Tel Aviv erases 'Peeping Toms' beach mural after suspected gang rape

FILE PHOTO: A woman cycles next to changing rooms as she leaves the beach following an afternoon visit, in Tel Aviv, Israel August 20, 2010. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli authorities on Sunday erased a "Peeping Toms" mural that had long been a fixture at a Tel Aviv beach, responding to public outrage over the suspected gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in the southern resort of Eilat.

Painted 18 years ago and often criticised as sexist, the mural was removed by a municipal worker with a paint roller from the exterior wall of a women's changing room. The image showed two young men in bathing suits peering inside.

It was a nod to the beach's name - "Metzizim", Hebrew for "Peeping Toms" - identical to the title of a 1972 Israeli cult film about a lifeguard who spies on his friends' sexual escapades at the seashore.

The mural, located at what the Lonely Planet guide describes as "actually a family-friendly beach" on the Mediterranean, had previously survived defacement by women's rights groups, which complained that sexual assault cases in Israel are not prosecuted thoroughly.

But Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said on Sunday it was time for the painting to go in the wake of the assault against the teenage girl at Eilat, on the Red Sea, on Aug. 12.

"Freedom of expression and the arts are important values in our city, but because the painting was seen as acceptance of a forbidden and criminal act, we have decided to say goodbye to it," Huldai wrote on Twitter.

Police said they would ask a court later in the day to extend the detention of three suspects arrested so far in the rape case. The teenager's lawyer said one of them told police that about 30 men had waited in line to rape her.

Israeli media reports said police believed the number of those involved was far smaller.

In demonstrations in several cities last week and on social media, Israelis have rallied against sexual violence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement on Thursday, described the Eilat incident as "a crime against humanity".

Women's rights groups planned more protests for Sunday.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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