(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israeli Arab town of Shfaram in the Galilee was in a state of lockdown on Wednesday following a night of widespread rioting between Christian and Druse residents.
Several hundred police officers patrolled the streets seeking to prevent youths from congregating and forming large groups, while non-residents were turned away by police.
The feud began on Saturday, when an argument took place between a Druse child and a Christian child. By Saturday evening, the argument had escalated into full-blown communal strife, and 16 people were stabbed in an ensuing fight.
On Tuesday evening, the feud was resumed, taking the form of widespread rioting. Hundreds of police officers were mobilized to the scene, and were fired at by unknown rioters using live ammunition.
"It's clear they have many guns, but we don't know from where. Some could be legally owned. Last night, they were turned against us," Galilee Police Spokesman Eran Shaked told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
One police officer was shot in the back, and police say only his bullet proof vest prevented a serious injury or death. A number of bullets were removed by officers from their vests.
Shaked said the shooting emanated from within large crowds, and officers therefore refrained from firing back. "We don't fire back into crowds," Shaked said. "Luckily, this ended with light injuries."
Four police officers were lightly wounded during the rioting.
The disturbances were accompanied by what police describe as "intense" rock throwing by rioters at police. Officers, some of whom hail from specialized anti-riot units, responded by using crowd dispersal measures.
"This was an attempt to murder police officers who came to calm the area down. Officers risked their lives to deal with the disturbance," Shaked said.
On Wednesday evening, police set up roadblocks across the town and enforced a policy of turning away non-locals. "Some people from outside of Shfaram are attempting to enter the area to assist either side. We won't allow them in," Shaked said.
"We have a long list of people we intend on arresting who were involved in the rioting," he added. "The situation is very tense. We are waiting for the evening, when disturbances tend to erupt."
Northern Police District Head Cmdr. Shimon Koren is closely monitoring events in Shfaram, police added.
Police were also attempting to use dialogue to calm the atmosphere, but so far those efforts appeared to be ineffective. "That's not working at the moment," Shaked said. "[But] we have officers speaking to all the heads of councils concerned, and asking them to prevent their youths from heading out on to the streets."
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