Ultra-Orthodox attack Israeli police amid lockdown tensions

January 22, 2021 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Ultra-Orthodox Jews attacked an unmarked Israeli police vehicle overnight, pelting it with stones and smashing the windows while officers were inside, and igniting a riot in which at least six people were arrested, police said Friday.

The violence erupted in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town near Tel Aviv. Tensions have run high between police and Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community throughout the coronavirus pandemic as many have openly defied lockdown restrictions to hold religious gatherings. Police seeking to break up weddings, funerals and other gatherings have often faced violent crowds.

The latest violence began when the crowd in Bnei Brak pelted the police vehicle with stones, shattering its windows and puncturing the tires. The officers inside called for backup, and when the reinforcements arrived the crowd blocked roads and burned tires.

“Police are continuing to disperse a violent and wild riot in Bnei Brak, during which stones were thrown at police officers and tires set on fire in the center of the city’s main thoroughfares,” the police said in a statement early Friday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence and vowed to act with a “heavy hand” against anyone violating the law or attacking police.

Israel has reported more than 580,000 cases and 4,245 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and is currently in its third nationwide lockdown, with most schools and businesses closed.

Israel has launched one of the world’s most rapid vaccination campaigns, with more than 20% of its population of over 9 million having already received a first dose. But the arrival of highly contagious strains of the virus has kept case numbers high.

Israel has more than 80,000 active cases, including hundreds of people in critical condition. Authorities recently extended the lockdown until the end of the month.