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Between 1,500 and 2,000 ultra-Orthodox, according to police estimates, gathered yesterday outside the Jerusalem plant of computer chip manufacturer Intel to protest the factory's opening on Saturdays.

Intel's security guards used pepper spray against protesters who attempted to break into the company's offices.

There was initially no police presence at the site. Police closed off streets leading to the Har Hotzvim plant to prevent vehicles from driving past the irate crowd. The Intel plant is located relatively close to one of the capital's Haredi neighborhoods, which is one of the reasons for their protest.

Protesters physically attacked Jerusalem's deputy mayor Yitzhak Pindrus of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party as well a journalists covering the protest. The protesters blame Pindrus, the most senior Haredi partner in mayor Nir Barkat's coalition, for not doing enough to stop the plant from working on the Sabbath, which they see as a violation of Jewish law.

During last summer's Haredi protests over the opening on Saturdays of the Karta parking garage in in the capital, extreme elements in the Haredi community and some of the Haredi media accused Pindrus of "collaborating" with the secular establishment in Jerusalem.

After the protesters began to beat Pindrus and his aides were unable to extricate him from the crowd, one of them asked reporters on the scene whether there was a non-Jew among them who could call the police.

Pindrus told Haaretz that his attackers were "a small knot of extremists, maybe 20 people, who always make a noise. It's not new, and I don't get too excited about it."

Anticipating an attempt to break into the plant, management had installed barbed wire above the compound's fences. Signs on the fence read: "touching the fences will set off an electronic warning," assuming the protesters would avoid climbing the fence to keep from profaning the Sabbath. However, when a number of protesters broke the glass doors to Intel's offices and caused other damage, security guards used pepper spray to deter them.

Journalists stoned

Some 200 protesters threw stones at journalists, pushed and cursed them. No journalists were injured.

The police crowd control unit appeared on the scene toward the end of the protest. Scuffles broke out between police and protesters, who also began throwing stones at cars passing on a nearby street.

"If the need arises, we work on the Sabbath, all in accordance with the law. There is no change in the status quo," a statement by Intel said.

The Jerusalem police said a few hundred police personnel were around the area of the demonstration. "We enabled the demonstrators to protest near the compound and we were observing the scene. When they tried to break down the door, near the end of the protest, the police intervened and pushed them back," said a police spokesperson.

A ceremony marking the opening of Intel's new production line is to take place today, with the participation of Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Mayor Barkat. A spokesman for Barkat, to whom the capital's high-tech industries are of particular interest, said he would relate to the matter in his speech at today's ceremony.

The announcement of the protest in the ultra-Orthodox press was signed by less prominent rabbis, which was meant to ensure that it would not be of major proportions.

Pindrus, whose party is in the midst of negotiating with Intel over the opening of the factory on the Sabbath, said Orthodox workers at the factory had publicized Intel's intent to open it on the Sabbath, which would obligate them to work on the Sabbath, and the community's rabbis would fight such a move.