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Israeli government to consider deporting violent Eritrean rioters, says Netanyahu

Coalition and opposition each attempt to lay blame for worst riots in decades

Eritrean asylum seekers who oppose the regime in Eritrea and pro-regime activists clash with Israeli police in south Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is convening a special ministerial committee this Sunday morning to examine possible measures against those who participated in the violent Eritrean riots on Saturday.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, one of the options being considered is the deportation of anyone who can be identified as having participating in the violent riots, a measure that Energy and Infrastructure Minister Yisrael Katz is calling for.

“The government will not put up with the riots and attacks on the policemen that we saw today,” Katz said Saturday evening. “I congratulate the Prime Minister for establishing the team that will work to deport the rioters. The government's policy must be clear: any Eritrean who is found to have participated in the illegal demonstrations on the Sabbath and resorted to violence against policemen, civilians, or businesses – will be immediately deported from Israel.”

Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu blamed the Supreme Court for the violent incidents over the weekend, arguing that the courts were responsible for blocking previous attempts to deport Eritreans who arrived in the country illegally.

“The Supreme Court of Justice cannot hide in their ivory tower,” Eliyahu said. “The High Court of Justice, which overturned a government decision to deport infiltrators, cannot hide in their ivory tower and say it's a governance problem.”

The claim was echoed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

“There is only one entity responsible for this situation: The Supreme Court,” Smotrich claimed. “For years we have been warning of this. For years the Supreme Court has prevented any action that would allow the infiltrators to be returned to their homes.”

However, some in the protest movement blamed Netanyahu for the violence.

"I want to thank the policemen who today found themselves again paying a heavy price for the negligence of the Netanyahu government,” said protest leader Shikma Bresler.

“There is someone responsible for the chaos that was in Tel Aviv today. In 2018, there was an agreement that could have returned most of the Eritreans to their country and Netanyahu withdrew from the agreement because of racist Kahanists.”

In 2018, Netanyahu’s government reached an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding the nearly 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees in the country. The agreement would have seen the removal of around half of the refugees, in cooperation with the UNHCR to countries willing to receive them. However, just hours after signing the agreement, Netanyahu backed out under pressure from ultra-Orthodox coalition partners who wanted all the refugees deported immediately.

The Supreme Court ruled that the government could deport the refugees back to their country of origin, as it represented a human rights abuse. It also ruled that the government could not deport the refugees to unwilling third-party countries, as had been suggested by some ministers.

Saturday’s riots were some of the most violent clashes since the Second Intifada. Around 50 policemen were injured in the effort to stop the clashes between rival Eritrean groups, which saw some 150 other people injured and significant property damage.

One officer remained in serious condition after doctors removed part of a camping stove from his head.

Most of the injured police officers only sustained bruises from stones or pieces of wood, according to a police spokesperson.

Local hospitals declared a mass casualty event after the riots became increasingly violent.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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