Jewish would-be worshippers holding an illegal prayer gathering in Jerusalem clashed with police officers who tried to disperse them early Thursday, highlighting simmering tensions as authorities attempt to keep a lid on the coronavirus while opening up parts of the country.
Eight people were arrested and a police officer was lightly injured in the fighting in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, the scene of frequent rows between members of the insular ultra-Orthodox community and police.
Police said in a statement that officers arrived to a synagogue on Hefetz Haim Street in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood after they received a report of a group of people meeting despite rules relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under current regulations, it is not permitted for any more than two people who are not members of the same family to gather in the same place indoors. Outdoor prayer gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed in open areas, if social distancing measures are kept.
Video of the incident showed dozens of people gathered outside the synagogue yelling at the police officers as a shoving match breaks out.
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Police said the officer was injured during a “breach of order” and was taken to hospital for treatment. The Kan public broadcaster said the officer received a head injury from a rock thrown at her.
Mea Shearim is one of a number of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods “that have seen especially high infection rates, thought to be due to the community’s reluctance to obey social distancing orders and other restrictions meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus.”
On Monday night, police were called to Mea Shearim to disperse illegal gatherings by people celebrating the Lag B’Omer holiday. On Tuesday, another large holiday gathering was held with an estimated 2,000 people, according to Channel 12 news, though police did not intervene.
Israel in recent weeks has begun to roll back restrictions on movement as infection rates have dropped to a few dozen new cases a day. But health officials told Hebrew media on Tuesday it could be forced to again introduce restrictions in virus hotspots as a result of the Lag B’Omer violations.
Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and other cities and communities saw major outbreaks of the disease last month, “much of it tied to the ultra-Orthodox community, which initially resisted social distancing measures and whose hardline members continue to flout the rules.”
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men arrested Tuesday evening after breaking into a shuttered holy site at Mount Meron were released Wednesday morning to their homes.
Each of the 317 detainees received a fine for violating coronavirus regulations designed to prevent mass gatherings.
Source: TOI – JTA contributed to this report.