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The police have stepped up their efforts against demonstrators in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah with the arrest of an activist hours after the weekly protest against Jewish settlers in the neighborhood. On Friday evening, the police arrested Michael Solsberry, a left-wing activist, on suspicions that he took part in rioting.

Solsberry, whose family is religious, was arrested at his parents' home after the Sabbath had begun. Attorney Leah Tsemel gained his release several hours later. He was brought before a judge last night to be remanded into police custody.

Immediately after his arrest, Tsemel went to the police station, where she was told he was detained on suspicion that he took part in rioting.

"I asked them why this could not wait after Friday evening; what was the rush?" she told Haaretz.

Solsberry was released close to midnight after Tsemel threatened to call the judge at home to evaluate the decision to arrest the activist. The police told Solsberry they intended to charge him with rioting and to ask a judge to remand him into custody or set terms for his release.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel strongly condemned Solsberry's arrest. "The unusual arrest constitutes a troubling escalation in the police's efforts to suppress the freedom to protest in Sheikh Jarrah," the organization said in a statement.

"The protests at Sheikh Jarrah are being carried out lawfully, and the courts have repeatedly ruled in [the protesters'] favor. Just as there were no grounds for earlier forceful dispersals of protests and false arrests by the Jerusalem District police forces, there was no reason to arrest Mr. Solsberry at his home on the Sabbath. The police's role is to protect those who wish to protest and preserve freedom of expression."

Also, dozens of Christian organizations and churches have signed a letter sent to the Old City police chief, protesting what they say is the police's policy of preventing worshippers from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Easter, even though they permit tens of thousands of Jews to go to the Old City on Passover.

The signatories say that for two years the police have prevented Christians from exercising their religious rights during Easter week. This includes strict controls on the number of people allowed to take part in prayers at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

According to their attorney, Mazen Qupty, the police set up roadblocks and issue special entry permits to select the people they want to reach the church.

"Christians are denied their fundamental right to exercise their religion freely because of roadblocks in the Old City, the presence of police with machine guns, as well as rude and hostile attitudes from police and Army officers," the signatories said in their letter sent to the ministers of public security and religious services, as well as the police commissioner and attorney general.

"The curfews and forced closures make these movements almost impossible. In sharp contrast, Israel allows Jews free access to their synagogues."

The authors warn that they will take legal measures at international institutions to redress the situation and "end the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and, in this particular case, to stop limiting Holy Land Christians from exercising their basic religious rights."

Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby rejected the claims and said that "the police make special efforts to ensure the security of the faithful and prevent excessive congestion at the church, which may endanger people's lives."