Cops accused of firing tear gas into E. Jerusalem hospital while dispersing riot

Police deny using tear gas, saying acrid smoke that filled halls of al-Makassed hospital was from pepper spray used by one of the suspects in a 200-person brawl

Police carry out searches in the al-Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem after tear gas was fired into the building on August 21, 2020 (Screencapture/Twitter)
Police carry out searches in the al-Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem after tear gas was fired into the building on August 21, 2020 (Screencapture/Twitter)

Police were accused of firing tear gas into an East Jerusalem hospital on Friday morning while dispersing a 200-person riot outside the building. Police, however, denied responsibility for the gas that filled the halls and emergency room of al-Makassed hospital.

Video from the scene showed patients and doctors coughing and choking as gas wafted through the building, while officers pursued suspects who fled from a brawl outside. Police said the gas came from pepper spray fired by one of the suspects.

Al-Makassed hospital, located in A-Tur, is one of six hospitals in the East Jerusalem Hospital network. It mostly serves Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to residents of East Jerusalem.

Supervisor Hamdan Abayat, an administrative official at al-Makassed told The Times of Israel that he called the police after nearly 200 people gathered outside the hospital during a family dispute.

Around 40 of them, he said, were clashing violently outside the entrance to the hospital. Abayat said he called the police when some of those who had already gathered outside began violently ramming one another’s cars.

“The situation was out of control,” Abayat said. “So first the police came with a small force, then they called reinforcements. They began striking with gas and noise grenades to disperse the crowd.”

At least one of those involved in the fight was stabbed, according to Israel Police. Abayat told The Times of Israel that six were later treated by al-Makassed for injuries sustained during the clashes.

“Policemen and Border Police officers arrived at the scene and were attacked by a number of suspects. They were forced to use riot control measures outside the hospital building to disperse the suspects so as to stop the attack and riot,” Israel Police said in a statement.

After police attempted to disperse them, some of the suspects fled into the hospital, as Israeli security forces deployed throughout the hospital in pursuit. Around the same time, the emergency room began filling up with gas.

“All of us started choking from the gas — medical staff, patients in critical condition, everyone in the emergency room,” Abayat said. “For at least an hour we weren’t able to do work or do anything while we waited for the effects to wear off.”

Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld denied that the gas inside the hospital was fired by officers, saying it was “pepper spray” fired by a suspect.

A video shot on the scene clearly shows a canister on the floor in the middle of a haze of gas. According to Israel Police, the canister was a stun grenade rather than a tear gas canister.

Abayat said members of his staff were divided, with some claiming police had fired the gas inside the hospital and others agreeing that it had been one of those involved in the fight.

“It’s not clear who fired the gas. But if [the police] did fire the gas inside the hospital, that is very dangerous for the patients and doctors. They were a large number of officers, they could have subdued the crowd without using gas inside the hospital,” Abayat said.

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