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Israel: Netanyahu threatens deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers following violence in Tel Aviv

At least 160 people were wounded in the flare-up of clashes between Eritrean refugees and riot police. NGOs say the violence was avoidable
Members of Israel's security forces clash with Eritrean asylum seekers protesting an event organised by Eritrea's government in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on 2 September 2023 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for tough measures on Sunday, including deportations, against those implicated in the violent clashes between Eritrean asylum seekers and the Israeli police that broke out a day earlier.

Hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers clashed with each other and the Israeli police on Saturday during protests that started during a march on the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv, which was set to hold a cultural event marking the 30th anniversary of the east African country's regime's rise to power.

Similar events have been held around the world and have also been marred by violence or cancelled due to fear that it could cause tensions. 

At least 160 people were wounded in total, with eight in a serious condition, 13 in moderate and 93 sustaining light injuries, Israeli police said.

At least 50 police officers were also injured amid the stone-throwing between protesters, and at least 50 people were arrested following the riots.

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"The prime minister has decided to convene a special ministerial team to review the possibility of taking action against illegal infiltrators who took part in the unrest, including deportation," the prime minister's office said on Sunday, a working day in Israel. 

A police officer speaking to the Israeli daily Haaretz said that there was complete "chaos" among the police force in how to respond to the violent unrest. 

In a bid to describe the intensity of the protests, one police source said that if the police had not used live fire at some of the protesters "they would have slaughtered them".

Preventable violence

Opponents of the Eritrean regime came to the protests in blue while supporters wore red. The separate rallies, however, soon descended into street battles lasting several hours. 

Using wooden slabs, pieces of metal and rocks, the protesters wreaked havoc through the south of Tel Aviv, where many asylum seekers live. Rioters also smashed shops and cars.

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"If we hadn't been there today and hadn't intervened between the two groups of demonstrators - the supporters and opponents of the regime - we would be counting bodies," a senior police official told Channel 12 Saturday.

An investigation has also been opened on whether the use of firearms by the Israeli police was lawful. 

"The demonstrators wanted to protest the blatant interference of the Eritrean embassy in the lives of those who fled the brutal dictatorship. Eritrean embassies around the world are pursuing asylum seekers, and in other countries, embassy events have been cancelled precisely because of the fear of flare-ups as we see before our eyes now," said HaMoked for Refugees and Immigrants and ASSAF, an aid organisation for refugees and asylum seekers, in a statement on Saturday.

"This bloody failure could and should have been prevented."

The Israeli right rejects African migrants' claims of asylum seeking, referring to all as "illegal infiltrators".

Netanyahu has now requested ministers present him with plans to remove "all the other illegal infiltrators" in the country. 

Meanwhile, the country's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is now planning to introduce a law that would override Israeli law on human dignity and move ahead with the mass deportation of people that entered Israel illegally.

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