3/24/2009

Far-rightists march in Israel's biggest Arab town


Israeli-Arab protesters run through tear gas fired by police during confrontations in the northern town of Umm el-Fahm, March 24, 2009. Some 100 far-right protestors launched a march in the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm on Tuesday and caused clashes, injuring 28 people.

JERUSALEM, March 24 -- Some 100 far-right protestors launched a march in the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm on Tuesday, under the guard of hundreds of police officers deployed in and around the area.

Residents, left-wing activists threw shoes and stones at the activists.

Ahead of the march, clashes erupted after police arrested three Israeli Arabs who had scuffled with officers. The detainees had gathered for a counter-demonstration with dozens of Palestinian flag-waving Umm al-Fahm residents.

The police, who were forced to allow the march following High Court approval, used tear gas and shock grenades against the protestors on both sides in a bid to prevent an escalation of violence.

As the potential of violence was high, Israeli police declared a heightened state of alert and deployed 2,500 officers to maintain public order.

The marchers were refused permission to enter Umm al-Fahm itself, however, and may march only on roads outside residential areas, but within the city's municipal boundaries.

The head of the march, Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) rejected the claims that the activists were attempting to create a provocation in the Arab town.

"All we are doing is wave the Israeli flag. All we are demanding is loyalty to the State," he told Xinhua. "We are not here to provoke or expel anyone."

Umm al-Fahm mayor Sheikh Khaled Hamdan said at a press conference on Monday that the residents will prevent the right-wingers from entering their town, and will use force if necessary.

"We have no desire for clashes," he said, "and we are not planning on confrontations with the marchers or the police. Our position is that we will try to block them with our bodies, but peacefully and quietly."

The Abraham Fund, an NGO that promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence, described the march as "an act of incitement against the Arab public" that would "widen the rift in the deteriorating relationship between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, encouraging hatred and possibly igniting conflict."


Israeli police guard near the venue of confrontations in the northern town of Umm el-Fahm March 24, 2009. Some 100 far-right protestors launched a march in the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm on Tuesday and caused clashes, injuring 28 people.
(Xinhua)

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