Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators have clashed with police in two major Israeli cities, as authorities faced new difficulties in enforcing coronavirus restrictions in the country’s religious communities.
The clashes occurred in Jerusalem and Ashdod as police attempted to close religious schools that had opened in violation of lockdown orders.
Throughout the pandemic, many major ultra-Orthodox sects have flouted safety regulations, continuing to open schools, pray in synagogues and hold mass weddings in funerals.
This has contributed to a disproportionate infection rate, with the ultra-Orthodox community accounting for more than a third of Israel’s coronavirus cases, despite making up just over 10% of the population.
In Jerusalem, police fired tear gas and putrid-smelling water to disperse a crowd of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox residents outside a reopened school.
Demonstrators cried “get out of here, Nazis” at officers who were filmed arresting participants.
In the coastal city of Ashdod, police scuffled with dozens of protesters outside an ultra-Orthodox school.
Five officers were wounded in the disputes, and at least four people were arrested, police said.
With the country experiencing a raging coronavirus outbreak, the Israeli government last week extended the country’s third nationwide lockdown until the end of January.
The Health Ministry has recorded more than 595,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic and 4,361 deaths.
New cases continue to climb, even as the country has launched a massive vaccination campaign.
Sunday’s clashes were the latest incident of heightened tensions over enforcement of lockdown rules in ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods.
On Friday, ultra-Orthodox Israelis attacked a police vehicle in the city of Bnei Brak, outside Tel Aviv. A crowd pelted the police car with stones and punctured its tyres.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israel will close its international airport to nearly all flights to help bring the virus outbreak under control.
The entry of highly contagious variants has contributed to one of the world’s highest rates of infection, and has threatened to undercut Israel’s successful vaccination campaign.
Late on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved what Mr Netanyahu said would be a tight closure on incoming and outgoing air traffic. The government said it would make exceptions for a small number of humanitarian cases, such as funerals and medical patients, and cargo flights.
The order is to begin early on Tuesday and remain in effect until January 31. Mr Netanyahu’s office said the order still requires parliamentary legislation to be finalised.