Akko riots
Car damaged during riots
Photo: Shalom Ino
Hundreds of Jews, Arabs clash with police in Akko
(Video) Arab vehicle stoned after entering predominantly Jewish area on Yom Kippur; rumor that motorist killed spreads, prompting hundreds of Arab residents to arrive at the scene; three injured in ensuing clashes;

VIDEO - Hundreds of Jewish and Arab demonstrators were clashing with police forces Thursday night in Akko's Wolfson neighborhood, this after Yom Kippur saw fierce clashes between the northern city's residents that erupted after an Arab motorist entered a predominantly Jewish area on the holiest of Jewish days.


Police were trying to contain the demonstrators with crowd-dispersing apparatus, including water hoses, stun grenades and gas grenades.


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on Akko residents Thursday evening to make every effort to calm the tensions.


"We must safeguard the ability to live together in those cities," he said. The PM was briefed on the events and made it clear that coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel is of great importance, particularly in mixed cities.


Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is set to replace Olmert as PM, has not yet issued a response to the riots. However, she spoke with Akko's mayor Thursday evening and was briefed on the situation.



Video: Ido Becker (צילום: עידו בקר, עריכה: תמר אברהם)


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Severe clashes between Jewish and Arab residents of Akko erupted Wednesday night in the northern city's eastern neighborhoods after a resident of the Old City drove through a predominantly Jewish area on his way to visit relatives.


The incident quickly developed into a mass riot involving hundreds of people, during which dozens of cars and some 30 shops were vandalized. Three people, including the Arab motorist and a police officer, sustained light injuries.


The clashes between Arabs and Jews resumed Thursday evening, after Yom Kippur ended, as hundreds of Jews and Arabs demonstrated and confronted police near the train station in eastern Akko and near the city's northern housing projects.


The rioting began to subside at around 8:30 pm, but resumed less than an hour later. Ten demonstrators have been detained so far.


Earlier Thursday evening Jewish rioted near the local Magen David Adom station and set fire to a field in response to the Arab vandalism. Police blocked the entrance to east Akko in an effort to prevent the demonstrators from pouring into other parts of the city.


"It cannot be that yesterday police gave the Arabs a free hand and today they are preventing us from demonstrating," a Jewish resident said, "we cannot live with them (Arabs) anymore."


Another resident shouted at the police officers "where were you yesterday when the Arabs entered (our neighborhood) and tried to lynch us."


Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen was expected to hold an assessment meeting at around 8:30 pm.


According to Akko Police Chief Avi Edery an initial investigation into the incident revealed that Jewish residents began hurling stones toward the Arab driver as he entered Ben-Sushan Street. The Arab's relatives came to his rescue.


Damaged car in Akko (Photo: Shalom Ino)


A rumor that the Arab driver had been killed spread to the Old City, prompting hundreds of Arab residents to arrive at the scene. Fierce clashes ensued, according to the police commander.


On Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish day, traffic is not restricted by law per se, but with the exception of emergency vehicles only, is frowned upon.


Meanwhile, police were negotiating with prominent Arab leaders in the city in an attempt to whisk the Arab family from the area in an effort to prevent further rioting.


Following extensive talks with the Arab leaders, including Knesset Member Abas Zkoor (United Arab List-Ta'al) and municipal officials, the family was rescued from its home unharmed, and the Arab residents began making their way back to the Old City while vandalizing vehicles and shops on the Ben-Ami pedestrian mall.


Large police forces have been deployed in Akko following the clashes.


Earlier Thursday, police officials met with Arab leaders at the police station in Akko in an effort to end the riots. During the meeting, Arab community leaders reportedly expressed their willingness to calm tensions and suppress the radical elements that may wish to continue the riots.


MK Zkoor, who also took part in the meeting, later told Ynet: "The police officers present at the meeting did not say it out loud, but it was understood that they too know they acted negligently."


Police officials admitted Thursday morning that despite the high state of alert declared ahead of Yom Kippur, the force was not prepared for the possibility of rioting on such a large scale.


"This incident was severe, and now our greatest fear is additional incidents and acts of revenge," one police official said.


Yonanatan Weber contributed to the report


First published: 09.10.08, 19:47
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