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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Netanyahu praises police over ultra-Orthodox protests

Israel has registered more than 605,000 cases of the novel coronavirus (AFP)

Date of publication: 25 January, 2021

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised police after ultra-Orthodox protesters clashed with security forces and torched a bus in protest against coronavirus restrictions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised police on Monday after ultra-Orthodox protesters clashed with security forces and torched a bus in protest against coronavirus restrictions.

"The police used force, as they should against those who don't respect the law," the premier said, during a visit to a vaccination centre.

Clashes broke out late Sunday in several ultra-Orthodox districts, including Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv and Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, where residents protested against lockdown measures.

Bus driver Ayal Tzipori was injured in the attack and taken to hospital.

"I don't know how I'm still alive," Tzipori told Israel's KAN radio station.

He said some 50 people had blocked the road with bins and tyres, then attacked his vehicle, throwing stones and breaking windows.

"One of the rioters entered the bus and started kicking and punching me," he said.

Firefighters said they were pelted with stones as they tried to put out the bus blaze.

Police said 10 residents of Bnei Brak had been arrested, noting the "disturbances" had "put in peril the lives of emergency services and the public."

They said they would do their "utmost to find those responsible for criminal acts which have put innocent lives in danger."

By Monday afternoon, calm had returned to Bnei Brak, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

But three more officers were wounded on Monday in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Beit Shemesh when they tried to close a school that was open despite a nationwide shutdown, the police said in a statement, adding that three people were arrested.

Yitzhak Yossef, Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi, denounced the violence.

"Those who are responsible for these serious acts in the name of the Torah are committing profanities against the name of God," he said in a video, while also appealing to police to exercise "restraint".

Mayor of Bnei Brak, Meir Rubinstein, said local authorities would cooperate with the police to "put an end" to "incidents of this nature".

Many Israelis accuse ultra-Orthodox Jews, who account for around 12 percent of the country's population, of being disproportionately responsible for the spread of coronavirus.

A week ago, a wedding in Bnei Brak was attended by hundreds of guests, despite a strict lockdown being in force since late December.

Israel has registered more than 605,000 cases of the novel coronavirus among its population of nine million, including 4,478 deaths.

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