JERUSALEM, Sept. 27 (JTA) — The contentious issue of land expropriation has spurred one of the worst clashes in recent years between Israeli Arabs and police. A riot Sunday in central Israel left at least 62 Arabs and six police injured. The clashes occurred after Israeli Arab demonstrators gathered to protest the confiscation of land from the town of Umm el-Fahm and the nearby village of Muawiya for use as army training grounds. The army spokesman confirmed that the army had confiscated some 125 acres for training purposes, but added that it also returned to local residents some 500 acres that had been expropriated in the past. Sunday’s confrontation began after police tried to dismantle a protest tent at Muawiya. Police charged that the tent was placed provocatively inside the training area’s fire zone. Local residents charged that the confrontation escalated after police burst into a high school in Umm el-Fahm. Arab youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police, who fired rubber bullets in response. Elik Ron, an Israeli police commander, compared the violence to the intifada — the Palestinian uprising in the territories that occurred from 1987 to 1993. He said police had to use rubber bullets after they had been attacked with gasoline bombs. The riots continued throughout Sunday until the evening hours, bringing to a halt traffic on the Wadi Ara road, a central artery that passes by Umm el-Fahm. Among the wounded was Sheik Ra’ed Salah Mahajneh, the mayor of Umm el-Fahm, who also is one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement in Israel. From his hospital bed, Mahajneh said he expected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani to announce that the government had erred and that all the confiscated land would be returned to its owners. Yossi Sarid, leader of the Meretz Party in the Knesset, called for the establishment of a commission to investigate the land confiscation.
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