Israeli police clash with ultra-Orthodox over virus rules

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Photo credit An Israeli protester covers his face with representations of the national flag in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
By The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police clashed with hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews overnight as they sought to enforce restrictions on public gatherings during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the police said Wednesday.

Footage released by police showed huge crowds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem chanting and hurling stones and metal bars at police officers. The police said 17 people were arrested.

Clashes also erupted in Modiin Ilit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank. Police said they ordered people to leave a synagogue before being attacked with stones and fireworks, Four police officers were wounded and seven people were arrested, police said.

Segments of Israel's ultra-Orthodox community have defied restrictions on religious gatherings intended to contain the country's coronavirus outbreak, even as the insular community has seen its own cases soar.

Israel went into a second nationwide lockdown last month after developing one of the worst outbreaks in the world on a per capita basis. The country currently has around 60,000 active cases, including 855 people hospitalized in serious condition.

Israel, with a population of just 9 million, has reported a total of more than 270,000 cases and more than 1,800 deaths since the pandemic began.

Late Tuesday, the government decided to extend a state of emergency for another week, until Oct. 13. The emergency measures require that people stay within 1,000 meters (yards) of their homes except for essential services and restrict both protests and religious gatherings.

Protesters have been holding regular demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for months, calling on him to resign over his trial on corruption charges and criticizing his government's handling of the pandemic.

Netanyahu and his supporters say the restrictions on protests are needed to prevent virus transmission, while critics accuse him of trying to muzzle dissent. Ultra-Orthodox leaders, who are key political allies of Netanyahu, had earlier accused the government of singling out their community by limiting religious gatherings while allowing the outdoor protests to continue.

Protesters held dozens of small demonstrations across the country late Tuesday, apparently while complying with requirements to stay close to home. Demonstrators scuffled with police during a larger demonstration in Tel Aviv when they tried to stage a march through the city.