An Arab driver nearly ran down a group of Jews in the street, the latter - fearing a terror attack - stoned him, and Arabs rioted and vandalized Jewish property in the mixed northern coastal city of Akko (Acre) during the Yom Kippur holiday and fast. Clashes began Wednesday evening and lasted through Thursday night. Police are on alert to prevent further provocations or acts of vengeance.
The day of violence began Wednesday evening, just after the start of the Yom Kippur fast, when an Arab driver from Akko's Old City entered a majority-Jewish neighborhood at high-speed. The vehicle raised suspicions, as in Israel it is considered unacceptable for anyone other than emergency vehicles to drive on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, although it is not forbidden by law. The driver had to bypass a barrier set up to block traffic at the entrance to the neighborhood.
A resident of the city told Israel National News that the motorist was spotted driving at a high speed towards a park where a group of Jewish youth had gathered. Fearing they were the target of a vehicular terrorist attack - of the type that has been perpetrated several times in recent months - the youths pelted the car with rocks and called for help. Jews from the neighborhood gathered and the driver took refuge with his relatives, a local Arab family.
At that point, Akko Arabs were called to come to the aid of the driver and his family, with the help of a rumor that Jews had killed an Arab resident of the Old City. Arabs began smashing cars and "everything in their way," one eyewitness said. A police officer, the Arab driver and another person were lightly injured as hundreds of people, Jews and Arabs, clashed.
'If You Leave Your Homes, We'll Kill You'
Police, representatives of Akko City Hall and local Arab leaders managed to end the clashes, but the violence continued as Arabs heading back to their neighborhoods ran riot through Jewish areas of the city. Calling "Death to the Jews" and Allah hu akbar ("Allah is great"), the rioters vandalized hundreds of Jewish-owned shops and vehicles, and threw rocks at people on their way to or from Yom Kippur prayers.
According to an eyewitness, "The Arabs threatened Jews that if they left their home they'd be attacked. The Arabs began vandalizing Jewish-owned cars in the street and smashing windows. Afterwards, we saw them coming with axes and slashing tires. It was awful. Residents were afraid to leave for the synagogue."
Sources in the Akko municipality claimed that among those inciting the Arab mobs were known Islamist activists. Police arrested eight people on suspicion of involvement in the violence. Four people were arraigned Thursday, the others will see a judge on Friday.
More Violence as the Fast Ends
Clashes resumed Thursday night after the fast ended, with demonstrations by hundreds of Jews and Arabs near the train station in the eastern section of the city and near the housing projects in the northern neighborhoods. Jewish youths set fire to an empty lot and attempted to make their way to other parts of the city.
Police blocked the eastern entrance to Akko and have been pushing Jewish protesters back towards a local first aid station. To disperse the crowds, police used stun and gas grenades, as well as water hoses, but had difficulty controlling the demonstrators. Clashes with the police continued sporadically into the night, as the Northern District Police Chief, Shimon Koren, is personally overseeing the crowd control operations.
Police are deploying hundreds of officers, patrol cars and special forces in the city's hot spots. "We know that Jews intend to carry out acts of revenge, but we are not talking about an organized initiative," a police spokesman said. "The force will prevent any such interaction."
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter is monitoring the situation closely; he arrived in the city for a visit on Friday morning.