Druze-Christian Clashes Cool Off in Maghar

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Hours after the calm was restored in the Galilee village of Maghar, following two days of violent clashes between Druze and Christian residents, Druze youths set ablaze two homes of Christian families, and rioters threw rocks at security forces late on Saturday.

No one was injured in the latest incidents, but the clashes, raging since Thursday, have resulted in eight injuries and caused some Christian families to flee the village, as ethnic tension rose and clashes between Druze and Christians entered their third day.

Earlier in the day, two people suffered gunshot wounds and were evacuated to a Tiberias hospital for treatment. Six people suffered light wounds.

A brawl between Christian and Druze youths broke out Thursday after rumors spread that some Christian youths created photo images of Druze girls as nude models and posted them on the internet. On Friday and Saturday, the violence spread, gunshots were fired, shops and vehicles were vandalized and stone-throwing mobs clashed with each other.

Residents of the neighborhood complained that police were late to arrive at the scene of the riot.

Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh said Saturday that he will demand Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra explain the slow police response.

"There were a number of patrol cars in the village when the riots began that left the village because of fears for the officers' safety and awaited the arrival of special units," said Barakeh, speaking from the village.

But police said in response that around 100 police officers poured into the village, and were working with the town's officials to solve the dispute.

Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi arrived at the village, and said during an emergency meeting that "we have reached a critical point - either the local leadership calms the spirits, or police will intervene and restore the public order."

A meeting is being held in the Druze place of worship, and it is being attended by local community leaders, religious officials and members of the national High Arab Monitoring Committee.

Saturday's clashes erupted after a group of Christians held a quiet protest in front of the church, against what they perceive to be a slow police response to Friday's violence.

Schools in the mixed Druze-Christian village declared a strike Saturday to protest the violence that swept the town on Friday.

Also Saturday, police arrested two residents of the town on suspicion they looted stores during the violence.

Witnesses said hundreds of Druze entered a Christian neighborhood in the village and proceeded to bombard the residents with stun grenades and set cars and buildings on fire.

They also said that firefighters didn't come at all, though they were called repeatedly.

Some 18,000 people live in Maghar. Of them, Druze comprise 50 percent of the population, 35 percent are Muslims and 15 percent are Christians.

Many people encounter economic hardships in the village, and the ethnic tensions may be a result of animosity between the wealther Christian population and the poorer Druze.

Druze leaders have been complaining that despite the fact that their sons serve in the military and in the security forces, the government is not rewarding the community, while at the same time Christian youths acquire a higher education and land better jobs.



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