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Streets largely empty as police step up enforcement of tightened lockdown

Force puts up checkpoints, closes and fines stores, with officials estimating movement is down 70%; however, unenforced violations reported in ultra-Orthodox cities

People walk on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on January 8, 2021, during a 3rd nationwide full lockdown, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People walk on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on January 8, 2021, during a 3rd nationwide full lockdown, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police stepped up enforcement Friday after the tightened coronavirus lockdown took effect, dispersing gatherings, closing stores violating the restrictions, and calling via loudspeaker upon citizens to follow the guidelines.

After the initial lockdown imposed several weeks ago was under-enforced and provided plenty of loopholes to go outside, the tightened closure had an immediate and dramatic effect on movement, with police estimating that roads were 70 percent emptier than normal.

Checkpoints were set up on major highways and within towns and cities. The previous rules had already limited Israelis from venturing beyond a kilometer from their homes, with several exceptions.

Normally bustling Friday markets such as Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda saw a notable drop in shoppers, even though many food stalls were open.

“There will be equal enforcement” for all communities, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said during a tour of a temporary police coronavirus checkpoint Friday.

But despite the lockdown rules prohibiting schools from opening except for special education and exceptions determined by law, footage of open schools emerged from the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, with dozens of children seen heading to class during the nationwide closure.

Hebrew-language media reported that police officers were sent to the scene, but no official statement was immediately made on the matter.

In a separate incident, dozens of worshipers gathered Friday morning in a synagogue in Beitar Illit in violation of the lockdown restrictions. Cops called to disperse the gathering were met by a mob that attacked the force, hurling stones at them. Police managed to disperse the crowd and arrested one suspect for attacking officers, Channel 12 news reported.

Anonymous police officials told the Haaretz daily earlier this week that officers wouldn’t take action against Haredi schools that remain open in violation of the lockdown.

One of the most influential spiritual leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community urged his followers Thursday to heed the government lockdown regulations and the instructions from the medical establishment. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said Haredi schools would close for “several days” during the lockdown. Kanievsky has in the past ordered ultra-Orthodox schools to remain open as lockdown measures were in force.

Meanwhile, police arrested the owner of a falafel joint in Shoham, along with his son, after the two attacked officers. According to the police, the store was open in violation of the current restrictions, telling Channel 12 news that the owner had been warned the day before, and had attacked officers on the occasion as well.

 

Police forces also dispersed an overnight gathering in southern Jerusalem, during which seven suspects were arrested, one of them for assaulting officers. Fines were also handed out to the participants and organizers of the event, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Many Israelis stocked up on groceries ahead of the lockdown and police were deployed in large numbers to enforce the restrictions, which were approved late Wednesday by ministers as infection rates surged in Israel. Police were heard Friday driving around some supermarkets, calling upon citizens to follow the Health Ministry lockdown guidelines.

The measures will be in effect until January 21. Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told the Ynet news site that “according to the infection data, the closure could last more than two weeks, but I do not estimate it to be more than a month.”

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