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Israeli police arrest 15 over campaign to stop Jew-Arab dating

© AFP | Israeli bride Morel Malcha (C) walked down the isle with Israeli Arab groom Mahmud Mansur in August 2014 to racist chants by extremists opposed to the marriage of a Jew and a Muslim

JERUSALEM (AFP) - 

Israeli police have arrested 15 suspected Jewish extremists following an undercover investigation into a group accused of tracking down and threatening Arab men dating Jewish women, authorities said Sunday.

Israeli radio said that among those taken in for questioning was Benzi Gopstein, a prominent leader of the extreme-right group Lehava, but police would not confirm or deny the reports.

Arrests and searches for evidence were carried out simultaneously at addresses in Jerusalem, northern and southern Israel and in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, police said.

"Fifteen suspects known to the police as active in the Lehava organisation were arrested or detained for questioning during the night as part of a police investigation on suspicion that they acted to locate and threaten (Arab) minority members with connections to Jewish young women or girls," a police statement said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that the suspects were being interrogated and it was not yet clear whether any would be charged.

Lehava opposes inter-marriage. In August 2014, its activists staged a rally where racist slogans, including "Death to Arabs!", were shouted at the wedding near Tel Aviv of a Muslim man and Jewish woman.

Arabs account for some 17.5 percent of Israel's eight million population, and are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the creation of Israel in 1948.

In April, six Israelis, including two soldiers, were arrested for racist attacks against Arabs with knives and other weapons and charged with "terrorist" offences.

Police said they were influenced by a Lehava video.

Gopstein was also questioned by police in 2015 after he condoned torching churches in Israel, in accordance with a mediaeval Jewish commandment to destroy places of idol-worship.

The police statement said that the latest arrests were the result of an undercover investigation.

"It uncovered organised and pre-meditated activity believed to have been carried out by the suspects, known members of Lehava," it said.

© 2017 AFP