Jerusalem Braces for More Haredi Riots Over Parking Lot

Mayor Barkat negotiates with ultra-Orthodox officials, says considers 'temporary' closure.

Ultra-Orthodox activists hung posters throughout religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem Thursday announcing a demonstration Friday against the opening of a parking lot in the city center on the Sabbath.

Meanwhile, Mayor Nir Barkat was engaged in talks with ultra-Orthodox officials in an attempt to defuse the situation, hinting he might be willing to temporarily shut the parking lot over the next two weeks to prevent "friction" in the city.

The proposal to temporarily close the parking lot is intended to prevent an outburst of violence similar to last week, when thousands of ultra-Orthodox residents clashed with police.

Protesters said the opening of the parking lot violated the Sabbath and upset the status quo in the city, while Barkat maintained the lot was badly needed to address a serious parking shortage caused by the closure of parking lots elsewhere in the city over the weekend in response to ultra-Orthodox demands.

Jerusalem District police commander Aharon Franco on Thursday met with the leaders of the Edah Haredit, a radical group of anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews who instigated last week's violent demonstrations. During their meeting Franco suggested a temporary solution by which the parking lots would remain closed over the next two weeks until a long-term solution is found. One possible solution suggested by both Franco and Barkat was to sanction a privately-owned parking lot near Safra Square to operate over the weekend.

The rabbis rejected this proposal, but said the community would refrain from protesting if the parking lot remained closed this weekend.

After the meeting, Franco met with the mayor, who stressed the idea to shut the parking lot over the weekend was suggested to him by the Jerusalem District police chief. "We are currently examining the request and the other proposed solutions," a spokesman said on behalf of Barkat.

Last week the mayor said the initiative to open the parking lot came from the police, who became concerned with the increasing congestion in the Old City area where parking lots are closed over the weekend at the behest of the ultra-Orthodox.

On Thursday police began setting up road blocks near Safra square in anticipation of a confrontation with protesters. They were later removed when such a confrontation became increasingly unlikely.