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Five under house arrest in suspected attacks on anti-government protesters

Judge reportedly accepts defense’s argument that violence at Tuesday protest in Tel Aviv was a brawl, not an assault; police say more arrests related to altercation likely

Screen grab from video appearing to show attacks on protesters by suspected right-wing activists in Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020 (Screen grab/Facebook)
Screen grab from video appearing to show attacks on protesters by suspected right-wing activists in Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020 (Screen grab/Facebook)

A Tel Aviv court on Thursday released to house arrest five people suspected of attacking protesters at a demonstration on Tuesday night.

Judge Anat Yahav accepted the defense’s argument that the altercation had been a brawl between the two sides “who had provoked each other,” a Haaretz report said, and not an attack against demonstrators.

The suspects, who were arrested Wednesday and Thursday, will remain in house arrest until Sunday and will not be allowed in Tel Aviv for 15 days. The police said it would not appeal the decision.

Another suspect who was arrested on Wednesday denied any involvement in the incident and was released under restrictive conditions.

The suspects said they had been at the scene of the altercation, but claimed that they had not planned any assault in advance. They said they had been sitting at a bar near the rally and got into a fight after leaving it.

Protesters have claimed that the violence was a “planned ambush” orchestrated by a group of attackers, who left a bar, mingled among the demonstrators in the street, and launched an attack on several protesters at once. The protesters also said police were unresponsive to their pleas for help.

The police said Wednesday they suspected the detainees of various violent offenses and earlier Thursday had requested to extend their detention by a week.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a lawyer and far-right activist who is representing the suspects, said at their hearing, “There isn’t an innocent group and a group of thugs here. There was a group of anarchists who shouted ‘Nazis’ and ‘dirty Jews.'” He said the demonstration was conducted illegally.

Police said more arrests were expected.

Israelis and police at an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv, on July 28, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Protesters had demonstrated against Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening after he called on police to crack down on the rallies.

Afterward, several suspected far-right assailants attacked protesters as they marched from Ohana’s home toward a nearby highway. In video from the scene, the attackers were seen hitting demonstrators with glass bottles, clubs and chairs, as well as spraying them with mace.

Following Tuesday night’s protest, five people were hospitalized, including two with stab wounds to their backs, organizers said. Later reports said 10 people were hospitalized.

Separately, police issued an indictment at an Ashkelon court on Thursday against a man suspected of stabbing a protester at a rally in southern Israel on Saturday night.

Felix Ilyaev, a 20-year-old from Sderot, is suspected of stabbing Nir Sa’ar at a protest at the Sha’ar Hanegev junction near Sderot, the Ynet news site reported.

A demonstrator who was identified as a 40-year-old resident of Kibbutz Gevim was treated for light lacerations to his neck following the incident, in which a group of attackers allegedly assaulted demonstrators rallying against Netanyahu on a highway overpass.

Protesters have for weeks been holding regular rallies outside the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined in recent weeks by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.

Police remove protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The demonstrations have increasingly set the stage for violence. Protesters have alleged violence by police on multiple occasions, as well as by right-wing counter-protesters. There have also allegedly been instances of vandalism and violence by protesters against police.

Police were preparing for mass rallies planned for Thursday and Saturday evenings outside Netanyahu’s official residence.

Police were preparing to deploy in large numbers, officials said. Among the measures, police were to place more undercover officers amid the protesters, use more technology to monitor certain activists and mobilize more officers to prevent violence against the protesters.

Acting police chief Motti Cohen said Thursday morning that security forces would allow the protests, but would counter “violence in any form, against protesters, civilians and police,” adding: “We will take determined action to the full extent of the law against those who disrupt public order.”

Many of the demonstrations, including Tuesday night’s, develop into marches. However, ahead of Thursday’s and Saturday’s protests, police were likely to ban protest marches, according to Hebrew-language media, saying that it was difficult to protect protesters when they were on the move.

Police were bracing for an attempt by far-right soccer hooligans to attack anti-Netanyahu protesters during Thursday’s demonstration, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The reported police preparations come after La Familia, a group of ultra-nationalist supporters of Jerusalem’s Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, called for its members to gather Thursday evening at the First Station, an entertainment center about a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the Prime Minister’s Residence.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, La Familia wrote: “Haters and destroyers of Israel are continuing… to harm every Jewish concept that exists.”

“Watch out, leftist rags, the rules of the game have now changed,” it warned. “We’re not prepared to remain indifferent and sit quietly.”

Channel 12 reported, however, that Jerusalem police were less fearful of violence by La Familia, a group they are familiar with than by potential attackers who are unknown to law enforcement.

They were also concerned for the possibility of violence at the Saturday protest, the report said.

A senior police official said in a closed conversation that “Israel is in a state of social chaos,” the network reported.

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