Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem rioted and scuffled early Sunday with police forces, in an attempt to prevent authorities from taking a dead body for a possible autopsy, Hebrew-language media reported. Only by using stun grenades were they dispersed, after a hours-long confrontation.
The body of a religious Jew was discovered in a local hostel around midnight, and within minutes an urgent call was sent out throughout the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Beit Israel. The crowds quickly arrived at the hostel’s entrance and blocked the vehicle transporting the body, fearing its destination was the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.
For religious reasons, many members of the ultra-Orthodox community believe the bodies of the deceased should not be tampered with, and generally oppose autopsies except in extreme cases. Similar protests have taken place in the past over the issue.
The scene turned violent after dozens of policemen were summoned to clear the way for the ambulance, which was stuck in the middle of a sea of protesters and couldn’t reach the hostel.
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Around 1:30 a.m. police began using force to disperse the protesters, and the vehicle managed to get to the hostel.
However, the masses refused to accept a compromise proposed by police that would have see the body transported to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Hundreds of people lay down on the road, blocking all exits, and police were forced to employ riot control measures, including stun grenades, to get the vehicle out.
Footage from the incident showed stun grenades being thrown at the protesters and hundreds of ultra-Orthodox people running for cover, as the ambulance’s path was finally cleared.
One of the police vehicles was reportedly damaged, having its windshield and side mirror smashed.