Israeli arsonists set fire to an apartment housing Eritrean migrants, spray-painting “get out of the neighbourhood” over the entrance in the latest flare-up of violence against African border-jumpers.
“Two people were lightly injured from smoke inhalation and were taken to hospital for treatment,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, calling the blaze in a Jewish neighbourhood of Jerusalem deliberate.
“A special investigation team was set up and police are searching for suspects,” he added.
Fleeing poverty, fighting and authoritarian rule, some 60,000 Africans have crossed illegally into Israel through the relatively porous desert border with Egypt in recent years, Reuters reports.
Israel says most come seeking work rather than refuge, but this has been challenged by U.N. humanitarian agencies and civil rights groups, making deportation legally problematic.
The influx has jarred the Jewish state, with its already ethnically fraught citizen population of 7.8 million. Some Israelis warn of a gathering demographic and economic crisis while others say a country born after the Holocaust has a special responsibility to offer foreigners sanctuary.
Street violence has surged in recent months against the migrants, including a rampage 10 days ago in a low-income Tel Aviv neighbourhood where many migrants, from Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, live.
The Israeli residents accuse the newcomers of being responsible for rising crime in their area.
Last week, 11 minors were charged with a string of racially-motivated attacks against Africans in Tel Aviv.
On Sunday, a law went into effect that will allow Israeli authorities to jail illegal immigrants for up to three years. The measure has been denounced by liberal politicians and human rights activists.