As tensions spike in Israel, asylum-seeker mistaken for attacker is killed

An Eritrean man was shot and beaten on Sunday after being mis-identified as a second attacker in the shooting of an Israeli soldier.

Amir Cohen/Reuters
An Israeli policeman stands opposite to, according to Israel, a newly erected temporary concrete wall that measures around 10 meters, in Jerusalem, Sunday, October 18, 2015.

An Eritrean asylum seeker, who was mistaken for an attacker, died after being shot by a security guard and beaten by a mob following a deadly shooting and stabbing attack Sunday in southern Israel.

The Eritrean man's death comes amid a wave of violence sweeping Israel and the Palestinian territories, and implies a heightened frustration among the public over officials' inability to maintain security. Dozens have died in a series of random knife attacks and clashes in recent weeks.

The assault took place Sunday night at a bus station in Beersheba after an Israeli Bedouin Arab shot an Israeli soldier, Omri Levy, and stole his gun amid a shooting and stabbing spree that left 10 more injured, reports Agence France-Presse. The gunman was killed by security forces.

But a security guard mistakenly identified the Eritrean, named in one outlet as Haftom Zarhum, as a second attacker. He was shot and later filmed being beaten by an angry mob.

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 said an investigation had been opened to find those behind the assault, adding that they "considered this incident as extremely serious" and "would not allow anyone to take the law into his own hands."

Israeli media described him as an asylum seeker, like many Eritreans who have come to Israel, though authorities have not confirmed those details.

The Washington Post adds that the mob obstructed paramedics who were trying to treat the man.

The incident suggests that the Israeli public's frustration over the violence of the past several weeks has reached a new level. The Israeli government has so far proven unable to stop the spree of apparently unorganized attacks, despite deploying soldiers to reinforce police, The Christian Science Monitor reported last week. And the government on Sunday installed a new, 10-yard cement wall between Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the Post reports.

The violence has been triggered by increasing fears among Palestinians that Israel intends to change the "status quo" on the contested Temple Mount/Haram Sharif in Jerusalem, site of Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest shrines. The compound, holy ground to all three Abrahamic religions, is administered by a Muslim trust, the Waqf. Rumors have asserted that Israel intends to bar Muslims from the site and allow greater access by Jews and Christians.

Israel has repeatedly denied any intention to change the status quo, and since the outbreak of violence has barred visits to the site by Israeli parliamentarians, which Palestinians see as a provocation. But the rumors have flourished – in part due to fanning by some Palestinian leaders and in part to Israeli security restrictions imposed as tensions have heightened.

The arousal to violence appears largely not to have been directed by any particular Palestinian group; most of the attacks have been carried out by "lone wolves" who, inspired by a vitriolic atmosphere online, have taken it upon themselves to attack Israelis, the Monitor reported recently.

Much like social networks helped spread the uprisings of the Arab spring four years ago and helped the Islamic State gain a following in the Islamic world with beheading videos, an atmosphere of conflict is being fueled by campaigns over social networks. Tweets and posts portray the Al Aqsa Mosque as under threat from Israeli extremists and glorify stabbing and shooting attacks. ...

An Israeli Army officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment, said that the attacks continue despite calls for calm by the Palestinian leadership against a new uprising and despite security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. The officer and other security forces accuse the Israel-based Islamic Movement and Hamas of fueling most of the incitement, but said there’s no hard connection or any guiding hand ordering up attacks.

“There’s fuel in the air. It’s a vicious cycle,” the officer says. “There’s an atmosphere of violence and a belief of rallying around the embattled Al Aqsa mosque, which is of course false, and making people do these attacks.”

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