(TIMES OF ISRAEL, AP) – Over 150 people were reported injured in Tel Aviv on Saturday, including some 15 seriously, as asylum seekers from Eritrea protesting against their government clashed with supporters of the regime, and both groups clashed with police trying to impose order.
The chaos broke out amid a demonstration against an official Eritrean government event – marking the 30th anniversary of the current ruler’s rise to power. Opponents of the regime, decked in blue, arrived on the scene to demonstrate against supporters, who wore red. The rallies soon devolved into violence that lasted for several hours.
Eritreans from both sides faced off with construction lumber, pieces of metal, rocks and at least one axe, tearing through a neighbourhood of south Tel Aviv where many asylum seekers live. Protesters smashed shop windows and police cars, and blood spatter was seen on sidewalks.
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 rocks at the police. Police said officers resorted to live fire when they felt their lives were in danger.
The Magen David Adom emergency service said the injured included 30 police officers who suffered light-to-moderate wounds. Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Centre said it treated 14 seriously injured individuals, 11 of them from gunshot wounds, including four people who underwent surgery. Other injuries included stabbings and head wounds.
Ichilov Medical Centre administrator Professor Ronni Gamzu said the hospital found itself dealing with a mass casualty incident on a scale he could not recall experiencing during his time in the role.
A senior police officer told Haaretz that while they had expected some violence, officers had not been prepared for the intensity of the unrest.
A leader of the Eritrean community, identified only as Jonny, told Haaretz that they had asked police ahead of time to cancel the embassy event, warning that there could be disturbances.
“We brought dozens of people to the police and asked them to cancel the regime’s event. We said there would be violence. They didn’t listen to us,” he said.
There have been outbreaks of violence within the Eritrean community in the past, between those who support the regime in their home country and those who oppose it.
In 2019, a regime supporter was stabbed and beaten to death by three other members of the Eritrean community in Tel Aviv.
According to Channel 12 news, around 17,000 Eritrean nationals live in Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Eritrea over the years, with large numbers setting off into the deserts of Sudan and then North Africa. Many seek to reach safety in Europe, while thousands have arrived in Israel.
President Isaias Afwerki, 77, has led Eritrea since it won independence from Ethiopia in a long guerrilla war. There are no elections, no free press, and exit visas are required.
Many young people are forced into military service with no end date, human rights groups and United Nations experts say.