Crowds of Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox clash with cops enforcing virus lockdown
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Crowds of Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox clash with cops enforcing virus lockdown

3 arrested, 1 officer lightly injured in Mea Shearim clashes, cops decried as Nazis, amid crackdown on those violating restrictions aimed at curbing spread of disease

Police seen in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, as they disperse public gatherings, following the government decisions, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police seen in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, as they disperse public gatherings, following the government decisions, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Three people were arrested and fined during clashes with police in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood on Sunday, as officers worked to ensure compliance with a government-ordered partial lockdown meant to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

The crackdown came amid ongoing incidences of members of the ultra-Orthodox community failing to abide by the Health Ministry’s guidelines, holding large weddings and continuing to study in schools ordered closed.

Large numbers of ultra-Orthodox men crowded around the officers. Rioters pelted cops with stones, and one officer was lightly injured, the Israel Police said in a statement.

Police were enforcing strict restrictions on the size of public gatherings and business operations that include limiting groups to just 10 people and store owners ensuring that shoppers stay two meters apart.

Police seen in the ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, as they disperse public gatherings, following the government decisions, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The three detainees were arrested on suspicion of disturbing public order and were given citations for violating prohibitions on gatherings, police said. They were each fined NIS 5,000 ($1,380) in keeping with the new social distancing directives, according to Hebrew media outlets affiliated with the religious community.

Although neighborhood residents were largely not complying with lockdown orders, police found that businesses and shops in the area were, the media outlets reported.

Video shared on social media showed the narrow streets of the neighborhood teeming with people as police moved in.

In another clip, the police were denounced as Nazis.

The clashes came as Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is himself Haredi and has championed the tight restrictions as part of efforts to contain the disease, pressed ultra-Orthodox institutions to obey the orders and temporarily close down, Channel 12 reported.

According to the report, some of the institutions that had not yet closed agreed to his requests and have shuttered their premises.

The new directives went into effect Sunday morning, vesting police with power to enforce orders. The rules, which allow “essential” services to remain open, have sown confusion among business owners and individuals regarding what was permitted.

The guidelines indicate that police will not take action against individual rule-breakers who leave their homes, but rather those who congregate in groups.

Police seen in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, as they disperse public gatherings, following the government decisions, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police also swept Sunday through Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market and Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market, ordering food and produce stands to close, in accordance with the new emergency regulations.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry ordered the closure of all ultra-Orthodox schools. Many of them had remained open under the instruction of their religious leaders, after Israel ordered the closing of all schools last week to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Health minister Yaakov Litzman speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90

To raise awareness of the coronavirus outbreak, the Health Ministry last Tuesday dispatched cars equipped with loudspeakers to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to implore residents to obey instructions aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

Israel has taken far-reaching measures to contain the pandemic, including sealing its borders to non-citizens and non-residents, calling off schools, banning gatherings of over 10 people, and shutting down all malls, gyms and restaurants.

As of Sunday afternoon, 945 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Israel, and one person has died. At least 37 have recovered.

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