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TEL AVIV — Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday his country "cannot accept" a video allegedly showing police beating an Ethiopian Israeli soldier which sparked angry protests on the streets of Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu met Israeli soldier Damas Pakada a day after violent clashes broke out between police and thousands of demonstrators who claimed the video was evidence of racism and police brutality.
"I want to tell you that I was shocked, shocked over this thing," Netanyahu told the soldier. "We cannot accept this. The police are dealing with it and we will need to change things."
Pakada said afterward that he was encouraged by the "prime minister's personal initiative to talk to me and meet with me," and describing it as "a good meeting."
He added that while he supported the protests he was disappointed they had deteriorated into violence.
Thousands of people — mostly from Israel's Ethiopian Jewish minority — took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Sunday night, throwing rocks and bottles at police in riot gear and closing a major highway, officials told The Associated Press.
At least 43 demonstrators — some of whom who chanted "violent police officers belong in jail" — were arrested and 56 officers were injured, according to figures tweeted by police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Shimon Solomon, an activist and former Israeli lawmaker who was born in Ethiopia, told NBC News that the violence was caused by "anarchist groups" who joined the demonstration and hijacked it later in the night. "This was not our intention," he said.
According to Solomon, Ethiopians in Israel have "for years" being living in fear of police violence.
"We demand these policemen to stop — they don't deserve to wear their uniform," he said.
Netanyahu earlier called for calm following the clashes on Sunday, saying in a statement: "All claims will be looked into but there is no place for violence and such disturbances."
The officers allegedly filmed beating Pakada are being investigated, according to Israel's Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, who labelled them "a disgrace," the AP reported citing Israel's Channel 2.
- Lawahez Jabari and Alexander Smith
Alexander Smith reported from London. The Associated Press contributed to this report.