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Haifa residents criticized police yesterday for forcibly evacuating secular locals from a synagogue where they were studying Judaism.

Bratslav Hasidim shouted at the study group Sunday for using the synagogue, although there were no prayer services under way at the time. Police removed the group from the premises and detained two of its members for questioning. One of the two, a 75-year-old man, collapsed while being taken into custody.

"The police evacuated from a synagogue Jews who want to fulfill their freedom of religion," said Yisrael Bar David, who lives in Haifa's Romema neighborhood where the synagogue is located.

This week's incident was the latest in a series of confrontations between the Hasidim and the study group members, who say the Hasidim have moved into Haifa from across the country and have taken over the synagogue - which they say was built with the contributions of neighborhood residents. The locals accuse the Hasidim of turning the synagogue into a Bratslav study hall, preventing area residents from praying there, and trying to get local secular children to become religious.

Haifa police chief Dudu Ben Attia said the study group members were to blame for provoking the Hasidim by infringing on their religious sensibilities, but said the police were not taking sides in the matter.

"Women are forbidden from entering the synagogue when there are men present," he said. "These are the religious rules."