Eritrea accuses Mossad of stirring up Tel Aviv mob violence between expat groups

Days after battle royale between regime supporters and opponents on streets of Tel Aviv, Asmara says foreign plots with ulterior political motives behind unrest

Eritrean migrants who oppose the regime in Eritrea and pro-regime activists clash with Israeli police in south Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Omer Fichman/Flash90)
Eritrean migrants who oppose the regime in Eritrea and pro-regime activists clash with Israeli police in south Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Omer Fichman/Flash90)

Eritrea’s government has accused Israel’s Mossad spy agency of fomenting unrest among expat communities, days after clashes between Eritrean regime supporters and opponents and Israeli police turned the streets of southern Tel Aviv into a war zone.

In a series of statements, the Eritrean Information Ministry also accused Israeli officials and media of demonizing the country by blaming Eritreans for the mob violence, claiming that the regime-backers were peaceful and questioning whether the opponents were actually Eritrean at all.

According to Eritrea’s government, considered among the world’s most repressive, intra-communal clashes between diaspora groups at regime-backed events in Europe, Canada and Israel are being instigated or sponsored by governments abroad.

“The futile acts of subversion — perpetrated through surrogate and rogue groups — are in essence sponsored by major intelligence agencies (including MOSSAD),” the ministry said in a statement. “Bewildered, as they are, by the indomitable resilience of the Eritrean people, they desperately seek to foment division within its ranks.”

The statements accused those behind the unrest of having ulterior political motives, though the ministry did not detail what those were.

At least 170 people were wounded, including police officers, in hours-long clashes Saturday in south Tel Aviv between migrant supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government. Police responded to the riots with batons and tear gas as well as live fire in some instances, leaving dozens hospitalized. Dozens of police officers were also wounded.

Similar incidents have taken place in recent months in other countries at events organized by regime supporters, underlining the bitter split outside Eritrea between supporters of the government and their children — often protected by foreign passports — and exiles who fear for their loved ones back home.

Illustrative: Asylum seekers from Eritrea protest against the Eritrean ambassador to Israel, outside the Foreign ministry in Jerusalem on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The recent event in Tel Aviv and other countries is a new trend that stems from the political agenda of certain external forces. Indeed, many of the sponsors, ring-leaders and activists that pose as ‘political opponents of the Eritrean Government’ are actually non-Eritrean,” the ministry claimed in a statement Monday that also appeared to point blame at Israeli police for not taking warnings about violence seriously enough.

The statement accused Israeli authorities of not checking if asylum-seekers claiming to be from Eritrea actually originated there and said statements blaming Eritreans for the fighting were “irresponsible and unacceptable.”

“The Eritrean community in Israel has an impeccable record — indeed as it is the case elsewhere in the Diaspora — to celebrate their national holidays in a vibrant, peaceful and dignified manner,” it said.

The comments on the Tel Aviv violence echoed previous remarks from Asmara alleging that anti-regime activists were foreign-backed provocateurs.

“Complicity in attempts to disrupt decades-old Eritrean festivals using foreign thugs reflects abject failure of asylum scum,” Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said last month after rioting in Germany.

Anti-Eritrean government activists, left, clash with supporters of the Eritrean government, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 2, 2023 (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Eritrea’s government speaks harshly about those who flee and accuses the West of trying to weaken the country by depopulating it.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Eritrea over the years, many setting off into the deserts of Sudan and then North Africa in attempts to reach Europe. There are some 17,000 Eritreans in Israel, largely in southern Tel Aviv, part of an influx of African migrants in recent decades that has halted since the construction of a fence on the border with Egypt.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, 77, has led Eritrea since it won independence from Ethiopia in a long guerrilla war. There have been no elections. There’s no free press. Exit visas are required. Many young people are forced into military service with no end date, human rights groups and United Nations experts say.

Eritrea and Israel established ties in 1993, but they have not amounted to much. Israel’s embassy in Asmara sits empty, and Eritrea likewise has an embassy but no ambassador in Israel. Trade is negligible, and the issue of Eritrean migrants is a volatile political issue for Israel.

Lazar Berman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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