Israeli police, ultra-Orthodox protesters clash over schools

National

Men walk amid smoke from a dumpster fire, in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators clashed with Israeli police officers dispatched to close schools in Jerusalem and Ashdod that had opened in violation of health regulations on Sunday. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators clashed with Israeli police in two major cities on Sunday, as authorities faced new difficulties in enforcing coronavirus restrictions in the country’s religious communities.

The clashes occurred in Jerusalem and Ashdod as police attempted to close religious schools that had opened in violation of lockdown orders.

Throughout the pandemic, many major ultra-Orthodox sects have flouted safety regulations, continuing to open schools, pray in synagogues and hold mass weddings in funerals. This has contributed to a disproportionate infection rate, with the ultra-Orthodox community accounting for over one-third of Israel’s coronavirus cases, despite making up just over 10% of the population.

In Jerusalem, police fired tear gas and putrid-smelling water to disperse a crowd of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox residents outside a reopened school. Demonstrators cried “get out of here, Nazis” at officers who were filmed arresting participants. In the coastal city of Ashdod, police scuffled with dozens of protesters outside an ultra-Orthodox school.

Five police officers were wounded in the disputes, and at least four people were arrested, police said.

With the country experiencing a raging coronavirus outbreak, the Israeli government last week extended the country’s third nationwide lockdown until the end of January.

Israel’s Health Ministry has recorded over 595,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic and 4,361 deaths. New cases of the disease continue to climb, even as the country has launched a massive vaccination campaign.

Sunday’s clashes were the latest incident of heightened tensions over enforcement of lockdown rules in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Israel. On Friday, ultra-Orthodox Israelis attacked a police vehicle in the city of Bnei Brak, outside Tel Aviv. A crowd pelted the police car with stones and punctured its tires.

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