Four arrested as Israeli police, ultra-Orthodox Jews clash

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Four people were arrested in Jerusalem after clashes between Israeli security forces and ultra-orthodox Jews opposed to coronavirus restrictions, the police said Wednesday.

Such protests have taken place repeatedly in recent weeks, sometimes leading to violence.

In late January a bus was torched and its driver hospitalised in the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of people gathered once more in the ultra-orthodox district of Jerusalem, most of them neglecting the obligation to wear a mask, according to an AFP journalist.

Some burned bins or "threw stones and other objects towards security forces at the scene," police said in a statement.

Four people were arrested and then released, the police said.

"Stop the harassment of religion on health grounds," read one banner in Hebrew carried by protesters.

Israel on Sunday began to ease its third lockdown, which came into force in December.

But ultra-orthodox districts are mostly in "red" zones where infection rates are high and restrictions are being lifted less rapidly.

Some Israelis accuse ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up around 12 percent of Israel's population, of being disproportionately responsible for the spread of coronavirus.

Many of the community's schools have stayed open during lockdown, in defiance of regulations.

The easing of the lockdown will see kindergartens and schools for some age brackets resume from Thursday in "green" and "yellow" zones.

But in "red" zones, educational activities will be restricted to outdoors, with a maximum of 10 people, including the teacher.

The country of nine million has officially recorded more than 706,400 cases of coronavirus, including 5,200 deaths.

But it is racing ahead with its vaccine programme, having so far given a quarter of its population two doses.

Forty-one percent have received at least one dose.