Violence Flares in J'lem; Worst Clashes Between Haredim and Police in Years

Violence erupted again in Jerusalem last night as over 1,000 ultra-Orthodox rioters clashed with hundreds of police officers at key intersections throughout the city, following a rally in Sabbath Square protesting the arrest of a woman from the community for alleged child abuse.

Several police officers were hurt, and dozens of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) protesters were arrested or detained as they blocked Route 1, a key Jerusalem artery. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowds and reopen the road.

The riots, the city's worst in recent years, were sparked earlier this week by the arrest of a Haredi woman whom police suspect of starving her son over the past two years.

The 3-year-old boy, who weighs about seven kilograms, is hospitalized in serious condition.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Aharon Franco blasted the ultra-Orthodox leadership yesterday for failing to speak out against the violent riots.

"There is not one sane voice within the Haredi community that will rise up and cry out against this phenomenon," Franco said. "They have rabbis, they have a leadership, but I haven't heard any of them speak out."

The violence escalated yesterday after the prayer rally in Shabbat Square, as protesters threw rocks and resumed rioting throughout the city. As of late last night, they had set fire to hundreds of garbage bins and vandalized about 70 traffic lights, as well as traffic cameras and two municipal vehicles, causing an estimated NIS 550,000 worth of damage.

Municipal workers, mostly sanitation workers, were attacked with rocks and beaten by ultra-Orthodox rioters. Nine were lightly injured.

Yesterday morning, rioters attacked a welfare bureau on the outskirts of a Haredi neighborhood and smashed its windows. The besieged workers had to be evacuated under police protection and the office closed down.

On Wednesday, the city froze all municipal services to the two Haredi neighborhoods where the rioting was centered, pending an end to the riots.

"We haven't seen such things since the first intifada in Tul Karm," municipality director general Yair Ma'ayan said.

Franco warned of the dangers caused by the rioters. "They tore down traffic lights, and without traffic lights, fatal traffic accidents can happen," he said. "They dismantled mechanisms in electricity pylons, and people could be electrocuted. Where in the Bible does it say these things are permissible?"

The Jerusalem police will ask the court today to extend the remand of the woman suspected of starving her son - unless she agrees to a psychiatric evaluation. If she does, Franco said, she could be released today.

"We could have released the woman a week ago if her attorney had agreed to a psychiatric evaluation," he said. "We could release her tomorrow if her family agrees to it [the evaluation]."

Earlier yesterday, ultra-Orthodox protesters hurled rocks at ministries and at police officers patrolling the government compound. Witnesses reported police forces blocking several dozen protesters from reaching Jaffa Street, another key artery.

"At this stage, we still have not succeeded in seeing the family's other children," said Eli Cohen, the chief investigator in the case. "We tried on several occasions to meet the other children, but their father is not cooperating with the police."