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Riot in Jerusalem Haredi area over virus regulations; girl hit by police grenade

Riots erupted Thursday night in the hardline ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, with protesters hurling objects at police forces, who responded by throwing stun grenades, one of which injured a nine-year-old girl passing by.

Approximately 100 people demonstrated against the ban on communal prayers and restrictions on mikveh ritual baths amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The government on Thursday extended the closure rules in several, mostly Haredi, neighborhoods in the capital until April 19.

The protest hadn’t been coordinated with authorities and did not adhere to Health Ministry guidelines on social distancing.

When police forces arrived to disperse the crowd, some demonstrators hurled rocks, metal rods, eggs and other objects at the cops.

Violence also erupted inside one of the local synagogues after the police officers entered it.

CCTV footage from a local street showed cops throwing the stun grenade that hit the nine-year-old girl who hadn’t been taking part in the riot, and exploded right next to a stroller with a baby in it. The girl’s parents reportedly plan on filing a complaint after Shabbat with the Police Internal Investigations Department.

The girl, Zissel Margaliot, told the Ynet news site that she was injured near her eye and had felt her head was “on fire.” She said she had run, panicking, looking for people who would help her.

Margaliot’s parents said they had taken Zissel to a private medical clinic rather than a hospital, fearing a coronavirus infection.

“They gave her ointments. She had pain and couldn’t sleep all night, she’s in shock,” said her father, Dov, who said she had been buying food for Shabbat.

Senior police officer Ofer Shomer told the Kan public broadcaster that the grenade hadn’t been thrown to where the girl was standing and claimed the officers had used “reasonable” force.

Police said in a statement that 12 people were arrested and that officers “did not notice the presence of the mother and child in the eye of the storm,” while dispersing the rioters.

Three officers were injured during the riots, police said, with one requiring hospital treatment.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who heads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, reacted by condemning the attacks on police as “contrary to the law and to halacha,” but also speaking out against police.

“We must prevent wild police behavior, excessive use of force and throwing stun grenades in densely populated neighborhoods full of small children,” he said, adding such actions “endanger human lives, create hate and contribute to the erosion of public order.”

A lawmaker for Shas, another ultra-Orthodox party, also condemned the incident.

“A heavy hand should be employed when dealing with rioters who use violence in general and toward security forces in particular,” said MK Michael Malchieli.

“But to see hideous videos like this where a stun grenade is thrust in the face of a small girl is unacceptable in any constellation,” he added. “Extra caution is needed in densely populated areas.”

The ministerial committee formulating Israel’s response to the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday approved a decision to relax lockdown restrictions in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, while extending closure rules in Jerusalem neighborhoods until April 19.

The capital’s Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood joined the list of closed down areas, which are predominantly Haredi, Hebrew media reports said.

The move came despite multiple reports earlier in the day that said the lockdown would be removed in both Bnei Brak and the Jerusalem neighborhoods. Police had already taken down barriers at the entrances and exits to Bnei Brak on Wednesday night as the two-week lockdown rules came to an end.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reportedly vehemently opposed that plan, with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett backing his stance. The eventual decision was approved with the Health Ministry’s okay.

The ultra-Orthodox town of 200,000 near Tel Aviv has the second highest infection numbers in the country — 2,150 as of Thursday. Jerusalem leads with 2,418 cases.

Two weeks ago Bnei Brak was placed under a strict lockdown, with residents only allowed to leave municipal boundaries to work in key industries or to receive medical care. Several Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods were put under lockdown on Sunday.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Thursday that Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were likely to be placed under lockdown next, following an increase in infection rates. Kan said that Silwan and Ras al-Amud were among the neighborhoods facing closures.

Header: Zissel Margaliot, who was injured by a police stun grenade during a riot in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim, April 17, 2020 (Screen grab/Ynet)

Source: TOI Staff