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Cops attacked while enforcing virus closure in ultra-Orthodox areas; 24 arrested

Mobs throw stones, other objects at police in Modiin Illit and Jerusalem in another night of violence as authorities face intransigent factions within Haredi community

Police officers arrest a protester during a rally against enforcement of coronavirus emergency regulations, outside the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, October 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police officers arrest a protester during a rally against enforcement of coronavirus emergency regulations, outside the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, October 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police officers attempting to enforce coronavirus lockdown regulations met fierce resistance in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modiin Illit and Jerusalem late Tuesday and early Wednesday, in the latest outbreak of violence between the community and authorities.

Two dozen people were arrested in the two cities, and several people were injured, including four officers.

In Modiin Illit, a largely ultra-Orthodox central West Bank settlement of some 75,000 also called Kiryat Sefer, a mob hurled stones and shot fireworks at officers who attempted to shut down an illegal mass prayer service being held by the hardline anti-Zionist Jerusalem Faction, an extremist sect that often clashes with police.

As police attempted to convince worshipers to disperse via a loudspeaker, hundreds of locals, including children, surrounded the police vehicles.

The group blocked the cops by sitting down in the road and hurled rocks and other objects at the officers, including bottles, dirty diapers and fireworks.

Additional forces were called in to rescue the police officers, but four cops were injured in the process, including two female officers who required medical treatment, police said.

Seven people were arrested, and an 11-year-old boy was hospitalized with a head injury.

Footage showed one local telling police: “Run away, you are an abomination. Animals.”

Videos from the scene also showed police officers shoving protesters.

In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, police were also attacked by angry ultra-Orthodox protesters who blocked roads with burning garbage cans and threw stones and metal objects at cops.

Police said 17 people were arrested for disrupting public order and attacking officers in the capital.

A passerby was wounded by a stone thrown by the protesters.

Police have struggled to quell ultra-Orthodox riots in several towns in recent days as hard-line flanks of the community resist a nationwide lockdown that has seen holiday gatherings and prayer services massively curtailed.

The ultra-Orthodox have seen soaring coronavirus infection rates with an assessment last week finding that the rate of infection in the community is 2.5 times that of the national average. Spiraling infections across the country prompted the current lockdown, the second this year. Although initially scheduled to be lifted at the end of the Sukkot holiday, officials have said it will likely continue for at least a week longer before any easing of restrictions takes place.

While various ultra-Orthodox groups have complied with lockdown rules and mask-wearing regulations, many others have bristled at the restrictions and have continued to attempt to hold large gatherings, challenging enforcement efforts by police.

Most of the clashes with police in recent days have been attributed to anti-Zionist fringe groups.

The director of the police’s emergency division, Morris Chen, told the Kan public broadcaster Wednesday morning that “there is a minority that blatantly violates the rules. The officers come to defend the public and end up being attacked.”

The protesters routinely refuse to identify themselves and block roads, Chen charged. “Children throw rocks at police officers. How low will we stoop?”

Police clashed with ultra-Orthodox men and children in the central city of Beit Shemesh on Tuesday, with three people arrested after officers were pelted with stones and other objects. The police were also denounced as “Nazis.”

In a video of the incident, an officer could be seen being hit in the face with what appeared to be a can. Another officer raised his fist as if to strike a man, as the scene developed into a melee.

In another video, small ultra-Orthodox children attacked a car carrying a soldier. In the video, young kids could be seen seeing hurling stones at the car, smashing windows, as adults look on and appear to encourage them.

Police said Monday that they arrested 18 people overnight in Jerusalem for allegedly disturbing the peace and throwing stones at officers during an operation to enforce coronavirus regulations in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city.

There have also been clashes in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak and the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit.

The government late on Tuesday approved a one-week extension of the law that heavily restricts demonstrations and indoor prayers during the ongoing virus lockdown.

Criticism of the ultra-Orthodox community has been growing in recent days, as videos have proliferated showing continued refusal to comply with lockdown rules while the rest of the country has seen their freedoms heavily curtailed by the emergency regulations.

Critics have also accused the police of being reluctant to crack down on the ultra-Orthodox, while others have accused officers of using excessive force against Haredi protesters and anti-government activists holding regular demonstrations.

Footage on Monday showing thousands of mourners at a funeral of a rabbi in Ashdod elicited widespread anger, especially as police were initially seen doing little to prevent the crowds from massing.

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