Thirteen anti-government activists were arrested Friday night for attempting to load several police crowd control barriers onto a truck, ahead of the weekly demonstrations in Jerusalem calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In addition, a press photographer was detained for over an hour, with the police confiscating his camera. He was detained, according to the police, because his press card had expired.
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On their part, the activists said they had tried to remove the barriers since they force protesters to huddle, preventing them from complying with social distancing restrictions and thus raising their chances to catch the coronavirus.
Attorney Gaby Lasky, who represents the activists, said that according to the police her clients are suspected of attempting to steal the barriers. Nine of the activists will be brought before the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to extend their detention on Saturday evening.
The activists said they had arrived at Paris Square near Netanyahu's official residence on Balfour Street with two trucks, intending to remove the barriers and return them to the company from which they were rented.
The activists dismantled 35 barriers and loaded them onto one truck before they were arrested. The truck was located by the police before reaching its destination.
"Every week the police choose to limit the designated protest area in a way that doesn’t allow demonstrators to adhere to coronavirus restrictions in light of the high number of people taking part in the protest," the activists said in a joint statement. They added that they demand that the police "remove the crowd control barriers and expend the area" designated for the demonstrations.
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Laski said that "the barriers constitute a real danger for those demonstrating on Belfour Street, since removing them quickly if the area needs to be evacuated would be very hard."
She added that "not only that the activists didn't intend to take the barriers for their personal use or that of others – which refutes the claim they were stealing – but they also acted against the illegal and dangerous restriction of the designated protest area." Laski urged the police to immediately release the activists, claiming "there are no grounds for their arrest."
The police said in a statement that "they seriously view the activists' suspected attempt to steal police barriers, whose entire purpose is to assist in securing and maintaining the safety of the protesters in light of terrorist activity alerts, and prevent those who only seek to disrupt the protest or harm the demonstrators from entering the designated protest area."
The statement said that the police intend to do everything in their power to bring the activists to justice, adding that "the two trucks which used them to carry out the felony were also located."