A fire broke out early Wednesday at a preschool in south Tel Aviv that is due to serve children of asylum seekers, many of whom live in the city's southern neighborhoods. Police and fire officials are investigating suspicions that the fire was the result of arson. An investigator from an insurance company told Haaretz that evidence from the scene indicates arson as the cause.
Firefighters were called to the city-owned preschool complex in the Neveh Kfir neighborhood in southeastern Tel Aviv after 2 A.M. and quickly extinguished it. No one was injured by the blaze but the building and furniture was damaged.
Up to now, most of the children attending the preschool at the site have not been from asylum seekers' families, but due to a shortage of slots in the adjacent Hatikva neighborhood, it was decided to place asylum seekers' children at the Neveh Kfir complex until a new cluster of preschools is built in a park in the Hatikva neighborhood. The transfer of the children has prompted opposition from parents in Neveh Kfir who organized a petition against the move and hung protest signs nearby.
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Two months ago, members of Otef Tahana Merkazit, a group whose name roughly translates as "bordering the central bus station," who have been seeking to expel the asylum seekers from the area, expressed opposition to the construction of the new preschool complex in Hatikva. They claimed that the complex would constitute a nuisance to residents of a nearby assisted living facility and complained that the construction was undertaken without consulting the public.
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For its part, the municipality said that once the construction is completed, it will be clear that the park has not been harmed by the project, but declined to comment on the fire, noting that it was under investigation by the police and fire authorities.
In another development in the Hatikva neighborhood, last week a violent demonstration was held there to protest police conduct in handling an attack several days before of a neighborhood woman in which an Eritrean asylum seeker is a suspect. Protesters shouted slogans including "death to the Sudanese" and "the Hatikva neighborhood is ours." Asylum seekers who walked by at the time were harassed, and an Eritrean was kicked and sprayed with pepper spray.