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Israel hit by protests over killing of youth


JERUSALEM: Israel has faced protests over an off-duty police officer’s killing of a young man of Ethiopian origin and braced for more on Tuesday as the incident drew fresh accusations of racism. Crowds of Ethiopian-Israelis battled police and blocked highways late on Monday and through the night in various parts of the country after the shooting on Sunday evening.

Further protests were expected later on Tuesday, when Solomon Teka, said to be 18 or 19, was set to be buried. Teka was shot in Kiryat Haim, a town near the northern port city of Haifa.

His death sparked outrage among members of the community, who say their young people live in constant fear of police harassment because they are black. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that after a night of violent protest focused on a police station in Kiryat Haim, demonstrators were still gathered on Tuesday.

“Yesterday evening there were disturbances in Kiryat Haim. Three police officers were injured,” he said.

“There were about 1,000 people in the area of the police station.”

A police statement said the protesters tried to storm the police building, hurling stones and bottles and launching fireworks.

TV footage showed burning tyres in the middle of a traffic intersection.

Police also reported protesters blocking major roads and intersections in the north and south of the country.

No arrests were made, Rosenfeld said, and media said police deliberately kept a low profile to avoid stoking emotions further.

“Police are speaking to leaders of the Ethiopian community to calm the situation down,” Rosenfeld said.

Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community numbers around 140,000 people, including more than 50,000 born in the Jewish state.

Most of them are descendants of communities cut off from the Jewish world for centuries, and were belatedly recognised as Jews by Israeli religious authorities. Israel took in tens of thousands of them in the 1980s and 1990s. The community has consistently alleged institutionalised racism in recent years.

Thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv in January after a young community member was shot dead by a police officer when he allegedly rushed at him while holding a knife.

In Sunday’s shooting, police initially said the officer saw a fight between “a number of youths” nearby and tried to break it up.

After the officer identified himself, the youths began throwing stones at him and he opened fire at Teka after “feeling that his life was in danger”, a police statement said. But the other young men and a passerby said the policeman was not attacked, Israeli media reported.

Rosenfeld said the officer was placed under house arrest and a probe had been launched by the justice ministry department tasked with investigating police conduct.

Interviewed on Israeli public radio on Tuesday, the dead youth’s cousin, Amir Teka, bridled when asked how he felt about the protests sparked by the “killing.” —AFP

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