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German police chief sorry for removal of flags

BERLIN (JTA) — A German police chief apologized for the removal of Israeli flags from an apartment window overlooking a massive anti-Israel demonstration.

"The removal of the flags was, in hindsight, the wrong decision," Rolf Cebin, the police chief of Duisburg, said in his apology issued Monday. "The situation was very tense, and the officers wanted to prevent the demonstrators from damaging [property] and injuring residents."

Police broke into a private apartment on Jan. 10 to remove the Israeli flags after passing demonstrators spotted them and began to throw snowballs and other objects. The couple who live in the apartment complained in a blog entry that "the police acquiesced in the demands of the mob."

Cebin said he "deeply regrets that feelings were hurt, particularly those of our Jewish fellow citizens."

With further anti-Israel demonstrations planned for Germany this weekend, Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement issued Thursday that he expected police "will be more sensitive in their assessment of those in need of protection … against aggressive attacks."

The incident in Duisburg, a western German city of about 500,000, shows that recent anti-Israel demonstrations are not as "peaceful" or "orderly" as police spokespeople and the media have made them out to be, said Johannes Gerster, president of the German-Israel Society, in a statement Thursday.

Police apparently believe that "these oh-so-peaceful demonstrators mustn’t be provoked," he wrote, adding that in Mainz, "such demonstrators tried to storm a department store to attack people carrying an Israeli flag. And other cities report similar incidents."

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, in a statement on Wednesday said the police act was "a clear violation of free expression" and a potential encouragement to "aggressive and violent behavior by those opposing Israeli policies."

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