1 gravely hurt in Shabbat parking riots

5 police lightly wounded as haredim protest against opening of J'lem parking lot; 57 rioters arrested.

Haredi arrested 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
Haredi arrested 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Thousands of haredi protesters converged on the streets of Jerusalem over the weekend as the controversy over the opening of a Jerusalem parking lot on Shabbat continued. The demonstrations, which included a massive but largely peaceful Friday night prayer vigil attended by tens of thousands of participants, came despite a court-approved agreement to open a private parking lot opposite the Old City's Jaffa Gate instead of the municipal garage. The violent protests, though on a lower scale than the rioting earlier this month, started Saturday afternoon and went on into the evening, after the municipality opened the Carta parking garage, instead of the municipal lot at Kikar Safra, about two city blocks away. The haredi demonstrators threw stones, fruits and vegetables at police, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. A 20-year-old was seriously wounded Saturday night after being hit in the head by a stone, while five police officers were lightly hurt in the violence, police and rescue officials said. A young haredi demonstrator was lightly injured when he fell from a fence he had climbed. Fifty-seven protesters were arrested throughout the day for disturbing the peace; in some cases police dispersed the rioters with water cannons. During the afternoon, 10 haredi protesters who tried to forcibly block cars from entering the parking lot were dispersed by police. Hundreds of others prayed near the lot. A TV crew covering the Friday night prayer vigil was assaulted by participants. Prayer vigils drawing several dozen people also took place Friday night on Jerusalem's Rehov Bayit Vagan and in Beit Shemesh. On Friday evening on Herzl Boulevard in Jerusalem, a group of some 100 demonstrators attempted to block the road using metal rods they had taken from a nearby construction site. The Jerusalem Municipality said that the opening of the lot solved the parking problem in the city on Shabbat. "The mayor is obligated to maintain the public's safety and this concern is what guides him," the mayor's office said. "The police must now be concerned with public order." Some 450 vehicles used the car park on Shabbat, Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said. Meanwhile, about 1,000 secular protesters gathered outside city hall on Saturday afternoon to voice support for the opening of the parking lot. The demonstrators carried Israeli flags and held up signs condemning religious coercion and supporting a "free Jerusalem." Police prevented haredi demonstrators from approaching Kikar Safra during the rally. "Today we want to convey the message that Jerusalem is a pluralistic place with room for all people," said Meirav Cohen, of the young Jerusalemites Wake Up Jerusalem party. "Today is proof that bullying and aggression are not the way to reach achievements in Jerusalem." Police hope that the protests will ebb next weekend.