AFP)

Israeli police said they arrested four Israelis on Wednesday over the lynching of an Eritrean immigrant shot and severely beaten after being mistaken as the perpetrator of an attack.

"Four Israelis suspected of participating in the lynching... in Beersheeba have been arrested, and more arrests are expected," a police statement said.

Public radio said two of those arrested work for the prisons system.

The police statement said the four would go before a judge on Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis against vigilantism in the wake of Zarhum's killing. 

"We are a law-abiding country. No one must take the law into their own hands," Netanyahu told officials from his Likud party late Monday.

Zarhum, who was thought to have been in Israel for more than three years and working at a garden centre about 40 minutes from Beersheba, was shot by a security guard who believed he was a second attacker, then beaten by an angry mob.

The attack on Zarhum came after a gunman, who was also armed with a knife, stormed the central bus station in Beersheba, shooting dead 19-year-old Israeli soldier Omri Levi and wounding around 10 others.

The gunman, identified as 21-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel Mohannad al-Aqaby, was killed, while a security guard at the bus station shot Zarhum reportedly thinking he was a second attacker. 

Zarhum's autopsy ruled he died of gunshot wounds, rather than the vicious beating he received from bystanders as police officers looked on.

His death comes in the middle of a surge of violent attacks across Israel and the occupied West Bank that has seen at least 47 Palestinians killed, often after knife attacks targeting Jews.

Eight Israelis have also died, and the attacks have put intense pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stem the violence.

Official figures claim 45,000 undocumented immigrants reside in Israel, almost all from Eritrea and Sudan. African communities complain of marginalisation, and they have held several protests this year against their alleged mistreatment.

The UN says as many as 53,000 refugees have crossed Israel's southern border with Egypt, including 36,000 from Eritrea.

Many are fleeing persecution and they head to Israel due to its high standard of living and its relative ease of access over land from Africa.