x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Eritrean migrants hurt in latest arson attack in Israel

Israeli police say unknown attackers set light to a small apartment where an Eritrean couple were living. The man, who was badly burnt, and his wife, who is seven months pregnant and suffered from smoke inhalation.

JERUSALEM // An Eritrean man was badly burned and his heavily-pregnant wife suffered smoke inhalation early today after attackers tried to burn down their apartment in central Jerusalem, Israeli police said.

The incident, the second such arson attack on African migrants in Jerusalem within six weeks, took place in an old building near the city's Mahane Yehuda market, police said.

"Unknown attackers set light to a small apartment where an Eritrean couple were living. The man, who was badly burnt, and his wife, who is seven months pregnant and suffered from smoke inhalation, were taken to hospital," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

"There is no doubt that this was an arson attempt," he said, indicating that a special police team was conducting an investigation into the blaze in the Nahlaot neighbourhood.

The front door leading into the couple's ground floor studio apartment was badly burnt, and the inside was also blackened by fire, according to an AFP correspondent who visited the scene.

It was the second such arson attempt targeting Africans close to Mahane Yehuda market, and comes as Israel mounts a high-profile campaign to round up and deport illegal immigrants from Africa.

On June 4, four Africans were taken to hospital with burns and smoke inhalation after someone tried to burn down a building housing 18 African migrants, which is also close to Mahane Yehuda market.

On the walls of the building, the attackers wrote: "Get out of the neighbourhood"

Rising tensions over the growing number of illegal immigrants has turned violent in recent months.

There was a spate of arson attacks in south Tel Aviv in April, and a month later, an anti-immigrant protest in the same area turned ugly, with demonstrators smashing African-run shops and property, chanting "Blacks out!"

Israeli figures indicate there are some 60,000 Africans in the country illegally, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. Most of them live in rundown neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv.

On June 10, the immigration police began a mass round-up operation, which initially focused on South Sudanese nationals but which has been expanded to include those from the Ivory Coast.

Since then, hundreds of Africans have been detained and around 240 flown back to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.