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Violence in Israel as African immigration stirs anger

Violence by demonstrators against African immigrants arriving in Israel has led to at least five arrests, Israeli police say. The protests follow comments on the subject by Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

epa03124964 African refugees wait for a job offer near the central bus station in southern Tel Aviv, Israel, 27 February 2012. Some 50,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, fleeing conflict and poverty in search of safety and opportunity in the relatively prosperous Jewish state. A growing number of African migrants say they were captured, held hostage and tortured by Egyptian smugglers hired to sneak them into Israel. EPA/ABIR SULTAN

Afrikanische Flüchtlinge in Israel

The demonstration turned violent when at least 200 people gathered to voice anger at the presence of a growing African community in Tel Aviv, according to police sources.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the protesters had pushed officers and caused other public disturbances.

The Jerusalem Post later reported that a total of 17 people - the majority of them minors - had been arrested for offences including rioting and possession of knives. The newspaper also said that a car carrying immigrants had been set alight, although the occupants were unharmed.

A lively debate has erupted about the community's presence, with allegations that the immigrants have been responsible for an increase in crime.

'Threatening the foundations of society'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the "phenomenon of illegal immigration from Africa is extremely serious and threatens the foundations of Israeli society, national security and national identity."

In remarks relayed by his office, Netanyahu said the current number of "illegal infiltrators" could grow to 600,000. "This would inundate the state and, to a considerable degree, cancel out its image as a Jewish and democratic state," he said.

Official figures for 2011 show there were some 52,487 illegal African immigrants in Israel, although statistics do not distinguish between refugees and economic migrants.

Israel is currently building a wall along the border with Egypt, with a detention centre for immigrants being built in the southern Negev desert.

rc/jm (AFP, AP)