Eritrean dies after mistakenly shot, beaten in Israel attack

Joe Dyke
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A Palestinian youth raises a knife during clashes with Israeli security forces (unseen) in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, on October 18, 2015

A Palestinian youth raises a knife during clashes with Israeli security forces (unseen) in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, on October 18, 2015 (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Jerusalem (AFP) - An Eritrean man has died after being mistakenly shot and beaten by a mob during an attack in Israel, as a wave of violence spread fear and defied international calls for calm.

More than two weeks of unrest have raised warnings of the risk of a full-scale Palestinian uprising, while some Israeli politicians have urged residents to arm themselves to fend off the threat of stabbings and gun assaults.

The attacks, and violent protests which have erupted across Israel and the Palestinian Territories, have prompted a range of security measures while Israel has rejected a proposal for international observers at a key religious site.

Sunday night's mob violence came after a gunman also armed with a knife stormed a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, shooting dead 19-year-old Israeli soldier Omri Levi and wounding around 10 others.

The gunman, identified as 21-year-old Arab Israeli Mohannad Al-Aqaby, was killed, while a security guard at the bus station shot the 29-year-old Eritrean thinking he was a second attacker. A mob also beat him, Israeli media reported.

Video that spread online appears to show the Eritrean lying on the ground after being shot and receiving blows to the head and body from angry bystanders.

Police identified him as Habtom Zarhum, with Israeli media describing him as an asylum seeker, like many Eritreans who have come to Israel.

The police promised an investigation, saying they "considered this incident as extremely serious".

Sari Bashi, the Israel/Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, called the death a "tragic but foreseeable outgrowth of a climate in which some Israeli politicians encourage citizens to take the law into their own hands."

- 'Foreseeable' tragedy -

Al-Aqaby was among the few Arab Israelis to allegedly carry out attacks in recent weeks. Arab Israelis make up some 17.5 percent of the Israeli population and are largely supportive of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The Arab Israeli mayor of Hura, where police said Al-Aqaby was from, condemned the attack.

"We utterly and unreservedly condemn this despicable act and reject violence of any sort," said the mayor, Mohammed Al-Nabari.

The relentless violence has defied an Israeli security crackdown as well as international calls for both sides to calm tensions.

Many of the attacks have seen young Palestinians with knives stabbing Israelis before being shot dead.

At least 41 Palestinians have died since the start of the month, including alleged attackers, while eight Israelis have been killed.

Clashes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in September preceded the current wave of violence.

- Ambassador summoned -

Muslims fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, the third holiest site in Islam, which is located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

It is also the most sacred site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount and who are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly he has no intention of changing the rules.

Israel summoned French ambassador Patrick Maisonnave on Monday over his country's proposal to send international observers to the compound, a suggestion rejected out of hand by Netanyahu.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, due to meet separately with both Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the coming days, backed Israel's position.

"Israel understands the importance of the status quo," he said during a visit to Madrid. "We are not seeking some new change. We are not seeking outsiders or others to come in."

Kerry also renewed his call for an end to the violence, while adding that "Israel has every right in the world to protect itself."

Most of the Palestinian attackers appear to have been acting on their own.

Checkpoints have been set up in Palestinian areas of east Jerusalem, where the majority of attackers have been from, and some 300 soldiers have begun reinforcing police.

On Sunday, Israel controversially began erecting a temporary wall between the east Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Jabel Mukaber and Jewish neighbourhood Armon Hanatziv to protect it from firebomb and stone attacks.

The Zionist Union, the centre-left coalition which leads opposition to Netanyahu, slammed the move.

"Netanyahu officially divided Jerusalem today," it said in a statement.

Netanyahu has come under heavy criticism over the attacks, while Abbas's calls for peaceful protest have failed to stop frustrated youths fed up with his leadership and Israel's right-wing government.