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Police commissioner urges restraint as Bedouin city burns

Pipe bomb hurled at cops in Rahat during anti-police riots following deaths of two residents

Protesters clash with Israeli police (unseen) in the southern Israeli Bedouin city of Rahat on January 20, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Menahem Kahana)
Protesters clash with Israeli police (unseen) in the southern Israeli Bedouin city of Rahat on January 20, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Menahem Kahana)

A pipe bomb was hurled at police on Tuesday in the Bedouin town of Rahat amid escalating tensions between police and residents. The violence led police commissioner Yohanan Danino to call for restraint and an end to the clashes.

Residents of Rahat continued anti-police protests for a second day following the deaths of two residents in separate confrontations with police in recent days.

No policemen were injured in the pipe bomb explosion, but the vehicle was damaged.

Danino said the pipe bomb “crossed a red line,” and promised “zero tolerance” for violence against police, according to the Ynet news site.

“I understand the pain of the families of those killed and offer my condolences, but in the same breath I say that law and order must be kept,” Danino said.

Danino said he backed the police, who were doing “sacred work,” but later added that the cops must “show restraint.”

The police commissioner said he was in touch with local authorities to help quell the violence. He maintained that among the protesters there are “extremists who want to deteriorate the situation,” and vowed they would face legal consequences.

Several hundred protesters marched through Rahat Tuesday night, with some resorting to throwing stones and firebombs at police. One resident was lightly wounded when police charged the crowd to push back the protesters. Four were arrested in the melee.

Danino is in Rahat Tuesday to oversee the police response to the protests.

Protesters chanted “We will sacrifice our lives for the martyrs,” and “the Israeli government is a terrorist government,” Ynet reported Tuesday. The protests follow the shooting death of a Bedouin man, 22-year-old Sami al-Jaar, a bystander in a shootout between police and suspected drug dealers in the city. At Jaar’s funeral Sunday, violent altercations with police may have caused the deadly heart attack that claimed the life of the second Rahat resident, Sami al-Zayadna.

Balad MK Hanin Zoabi, who attended the funeral of Zayadna Monday, expressed her solidarity with the anti-police demonstrators. “I am still shocked from the accounts I heard about police brutality against handcuffed protesters. This protest is carried out by people who are fighting for their rights and are not giving up,” she said.

Leading Arab advocacy groups declared a general strike in Arab communities and towns throughout the country on Tuesday in protest at the deaths.

Israeli police stand guard during clash with Arab-Israeli protester in the southern Israeli Bedouin city of Rahat on January 20, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli police stand guard during clash with Arab-Israeli protester in the southern Israeli Bedouin city of Rahat on January 20, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

Former MK Taleb el-Sana, chairman of an umbrella organisation of Arab Israeli groups and a Bedouin from Rahat, said schools and businesses closed “to send a strong message that the entire Arab community… strongly protests the murders of two citizens of the state of Israel whose only crime is being Arab.”

Officials in Rahat and in the northern Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm said schools were closed and shops were shuttered on Tuesday.

Arab students at Tel Aviv University staged a protest outside the campus fence, drawing jeers and angry retorts from Jewish passers-by, according to Israeli public radio.

Other media reported a similar protest by university students in the northern city of Haifa.

Residents of Rahat have been on strike since Sunday.

Police have opened an inquiry to determine if Jaar was shot by officers or those they were trying to arrest. Police say Jaar was not connected to the drug bust.

Following Zayadna’s burial on Monday, angry protesters — some of them masked — hurled stones at the Rahat police station, police said.

Police said five suspected stone-throwers were detained and more arrests were expected.

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