African refugees in Jerusalem attacked with firebomb

JERUSALEM -- The wave of violence against African refugees in Israel hit Jerusalem on Monday morning with the firebombing of an apartment where 10 Eritrean asylum-seekers were living.

At least four refugees suffered injuries from smoke inhalation and burns while trying to put out the blaze, officials said. The assailants were not apprehended and left behind a graffiti message to get "out of the neighborhood," according to police.

The attack is the latest in string of violence against Africans in Israel. In May, several homes and a kindergarten were firebombed. In Eilat, an African hotel employee was beaten by Israeli beach-goers. Two weeks ago, Israeli youths in southern Tel Aviv rioted through a neighborhood where many refugees live, smashing storefront windows and attacking a car, police said.

Israeli government officials have condemned the violence, but critics say recent statements by some officials about deporting or imprisoning refugees have encouraged the backlash. One lawmaker recently called on Israeli soldiers to shoot any refugees attempting to cross the border with Egypt.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai has called the refugees "criminals" and suggested, without providing evidence, that they are responsible for raping many Israeli women. He said the crimes are unreported because they women fear being stigmatized with having contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Health and women's groups quickly refuted the claim.

Over the last three years, Israel's refugee population has nearly doubled to 60,000, giving it one of the largest refugee communities per capita among democratic, developed countries.

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