Two houses have been torched and several others badly damaged by rioters in northern Israel. Israeli officials say that it is the third night of tensions between Jewish and Arab residents of Akko (photo, from aljazeera.net).
As Arab residents were evacuated before their homes were set alight, nobody was injured. However police remained on very high alert, said Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, on Saturday.
During the early hours angry Jewish residents set fire to two houses and damaged eight others, said Sami Hawary, an Israeli-Arab resident of Akko and the head of a group which works for co-operation between Arabs and Jews.
“There were scores of angry Jewish residents, mainly younger people who set fire to the homes, the tension is very high here, things are on a knife-edge”, Mr Hawary told the Reuters news agency.
In Akko, an ancient port, Jews and Arabs live in adjacent and some mixed neighbourhoods.
Earlier, Israeli police had raised their alert after two days of clashes in Akko, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
Officers sent to assist
In case the violence spread to other parts of the country, police said they were prepared.
The 200-strong local force has received assistance of five hundred officers.
On Wednesday, an Arab motorist drove into a neighbourhood where Arabs and Jews live, playing his car stereo loudly as ceremonies marking Yom Kippur were under way. That is when the unrest started, Mr Rosenfeld.
The Arab driver was assaulted by a group of Jewish youths who accused him of deliberately disrupting the sanctity of Yom Kippur, day on which observant Jews are not allowed to drive.
“Rumours then spread out, namely from mosques, claiming that the motorist had been killed, prompting several hundred Arabs to take to the streets”, Rosenfeld said.
He added that before roadblocks were set up to divide the two sides, about 100 cars and 40 shops.
During the two nights of violence, police said that two protesters and a police officer were slightly injured, while eight Arabs and four Jews were detained.
Football matches planned for the weekend and an annual theatre festival that was scheduled to be held next week were cancelled.
“The atmosphere in the city is not one that is right for a festival”, Albert Ben-Shushan, the festival’s director, told Israel’s Army Radio.“When it all ends, and fades, and the dust settles, we’ll decide.”
But as it brings thousands of visitors to acre and is a major boost for local businesses, some MPs have criticised the decision to call off the festival.
“It is an expression of co-existance in Akko”, said Ophir Pinez-Paz, who heads the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee. “Despite the events and maybe because of them”, the festival should be held, he insisted.