Protests in Israel for third day over police killing, but less violence

Kiryat Ata (Israel) (AFP) –


Israelis protested for a third straight day Wednesday after an off-duty police officer's killing of a young man of Ethiopian origin stoked accusations of racism.

But calls for calm and a show of force by the authorities fed into reduced violence compared to earlier in the week.

Dozens of police deployed in the town of Kiryat Ata near the site of Sunday's killing in northern Israel, where protests the previous two nights saw tyres burned and roads blocked.

Solomon Teka, 19, was shot dead on Sunday in Kiryat Haim, a town near the port city of Haifa.

Groups of youths gathered to protest again on Wednesday evening, but they were largely peaceful and police dispersed some who attempted to block the road.

In the economic capital Tel Aviv, around 100 people scuffled with police when they blocked a road for about 20 minutes before being dispersed.

The protests were far less intense than the previous two nights.

Beginning Monday in areas throughout the country, protesters blocked roads, burned tyres and denounced what they see as discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community.

Police say more than 140 people have been arrested and 111 officers have been wounded, many by stones, bottles and petrol bombs thrown at them.

Footage of major intersections blocked by protesters burning tyres -- causing massive traffic jams -- dominated news coverage in Israel over the last couple of days. A number of cars were also burned.

Police had initially allowed demonstrators to block roads in some locations to keep direct confrontations to a minimum and avoid setting off further tensions, but warned late Tuesday they would no longer allow it.

One of the arrests was of a 27-year-old man accused of setting fire to a car in Tel Aviv in an incident that led to police rescuing the driver, police said.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for calm, while acknowledging issues facing the Israeli-Ethiopian community must be addressed.

- 'Tragedy' -

Netanyahu called the killing a "tragedy" and said "our hearts are with the family and lessons will be learned."

"But one thing is clear: we cannot tolerate the violence we saw yesterday," he said Wednesday at a meeting of a ministerial committee on the integration of the Ethiopian community.

"We cannot see the violent blocking of roads, we cannot see Molotov cocktails, attacks on police officers, on citizens and on private property."

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Moti Cohen met with representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, a police statement said.

Teka's killing sparked outrage among members of the Ethiopian community, who say their young people live in constant fear of police harassment because they are black.

Police 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 passer-by said the policeman was not attacked, Israeli media reported.

Police said the officer was placed under house arrest and a probe launched by the justice ministry department which investigates police conduct.

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

Most are descendants of communities cut off from the Jewish world for centuries and who 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 complained of institutionalised racism.