UPDATE 1-Synagogue torched, cars burned in Arab-Jewish towns in Israel

* Violence erupts in Arab-Jewish towns in Israel

* Air strikes in Gaza, rocket fire on Israel, fuel tension

* Arabs make up 21% of Israel's population (Changes dateline, recasts with color from Lod, details)

LOD, Israel, May 12 (Reuters) - Jews cleared Torah scrolls from a torched synagogue on Wednesday and burnt-out cars lined nearby streets after violence erupted in mixed Arab-Jewish towns in Israel over Israeli air strikes in Gaza and clashes in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod, near Tel Aviv, after reports that members of Israel's 21% Arab minority had set fire to synagogues and that Jews had stoned cars driven by Arab residents.

"We have lost control of the city and the streets," Lod Mayor Yair Revivo told Channel 12 News after several nights of violent confrontations in which one Arab man has been killed and many hurt.

Police arrested dozens of people overnight in Lod and in majority-Arab towns in central and northern Israel, including Umm al-Fahm along the West Bank border and Jisr al-Zarqa on the Mediterranean coast.

In Lod, men carried Torah scrolls through the blackened and debris-strewn yard of the torched synagogue. In the coastal city of Acre, Uri Buri, a Jewish-owned fish restaurant, was set fire to and some Arab residents said they were scared to leave home.

In Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, Arab protesters clashed with police firing stun grenades to disperse them.

Security officials said they had reassigned 16 border police battalions from the occupied West Bank to Lod and other Israeli towns because of the violence.

Israel's Arab minority - Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship - is mostly descended from the Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s 1948 creation.

Most are bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew, and feel a sense of kinship with their fellow Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. They often complain of systemic discrimination, unfair access to housing, healthcare, and education services.

PRO-PALESTINIAN PROTESTS

Tension in Arab-Jewish towns has risen as Israel conducted air strikes in Gaza and Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel in an escalation of violence since clashes in East Jerusalem on Monday morning.

"We condemn that our people's solidarity and cohesion with our brethren in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip is being channeled through acts of sabotage to public and private property, as is now happening at Umm al-Fahm's entrance," said Samir Mahamid, Mayor of Umm al-Fahm.

Neighborhoods with Arab residents, including Lod and Jaffa, were among those where sirens were triggered by rocket fire. Two Lod residents were killed on Wednesday when a vehicle was hit by a rocket, Israeli police said.

In Haifa and Jaffa, and in the Arab city of Nazareth, Arab protesters have flown Palestinian flags and chanted slogans in support of Palestinians facing eviction from an East Jerusalem neighborhood under a long-running legal case.

Arab citizens of Israel were among the thousands of protesters who have faced off in recent days with Israeli police near Al-Aqsa mosque and elsewhere in Jerusalem's Old City.

A spokesman for the Hamas Islamist militant group in Gaza encouraged Arab citizens to "rise up" against "our enemy and yours."

(Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Michael Perry and Timothy Heritage)

05/12/2021 10:51

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