(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Thousands of haredim demonstrated peacefully against this week's planned gay parade in Jerusalem, defusing police concerns of a violent confrontation.
The evening protest was marked both by its surprisingly low turnout - estimated by police to be around 10,000 people - and unusual calm for such a heated issue.
The relatively small number of protesters marked a stunning defeat for the haredi organizers of the protest, who had expected as many as 100,000 people to turn out in force, and reflected the differences of opinion in the haredi world whether clashes with police at the event would serve their cause, with some Rabbis pointedly ordering their students to stay away from the event.
Later, a policewoman was lightly injured by a rock as some of the protestors attempted to block Sanhedria Junction, setting fire to garbage dumpsters and tires.
Anticipating a much larger crowd, over 1,000 police officers were out in force for the evening protest, with nearby streets closed off to traffic.
Earlier, haredi activists had said that the demonstration, which was being organized by the extremist anti-Zionist Eda Haredit group, was likely to turn violent.
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Police have said that they could reconsider their approval for the parade based on the situation on the ground.
Over the last few days, there have been low-level clashes between haredi protesters and police in the city's Mea She'arim neighborhood, with demonstrators pelting police and motorists with stones, burning trash bins and blocking traffic.
About a dozen protesters have been arrested in the protests.
The prerogative for issuing permits for public events rests with police, who could ban the event - or restrict it as they did last year - due to concerns over public safety.
The gay pride march, which is being organized by Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center, is slated to take place Thursday evening between two central city parks.
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