HAIFA, Israel—More than 100 people were injured in violent clashes in Tel Aviv between supporters and opponents of the Eritrean regime celebrating an Eritrea Day event and opponents of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
Israeli medical officials said more than 114 people had been treated for injuries, including 30 police officers.
At least three protesters were shot by police firing live rounds after they felt “real danger to their lives.”
The violence broke out around an event organized by the Eritrean embassy to mark Revolution Day on Sept. 1, which commemorates the start of the Eritrean War of Independence against Ethiopia in 1961.
The riots started in northern Tel Aviv on Sept. 2 and continued into the southern neighborhoods of the city throughout the afternoon. The protesters were shouting, waving sticks, and throwing stones.
Police asked the public to stay away from the riot for their safety and to allow the police to carry out their duties.
Police and Border Police forces used stun grenades against protesters as the crowd grew more violent. Police officers in riot gear and on horses tried to corral the protesters, who broke through barricades and hurled chunks of sidewalk, batteries, and rocks at them.
The protesters wreaked havoc on the streets, smashed windows of businesses and car windshields, vandalized cars, and left destruction in the hall where the Eritrean embassy’s event was supposed to take place.
Thirty-nine rioters who had weapons, tear gas, and electrical stun guns in their possession had been arrested according to a police statement on X, previously known as Twitter.
Shortly before 4 p.m. local time, the police announced they had “regained control” and that calm had “returned to the streets in the southern Tel Aviv area.”
“The dictatorial and murderous regime in Eritrea uses embassies around the world to hunt down those who have escaped its arms. The phenomenon is known and reported over the years,” according to The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Israel’s leading organization protecting the rights of refugees, migrant workers, and victims of human trafficking.
“The leadership of the opponents of the regime turned to the police in an attempt to prevent the disaster,” the statement points out. Yet the state ignored their requests and the police ignored the warnings and “it ended with live fire at protesters,” the statement concludes.
Police said Eritrean government supporters and opponents had received permission for separate events, and had promised to stay away from each other but at some point, the promises were broken.
Chaim Bublil, a Tel Aviv police commander, rejected the claims that the police were not prepared properly yet admitted that the police were “surprised by the intensity of the violence, unequivocally,” he said.
Violent protests have occurred around the world as Eritrea marks 30 years of independence with festivals held by Eritrea’s diaspora across Europe and North America.
Earlier this year, Eritrea called anti-government protesters marching against these events “asylum scum.”
Eritreans make up the majority of the more than 30,000 African asylum-seekers in Israel. They say they fled danger and persecution from a country known as the “North Korea of Africa” with forced lifetime military conscription in slavery-like conditions.
President Afwerki has led Eritrea since 1993, taking power after the country won independence from Ethiopia in a long guerrilla war.
There have been no elections, there’s no free media, and exit visas are required. Many young people are forced into military service with no end date, according to human rights groups and United Nations experts.
Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records, and the asylum-seekers fear death if they were to return.
Reuters and AP contributed to this report.