Violence engulfed Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv on Sunday night, as an anti-police brutality protest by Ethiopian-Israelis spun out of control, with protesters throwing rocks and bottles at police who fired stun grenades and charged the square repeatedly on horseback.
For hours the protest had been peaceful. The protesters – who numbered in the thousands and included a large contingent of non-Ethiopian Israelis – marched through central Tel Aviv and blocked both sides of the Ayalon freeway for over two hours during the afternoon rush hour.
Witnesses said that when Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich appeared, protesters surged towards city hall and riot police moved in. As the riot police gathered at the foot of the stairs, they were struck repeatedly by a volley of rocks, sticks, and plastic and glass bottles.
Soon a melee erupted, and on the lower deck below City Hall, a phalanx of mounted officers came under a sustained volley of rocks and bottles and charged the crowd. The protesters fell back and in a moment rallied, forcing the horses to gallop in the opposite direction as bottles and all types of projectiles – including at least one motorcycle helmet – soared at police both on foot and horseback.
Police began firing stun grenades in rapid procession, the explosions echoing through the square, which took on a smoky haze. Clashes continued, and by 9:30 p.m. police said 20 officers had been injured.
It was a violent scene the likes of which Tel Aviv has not seen in recent memory. By late evening there were a number of police cars and motorcycle vandalized next to the square, and a few protesters were seen trying to light trash canisters.
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