Middle East

Israeli policeman and Bedouin killed during clashes over demolitions

Israeli policemen detain a Bedouin man during a confrontation over home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran (18 January 2017) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Locals accused police of using excessive force to remove the protesters

Two people have been killed in southern Israel during a confrontation between police and Bedouin villagers over the demolition of illegally built homes.

Police said an officer was killed in a car-ramming attack in Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev desert, and that the Israeli Arab driver of the car was shot dead.

They alleged he was active in an Islamist group and might have been influenced by so-called Islamic State.

But locals said he just lost control of his car after being shot by police.

The BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says tensions are running high in the area.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bedouin living in Umm al-Hiran have been told to move to new housing elsewhere

There have been many house demolitions in Umm al-Hiran as a new, mainly Jewish town is built on the site.

The Israeli Supreme Court has rejected an argument that members of a local Bedouin tribe have rights to the land.

The army moved them to Umm al-Hiran from their original village in the 1950s, a few years after the State of Israel was created. They have now been told to move to new housing elsewhere.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Israeli police said Yaakub Abu al-Qiyan intended to hit police officers with his car but locals say he lost control of his vehicle after being shot

Police spokesman Supt Micky Rosenfeld said a local man had driven at speed towards officers deployed during an operation to demolish 15 structures deemed to have been built without a permit on state land.

"A vehicle driven by a terrorist from the Islamic Movement intended to strike a number of officers and carry out an attack," he said in a statement. "The officers responded and the terrorist was neutralised."

The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement was outlawed in November 2015, after the Israeli government accused it of fomenting a wave of knife, gun and vehicle-ramming attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs that has killed at least 42 people in the past 16 months.

The movement's Southern Branch, which recognises Israel's legitimacy and engages in national politics, has not been banned.

Supt Rosenfeld said the officer who died was 34-year-old Sgt Maj Erez Levi.

The driver was meanwhile named as Yaakub Abu al-Qiyan.

Village activist Raed Abu al-Qiyan said he was a member of his Bedouin tribe and owned one of the structures that had been scheduled for demolition.

"The Israeli narrative is a lie. He was a revered school teacher," he told AFP news agency. "He has no relations with the Islamic Movement."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The demolitions of several dwellings went ahead despite the incident

Human rights activist Michal Haramati said Mr Abu al-Qiyan had not been driving towards police when he was shot.

"Suddenly the car started to go down the hill, without control, absolutely," she told Reuters news agency. "The driver was obviously dead by the time that he lost control this way. That's when he hit the cops."

The driver's brother, Ahmad Abu al-Qiyan, said he was "murdered in cold blood".

The police later released aerial video footage filmed by a helicopter. A spokesman said it showed Mr Abu al-Qiyan had accelerated as he drove towards Sgt Levi.

Image copyright Israel Police
Image caption The police released aerial video footage of the incident showing the vehicle hitting its officers

However, Israeli media said the video also appeared to show other officers walking towards the vehicle and opening fire before it increased speed.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote on Twitter that the officers had called on the vehicle to stop and fired warning shots into the air, only aiming at the vehicle when it continued moving.

Following Wednesday's incident, there were further clashes in Umm al-Hiran in which several other police officers were wounded, Supt Rosenfeld said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh was wounded in the head during the clashes

Locals accused them of using excessive force to remove protesters.

Politician Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List in the Israeli parliament, was wounded during the clashes and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to "enflame the area".

Mr Erdan accused Mr Odeh of travelling to Umm al-Hiran to "incite violence" and warned there might be "criminal implications for him".

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