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Cop shoots in air after ultra-Orthodox rioters surround and shove police

A police officer shot in the air Sunday afternoon after ultra-Orthodox rioters surrounded and shoved him and other officers while enforcing lockdown rules in Bnei Brak.

The incident took place amid clashes in at least three cities across Israel as police attempted to enforce coronavirus lockdown restrictions in a number of ultra-Orthodox communities.

The Israel Police said in a statement that the shot was fired after “a mass gathering of local residents began to surround the policemen, throwing stones at them.”

Footage of the incident showed a large crowd following the officers as they walk down the street and appearing to pin one of them against a bus in the middle of the road. No rock throwing was seen in the short clip shared on social media.

“The officers felt their lives were in danger and so one of the policemen fired in the air,” the police statement said, adding that there were no casualties reported.

Clashes first broke out in Bnei Brak earlier Sunday out as police tried to shut down schools linked to the Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty, whose head rabbi on Saturday ruled that educational institutions should open, before apparently backtracking hours later.

Clashes also continued in the southern city of Ashdod, where police were confronted Sunday morning while closing down studies at an ultra-Orthodox elementary school that had opened despite Health Ministry and Education Ministry rules preventing in-person studies.

Several thoroughfares in the city were closed as hundreds of rioters clashes with police at various locations.

At the same time, hundreds of men from the extremist Jerusalem Faction gathered at a main intersection in Jerusalem — without masks or distancing — to protest the enforcement.

They claimed authorities had “decided to hinder the ultra-Orthodox public in any way possible, while using violent and uncivilized methods reserved for regimes we thought were gone from this world.”

Police said in response to the violence that they would continue to enforce virus restrictions “in all communities.”

The lockdown, in its third week and extended till January 31, has shuttered all “nonessential” businesses along with the entire education system, excluding special education. Some ultra-Orthodox schools, however, have continued to operate in violation of the rules.

In response to the violence, an argument reportedly broke out between Construction and Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana during a cabinet meeting held via videoconference.

Litzman, the leader of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, asked Ohana to explain why the police were going “wild” in Bnei Brak, according to Hebrew media reports.

Ohana was said to respond by asking Litzman to explain why the local residents were going “wild” themselves.

“The footage will tell you everything,” Litzman retorted.

Ohana then said: “If you want, you have my phone number. We can do this together, not in this forum.”

Last week clashes broke out between police and rioters opposed to coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Bnei Brak after a mob in the city injured a police officer on patrol. At least six people were arrested for disturbing the peace. Those rioters belonged to an extremist faction of the Vizhnitz hasidic sect, according to Hebrew media reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Friday attack in Bnei Brak, stating that “we will act with a heavy hand against lawbreakers, first and foremost against those who raised their hands against our policewomen and policemen.”

Critics have accused Netanyahu of avoiding cracking down on the Haredi public in order not to anger his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

Additional reports of lockdown violations among the ultra-Orthodox emerged Saturday, including a mass gathering over the weekend in the Sanz Hasidic sect in Netanya. Other sects are expected to hold prayers and gatherings this week.

On Thursday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called for jailing those who broke lockdown rules.

Netanyahu and Edelstein made appeals last week to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi, asking that he influence the community to obey the lockdown.

According to the Haaretz daily on Saturday, Kanievsky gave permission for some ultra-Orthodox schools to reopen this week, but only if it does not spark a confrontation with police. The report said some schools were hesitant to reopen despite his approval.

Header: Ultra-orthodox Jews clash with police as they protest after authorities closed a yeshiva that was operating in violation of lockdown orders, in Ashdod, January 24, 2021 (Flash90)