A private security guard shot dead an Arab demonstrator during anti-police riots in central Israel early Tuesday, police said, in the latest violent confrontation threatening to stoke tensions between Arabs and Jews in Israel.
Local residents denied police claims that the demonstrators posed a life-threatening danger to the officers, and accused them of being light on the trigger. In January, police shot dead a 47-year-old Arab schoolteacher they initially called a terrorist, but later acknowledged they may have erred in shooting him.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said clashes broke out after police came to arrest a local resident in the Arab town of Kfar Kassem. He said the man resisted and then other local residents attacked the police, managing to free the suspect.
He said hundreds of rioters then burned three police vehicles and hurled rocks while masked men attacked the local police station. A security guard stationed there felt a threat to his life and opened fire, killing a local resident, he said.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List in the Israeli parliament, said the violence was a result of a heavy-handed police policy toward Arabs.
"The police killed another Arab man," he told Israel's Army Radio. "The police treat Arabs as enemies, not as citizens."
Arabs make up a fifth of Israel's population. They enjoy full citizenship but frequently face unfair treatment in areas like jobs and housing. They often complain of second-class status, while many Israeli Jews view them as disloyal because they largely sympathize with the Palestinians.
Police have recently launched a greater effort to combat crime in Arab towns and villages, with a special emphasis on collecting illegal arms.
Odeh noted that since the watershed deadly clashes between Arab protesters and police in October 2000, 55 Arab citizens have been shot dead by police compared to just four Jewish Israelis.
"Unfortunately, the police have not internalized that these are citizens," he said.