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Police use stun grenades to clear Haredi mob who torched bus at lockdown protest

Police used stun grenades to clear ultra-Orthodox rioters from the streets of Bnei Brak early Monday after a group attacked two buses, setting one on fire and completely destroying it.

The mob pulled an Arab driver from his bus and beat him, lightly injuring him before setting the vehicle on fire, Hebrew media reports said.

The vehicle was completely gutted before firefighters could reach the scene, with the flames burning through electric cables and causing a blackout in parts of the ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv. Several residents of nearby buildings were evacuated amid fears the bus could explode.

The scenes of destruction came after a day of fierce clashes between police and rioters who opposed lockdown restrictions, with top ultra-Orthodox officials on Sunday blamed police for the tensions.

The bus arson was the second attack on a bus in a matter of hours, earlier protesters also threw rocks at a bus and commandeered it, forcing the driver to flee, according to Hebrew media reports.

Demonstrators also pushed dumpsters into the street and lit them ablaze, with one video showing officers being targeted with fireworks.

Police said they would not be deterred by violence and vowed to continue to enforce the national coronavirus lockdown.

The latest clashes came after lawmakers from the United Torah Judaism party and other Haredi officials held a meeting on the roof of the Bnei Brak city hall, placing the blame for the ongoing violence squarely on cops and not the protesters.

“The Israel Police carries the blame for the catastrophe taking place in our city for several days,” said Bnei Brak Mayor Abraham Rubinstein who was himself attacked by an angry crowd as he later came out to try and call for calm.

Some threw refuse and rocks at him, while others fired fireworks at his entourage. His bodyguards had to use pepper spray to extricate him from the people.

He accused police of engaging in “provocative activity” and “collective punishment” against the city’s residents and called on them to leave the city.

Among the UTJ lawmakers in attendance were Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni, close political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It is inconceivable that the police, because of a violation on the beach in Tel Aviv, will close off a neighborhood and shoot explosives there and smoke grenades and spray [mace] as they did here in Bnei Brak on Thursday night and today,” Gafni said.

Gafni also said prominent Haredi Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky called for a halt to both the protests and “the terrible things” he alleged police were doing to Bnei Brak residents.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu was asked about his conversations with leading rabbis and why he recently spoke with Kanievsky’s grandson about closing schools during the lockdown and not the rabbi himself.

“Rabbi Kanievsky isn’t available. Everyone who speaks with him speaks with the grandson. I also spoke with the grandson. I don’t see this as an insult,” he said during a press conference.

Responding to mounting criticism against him, Netanyahu added: “I didn’t beg… I said follow the guidelines. That’s my message to the rabbi and he passed on the message I hope. I don’t know if it will have an impact.”

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

On Sunday, ultra-Orthodox TV interviewees used Holocaust imagery to describe alleged excessive force used by cops, as they faced accusations of rampant violence against police officers doing their job trying to enforce the coronavirus lockdown.

Nathan Rosenblatt, a resident of Modiin Illit, told Channel 12 news about “the Kristallnacht that the police carried out in Bnei Brak last week,” referring to the “night of broken glass” in 1938 when Nazi forces destroyed Jewish property in Germany, including hundreds of synagogues and thousands of businesses, and arrested more than 30,000 Jewish men.

A representative of the extremist Jerusalem Faction accused cops of carrying out “pogroms,” in an interview with the network.

In Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox protesters also vandalized the city’s light-rail system, part of an ongoing protest against a new line that is supposed to run through their insular neighborhoods.

Earlier Sunday, a policeman shot in the air after rioters surrounded and shoved him and other cops 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.

Police said the officer felt a “stab” in the back with a blunt object and therefore fired shots in the air to drive the protesters back.

A police statement said a cop suffered head injuries during the clashes and received medical care.

“We will work to locate and fully bring the lawbreakers to justice,” police said.

During the clashes in Bnei Brak, extremist ultra-Orthodox mobs attacked reporters and photographers for major networks Channel 13 and the Kan public broadcaster, throwing various objects at them, including rocks.

Footage showed the journalists running along the street, unable to flee the attacks, asking store owners for shelter.

The head of the police investigations division, Roy Waldman, said in an interview with Channel 13 news that “there’s anarchy in the streets” and decried what he called “a state within a state.” He singled out the hardline Jerusalem Faction group and the Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty.

Litzman, speaking at the Sunday night meeting in Bnei Brak, said the resort to the use of guns was unacceptable. “Next, the defense minister will be calling in the air force,” he charged.

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.

There have since been multiple additional reports of lockdown violations among the ultra-Orthodox, including a mass wedding Sunday in Beit Shemesh broken up by police, leading to clashes.

Header: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky attends a campaign event for the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah party in the northern city of Safed on February 26, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Source: TOI