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Lockdown Enforcement Sparks Violent Clashes Between Israeli Police, Ultra-Orthodox

Israeli police officers clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Ashdod, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli police officers clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Ashdod, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Israeli police’s enforcement of the nationwide virus lockdown has erupted into violence between authorities and Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities.

On Monday, a mob of ultra-Orthodox rioters in the city of Bnei Brak attacked two buses, setting one on fire. The rioters pulled an Arab driver from his bus and beat him before setting the vehicle on fire, Israeli media reported. The driver sustained minor injuries.

The flames destroyed the bus and ate through nearby electric cables, triggering blackouts in some parts of the city.

Israeli police said four people were arrested in connection to the unrest.

Hours earlier, ultra-Orthodox rioters attacked another bus, throwing rocks at it until its driver was forced to flee.

Police used stun grenades to clear the rioters from the scene.

Monday’s events follow a weekend of clashes between Israeli police and ultra-Orthodox communities in Jerusalem and Ashdod. Police have been tasked with closing religious institutions that were open in violation of the nationwide lockdown. For weeks, many ultra-Orthodox have flouted the lockdown rules and continued to operate religious schools, pray at synagogues, and hold mass weddings and funerals. This has resulted in the ultra-Orthodox communities accounting for more than 30% of Israel’s virus cases despite only making up 10% of the country’s population.

In Ashdod, police tussled with protesters outside of an ultra-Orthodox religious school. One demonstrator called Israeli police Nazis, while another took off his face mask and coughed on police.

In Jerusalem, police also scuffled with protesters, eventually using tear gas to disperse hundreds of people gathered outside a religious school.

Israeli authorities reported that five police officers were wounded and four people were arrested during the weekend clashes.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders blame Israeli police for the violence.

“The Israel Police bears the blame for the catastrophe taking place in our city for several days,” said Bnei Brak Mayor Abraham Rubinstein, as reported by The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced mounting criticism from critics who accuse him of not enforcing his lockdown rules in ultra-Orthodox communities for fear of angering his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. Netanyahu responded to the criticism against him in a press conference Sunday, saying he had told a prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi to close religious schools.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the violence, saying: “The right of protest is critical and immovable, but it must not be violated with violence.”

Israel’s Health Ministry has recorded more than 600,000 coronavirus cases and over 4,400 deaths.

Israel is leading the world in its vaccination campaign. More than 2 million people in its population of 9 million have already received the first dose of the vaccine.

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