More than 100 people were injured when hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers from rival groups clashed with each other and with Israeli police in south Tel Aviv on Saturday in one of the most violent street confrontations in living memory.
Among the injured were 30 police officers and three protesters hit by police fire.
The violence broke out between supporters and opponents of the Eritrean government as the country’s embassy held an official event at a nearby venue in south Tel Aviv to mark 30 years of rule by President Isaias Afwerki.
Police said the rival groups had received permission to hold separate events and had promised to stay away from each other.
However, anti-government protesters broke through the police barriers. In violence lasting several hours, rioters from both sides tore through the neighborhood, smashing shop and car windows and throwing rocks at police, and fighting each other in street battles with clubs, wooden planks, pieces of metal, rocks, and at least one axe.
Hundreds of Israeli police in riot gear and others on horseback battled to quell the violence, and shot tear gas and stun grenades at the rioters, as well as live rounds. Police said the officers resorted to live fire when they felt their lives were in danger.
The Magen David Adom emergency service said it treated 114 people for injuries, including 30 police. The injured, some of them seriously wounded, were taken to several hospitals, and one hospital administrator described the incident as a “mass casualty” event on a scale he could not recall.
Police arrested 39 people and confiscated weapons, including tasers, knives, and clubs.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would convene a cabinet meeting on Sunday to discuss action against those who participated in the clashes, including deportations. Eritreans comprise the majority of the more than 30,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records and asylum seekers in Israel and elsewhere say they fear death if they return.