Israel says Giro launch in Jerusalem to respect Sabbath

Jerusalem (AFP) –


The Giro d'Italia cycling race will respect the Jewish Sabbath when it launches in Jerusalem on Friday, Israeli authorities said.

"We made sure with the organisers not to violate the Shabbat," Zeev Elkin, Israel's minister of Jerusalem affairs, told public radio Thursday, using the Hebrew word for the holy day.

The Sabbath begins at dusk on Friday and ends at dusk on Saturday, with ultra-Orthodox Jews believing it is forbidden to ride a bike during that time.

Even the less strictly observant refrain from travelling in motorised vehicles.

The tour starts Friday with a time trial set to begin just before 2:00 pm (1100 GMT).

It is the first time the Giro has been hosted outside Europe.

Deploying thousands of police to secure the event on the holy day would likely have angered Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, who form a part of the country's governing coalition.

Judaism forbids any form of work during the Sabbath, encouraging the study of the Torah, prayer and sleep.

Public activities on the Sabbath, such as football games, have led in the past to quarrels between religious and secular Jews.

Elkin hailed the significance of starting the Giro in Jerusalem.

"This has attracted 10,000 tourists, all the hotels are full, it will bring in more than 50 million shekels ($14 million), and one billion viewers around the world for six hours will see Jerusalem in a very positive way," he said.

He noted the "symbolic" dimension of the event.

"Two thousand years ago we (the Jews) left Jerusalem because of Rome. We came back and the Italians come to Jerusalem."

He was referring to the expulsion of the Jews in 135 by the Romans who then ruled the Holy Land.