Police Spread Across Acre in Tense Wake of Arab-Jewish Riots

Clashes erupted before dawn Wednesday after Jews allegedly beat Arab man for driving during Yom Kippur.

An Israel Police source said on Thursday that the police had no prior intelligence about the possibility of clashes between Jewish and Arab residents in the northern town of Acre, which erupted on the eve of Yom Kippur on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, police forces deployed in large numbers throughout the city on Friday in an effort to repress any residual violence.

The riots, some of the worst the city has seen in years, began around midnight on Wednesday after an Arab resident of the Old City of Acre drove his car into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in eastern Acre, where he said he lived.

Jewish teens at the scene said the Arab man was deliberately making noise and smoking cigarettes. The teens attacked the man and shortly afterward, a group of Arab teens arrived at the scene, igniting a riot.

When news of the incident spread, a crowd of Arabs began to gather along the main commercial street in the new city, Ben Ami Street. Dozens of cars and shops along the street were vandalized.

Police faced off against hundreds of Jewish rioters chanting "death to Arabs" and trying to block the city's main thoroughfare. Border Police and officers on horse-back meanwhile tried to prevent the rioters from reaching the city center, where hundreds of Arab rioters had gathered.

Arabs and Jews hurled rocks at each other at the Acre train station and police used water hoses and tear gas to disperse them. In the Old City, Arabs threw stones and burned tires. Two people were reported injured, one by a police horse and the other by a stone to the head.

Police summoned reinforcements from other districts earlier Thursday in anticipation of a renewal of the violent clashes. Hundreds of police are now stationed in the city.

Police Commissioner David Cohen met Thursday in Acre with Mayor Shimon Lankry and lawmakers David Azoulay (Shas) and Abbas Zkoor (United Arab List-Ta'al), who live in Acre. "The goal now is to restore quiet," Cohen said. "I call on both sides to continue coexistence as it has been for years. Public leaders should work to bring quiet and order," he added.

The police source also noted that violence between Jews and Arabs stems from gaps in infrastructure and services between the two communities, and is the responsibility of the state but often lands in the "police emergency room."

Police conduct during the Acre violence will be scrutinized in the coming days. During violence in October 2007 in the Upper Galilee town of Peki'in over the installation of a celular antenna, a police inquiry committee found that the Northern District had failed in its response.

Acre police chief Avi Edri told Haaretz that the initial incident was an isolated one that escalated due to the involvement of Jewish and Arab gangs.

So far, a number of suspected rioters have been arrested and police say they plan to detain more suspects. "We will deal with all the rioters and those who take the law into their own hands with an iron fist," said Chief Superintendent Edri.

In a letter to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Zkoor wrote that police should be deployed around Jewish towns on Yom Kippur to prevent Jews from stoning cars driven by Arabs. Dichter's office on Thursday confirmed receipt of Zkoor's letter. "Without reference to his letter, police have deployed this year, as every year, with reinforcements ahead of the holidays and particularly Yom Kippur."

Zkoor warned on Thursday that it will be very difficult to hold the upcoming annual Acre theater festival in the Old City. He also warned of clashes during Sukkot in the mixed Arab-Jewish Wolfson neighborhood.