Netanyahu seeks to deport Eritreans after hundreds hurt in violent riots

More than 150 pro- and anti-government Eritreans were injured in clashes.

By World Israel News Staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday announced the formation of a ministerial task force to investigate the possibility of deporting illegal migrants from Eritrea after hundreds of them were hurt in violent riots in Tel Aviv.

The statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office referred to the rioters as “illegal infiltrators.”

Eritrean government supporters and opponents clashed with each other and with Israeli police outside the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv. Anti-government protesters armed with construction lumber, pieces of metal, rocks and at least one axe, tore through a neighborhood of south Tel Aviv where many asylum seekers live. Protesters smashed shop windows and police cars, and blood spatter was seen on sidewalks. One government supporter was lying in a puddle of blood in a children’s playground.

It was the most violent street confrontations among African asylum seekers and migrants in Tel Aviv in recent memory.

Among those hurt were 50 police officers and more than 160 Eritreans, who suffered gunshot and knife wounds, as well as other injuries.

The sheer scale of the injuries led two major hospitals in the area, Ichilov Medical Center and Sheba Medical Center, to declare a mass casualty incident, with 86 people admitted to both. Other medical centers including Shamir, Wolfson, Beilinson, Sourasky, and Sharon were also inundated with patients from the protest.

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Following the outbreak of violence, 39 protesters were detained by the police for attacking officers and throwing stones.

The building hosting the event on Yad Harutzim Street suffered significant damage, with reports indicating it was even set on fire.

Israeli police in riot gear shot tear gas, stun grenades and live rounds while officers on horseback tried to control the protesters, who broke through barricades and hurled chunks rocks at the police. Police said officers resorted to live fire when they felt their lives were in danger.

The clashes came as Eritrean government supporters marked the 30th anniversary of the current ruler’s rise to power. The event was held near the Eritrean embassy in south Tel Aviv. Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records. Asylum seekers in Israel and elsewhere say they fear death if they were to return.

Police said Eritrean government supporters and opponents had received permission for separate events Saturday, and had promised to stay away from each other.

At some point, the promises were broken, said Chaim Bublil, a Tel Aviv police commander.

“A decision was made by the government opponents to break through the barriers, to clash with the police, to throw stones, to hit police officers,” Bublil told reporters at the scene.

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He said the police had arrested 39 people and confiscated tasers, knives and clubs.

The Magen David Adom rescue service said at least 114 people were hurt, including eight who were in serious condition. The others had moderate or mild injuries. Of those hurt, 30 were police officers, said Bublil.

A spokesperson for Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said it was treating 11 patients for gunshot wounds. Police said three protesters were wounded by police fire.

By late Saturday afternoon, the clashes had stopped. Police were still rounding up protesters, putting them on buses.

President Isaias Afwerki, 77, has led Eritrea since 1993, taking power after the country won independence from Ethiopia after a long guerrilla war. There have been no elections and there’s no free media. Exit visas are required for Eritreans to leave the country. Many young people are forced into military service with no end date, human rights groups and United Nations experts say.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.