World News

Sabbath parking fuels Jerusalem religious tensions

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Ultra-Orthodox Jews, angry at the opening of a parking lot on the Jewish sabbath, clashed with police separating them from secular Jerusalem residents who held a protest on Saturday in support of the move.

Police moved in to separate the demonstrators after ultra-Orthodox Jews started hurling stones and vegetables. A police spokesman said 24 people were arrested and four policemen suffered minor injuries.

Tensions have been brewing in the city over plans by Jerusalem’s Israeli mayor, Nir Barkat, to reopen a parking lot on Saturday, a move that could draw more traffic into the city on the Jewish sabbath.

Jewish religious law bans travel on the sabbath, and Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community has negotiated with city authorities arrangements that limit or ban traffic in their neighborhoods on Saturdays.

Tensions reached a new peak on Friday when thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews walked through a main street in the city in protest at Barkat’s decision. Some scuffled with journalists and photographers covering the march.

The march occurred a day after Orthodox Jews held street prayers to mourn Thursday’s gay pride parade in the city, at which police deployed some 1,500 policemen.

Many devout Jews, Muslims and Christians view homosexuality as an abomination. In 2005, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed and wounded three participants in the gay march. He is serving a 12-year sentence.

Barkat became mayor in November after beating ultra-Orthodox Uri Lupolianski. He ran on a platform of reversing an exodus of secular young Jews who leave to cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa in search of better job opportunities.

He also vowed to fight poverty and unemployment in the city where religious and secular Jews live in a delicate balance.

In Orthodox neighborhoods, families in traditional black garb stroll to synagogues during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays on roads blocked to cars. In downtown Jerusalem, secular Jews frequent non-Kosher bars and eateries.

Reporting by Eli Berlzon; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Charles Dick