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Haredi protesters endangered light rail passengers’ lives, operator says

CityPass says vandals who poured cement on Jerusalem tracks during protest took violence to a dangerous level; 10 arrested in clashes with police

Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators clash with police as they protest against construction work for the Jerusalem Light Rail in their neighborhood in Jerusalem, January 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators clash with police as they protest against construction work for the Jerusalem Light Rail in their neighborhood in Jerusalem, January 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

CityPass, which operates the Jerusalem light rail, said Tuesday that cement poured on the rails during an ultra-Orthodox protest earlier in the week could have caused a train to overturn with people inside it.

A demonstration by ultra-Orthodox protesters against a new route of the service turned violent Sunday night, with demonstrators clashing with police, smashing windows of a train, daubing it with black paint, and pouring cement on the tracks.

Ten protesters were arrested during the protests and police were searching for those who damaged the rails. Police, who brought in water cannon to disperse the crowds, said one officer was injured by a stone and required medical treatment. A reporter for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper was also injured by a stone flung at him and was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Passengers who were on the train, which was standing at a stop on Shivtei Yisrael Street, fled as a mob attacked carriages causing significant damage.

Cement poured on the tracks of theJerusalem Light Rail during an ultra-Orthodox protest, January 24, 2021. (CityPass Jerusalem Light Rail)

Train services were delayed until the cement was removed.

The demonstration by the ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredim, was over new routes of the city’s light rail network that are planned to go through their insular neighborhoods.

“This is very dangerous damage that could have caused the train to come off the tracks and even turn over, with passengers inside it,” CityPass said in its statement.

CityPass said it strongly condemns the attack and the vandals who endangered passengers and called on the police “to bring to justice the rioters whose grave acts endangered their lives.”

A spokesperson stressed that while the company has become accustomed to damage to trains from protesters, interfering with the rails was taking the violence to a much more serious and dangerous level.

The protest began at the nearby Kikar Shabbat junction and then moved to the Bar Ilan neighborhood, where hundreds of protesters threw stones at police, passing vehicles and passersby, as well as setting dumpsters alight and damaging police cruisers and a fire department vehicle, the Israel Police said in a statement. The unrest blocked roads in the area.

Last month 25 people were arrested at similar demonstration against the light rail route through Haredi neighborhoods.

Monday’s protest came amid other violence in the Haredi community against a national lockdown ordered to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

A Jerusalem Light Rail train damaged during an ultra-Orthodox protest, January 24, 2021. (CityPass Jerusalem Light Rail)

Nearly daily violent clashes with police enforcing the closure reached a peak on Sunday when protesters in the predominantly Haredi city of Bnei Brak damaged two buses, one of which was completely burned and its driver attacked, suffering light injuries.

The violence drew broad condemnation, including from Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, who called the perpetrator’s “young delinquents” and “rioters” who are “desecrating God’s name,” while urging the Haredi community to renounce them.

There have been multiple reports of flagrant violations of the lockdown in Haredi communities, with schools in particular remaining open, even though the lockdown orders included shuttering the entire education system with the exclusion of special education institutes. All nonessential businesses have also been closed.

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