AKKO, Israel - Israeli police are on high alert throughout the country following riots during Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in the ancient northern port city of Akko.
The incident began when an Arab resident of Akko's Old City drove into the predominantly Jewish Ben Gurion neighborhood with his radio blaring shortly before dawn on Wednesday, which police called a clear provocation on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
"This was a provocation. An Arab driver arrived in a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur with blaring music and refused to leave when asked by local residents. We believe he was intoxicated. This was a deliberate act," said Eran Shaked, spokesman for the Galilee police.
The driver, Tawfik Jamal, told Channel 2 that he drove quietly into the neighborhood to pick up his daughter from her fiancée's home, a story police and eyewitnesses refuted.
The confrontation quickly erupted into violence, as local residents, angered by the driver's refusal to leave, threw rocks and bottles at the vehicle.
Meanwhile, false rumors spread quickly through Akko's Arab neighborhoods, bringing hundreds of Arabs to the scene of the incident.
The mob smashed store and car windows, overturning vehicles as they approached the neighborhood, chanting "Kill the Jews, Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater) and threatening residents.
"If you come out of your homes, you will die," the Arabs threatened.
Police quickly mobilized to keep the two groups separated.
"We used tear gas and other means to disperse the [Arab] group heading toward Ben Gurion, thereby preventing a more serious incident. Lives were saved because of this action," Shaked said.
Five police officers and two civilians were injured by rocks.
On Thursday evening, violence broke out again in the racially mixed city, when Jews demonstrated against the rioting and destruction, resulting in 10 arrests and at least eight injured in the fighting.
Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen admitted that local police were caught off guard.
"I am aware of the evidence and witness to the consequences, Cohen said. "It is difficult for me to assess whether the incident was nationalistically motivated or simply an act of hooliganism. We will know this later on," he said.
"I wish to stress that the Akko Police Department was prepared for this Yom Kippur in accordance with recent years, and we had no information indicating that such an incident was about to occur," he said, in response to criticism of the way they handled the rioting.
Sources: Haaretz, YNet news, The Jerusalem Post