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Friend Witnessed Death of Fellow Eritrean by Israeli Police

  • Molly McKitterick

Israeli policemen stand next to the body of a suspected Palestinian attacker, who opened fire on people at a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, Oct. 19, 2015.

Israeli policemen stand next to the body of a suspected Palestinian attacker, who opened fire on people at a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, Oct. 19, 2015.

An Eritrean immigrant was waiting for a bus with his friend before being shot to death by Israeli police who mistook him for a suspect in a bus station attack Sunday.

The friend told VOA’s Horn of Africa Service that he and Habtom Weldemicheal Zerhom heard shooting as they were waiting in the bus station and like anyone, they ran. Yohanns Arefayne said when he got outside, he looked around for Zerhom, but his friend was not there.

Another Eritrean told him, “He is on the ground and a mob was attacking him and he tried to get up and police was preventing him.”

An injured man receives treatment at the Beersheba central bus station, where a Palestinian gunman went on a stabbing and shooting rampage, Oct. 18, 2015.

An injured man receives treatment at the Beersheba central bus station, where a Palestinian gunman went on a stabbing and shooting rampage, Oct. 18, 2015.

Amateur video from the scene shows a mob beating the wounded man as he lies bloodied on the floor of the Beersheba bus terminal in southern Israel.

Israeli police had mistaken Zerhom for a suspect in an attack on the bus station during which another man killed an Israeli soldier and wounded 10 other people.

Police said an officer shot Zerhom believing him to be a second perpetrator.

Yohanns told VOA that when he went back to his friend, police questioned him about Zerhom. After they gathered the information, he said, they took both men to the hospital, at which point Yohanns learned that Zerhom had died.

The two had gone to the bus station to renew their visas so they could stay and work in the country. Zerhom had been living there since 2012.

Israeli border police check Palestinian's IDs at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighborhood of Issawiyeh in Jerusalem, Oct. 18, 2015.

Israeli border police check Palestinian's IDs at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighborhood of Issawiyeh in Jerusalem, Oct. 18, 2015.

‘Poignant reminder’

Eritrean Minister of Information Yemane Meskel condemned the shooting in a statement on Monday: “For the Eritrean people in particular, the tragic incident is a poignant reminder of the hidden and unreported repression routinely committed in Israel against tens of thousands of their compatriots.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against vigilantism on Monday, saying, "No one must take the law into their own hands."

Local media described Zerhom as an asylum-seeker in his 20s who was in the city to handle visa paperwork.

Israeli security officials on Monday identified the actual attacker as 21-year-old Arab Israeli Mohannad al-Aqaby, who did not have a record of militant activity. Police fatally shot al-Aqaby after he opened fire in the station, killing 19-year-old soldier Omri Levi.

The attack was the single bloodiest incident in more than two weeks of violence against Israelis that has left eight Israelis and 41 Palestinians dead.

Israeli policemen stand next to the body of a suspected Palestinian attacker, who opened fire on people at a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, Oct. 19, 2015.

Israeli policemen stand next to the body of a suspected Palestinian attacker, who opened fire on people at a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, Oct. 19, 2015.

US calls for restraint

The U.S. is urging calm on both sides of the tragic episode. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday, “Acknowledging the heightened sense of fear among Israeli citizens and amid this ongoing violence, I would just note what the mayor of Beersheba said to his own citizens, which is they should not take the law into their own hands."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also called for restraint Monday as he prepared to meet separately this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We want to see calm restored and we want to see the violence stop, and I think everybody in Israel and in the region would like to see both of those things happen," Kerry said.

He added that Israel has "every right in the world" to protect its people from random violence.

Spokesman Toner said that by bringing the various parties together, the U.S. hopes that some mechanism will arise to put a stop to the violence in Israel.

"What we are talking about and what we have talked about before is trying to find a way forward through positive, affirmative actions that both sides can take to end this, this ongoing cycle, uptick of violence," he said.

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