Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators rioted yesterday in Jerusalem, protesting the operation of a parking garage on during Shabbat. The garage was opened to accommodate visitors to Jerusalem's Old City, which is nearby. At least 28 demonstrators were arrested. At the same time, thousands of secular demonstrators came to support Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's decision to open the garage, which is owned by the municipally owned Carta corporation, but is now in receivership. The decision follows ultra-Orthodox opposition to the opening of the city hall Safra Square garage, which is closer to an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
Police deployed a large force to secure the area amid fears that the secular rally could spark a violent clash with ultra-Orthodox protestors, who bitterly oppose the opening of the lot as a violation of the Sabbath.
A 20-year-old ultra-Orthodox man sustained serious head wounds during yesterday's protests. Magen David Adom emergency services said the man, suffering from convulsions, was taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem for medical treatment. Police said they had no further details regarding the circumstances in which the man had been injured. Four police officers were also lightly hurt during the protests, and a six-year-old boy was reported to have been lightly hurt by a hurled stone, according to the Associated Press.
The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday approved the opening of the Carta parking garage as an alternative to the Safra Square facility. City officials had hoped that this would placate those opposing the operation of Safra Square's parking garage during Shabbat.
It became clear, however, with earlier mass demonstrations on Friday night, that the opening would not pass quietly. Police had to extricate a group of reporters on Friday evening who were attacked by the demonstrators. Other than that incident, the protests Friday evening passed peacefully.
Yesterday, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators congregated near Safra Square. While police managed to separate them from secular demonstrators, the officers themselves scuffled with ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who hurled soiled diapers and rotten fruit and vegetables at them. Four police officers were lightly hurt during these clashes.
Police arrested ultra-Orthodox protesters for disorderly conduct and illegal assembly. Four of them were detained after they attempted to block the entrance to the Carta parking lot. Earlier, undercover policemen also arrested four ultra-Orthodox citizens who had been suspected of damaging passing cars on Jerusalem's Bar Ilan Street.
"The mayor is obligated to maintain the public's safety and this concern is what guides him," said a spokesperson for Barkat. "The police must now be concerned with public order." In the wake of the protests, the mayor's security detail has been reinforced and a security guard has been placed outside of his home.
On Friday, a mass rally was staged in Jerusalem to protest the opening of the parking lot. About 40,000 people responded to the call by almost all ultra-Orthodox factions to come out to demonstrate. The protest was quiet and did not feature speeches. Among those attending the Friday protest were ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who do not themselves live in Jerusalem, but who chose to spend the Sabbath in the city as a result of the protest. Just before the protest began, posters condemning ultra-Orthodox members of the city council for their contacts with the mayor were distributed.
Violent protests had also erupted three weeks ago, following the municipality's decision to allow the Safra parking lot at the Jerusalem city hall, which adjoins the walls of the Old City in the city center, to operate on the Sabbath. Numerous Haredi leaders from various factions, including Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, a leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community, joined the call to hold a mass prayer session after the protest was initially led by Eda Haredit, an ultra-Orthodox group.
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