Haredi leaders backtrack on mass protest over arrest of alleged baby killer

After three days of haredi riots, rabbinic leaders have called off a massive demonstration planned for this week over the arrest of a 19-year-old haredi man suspected of beating his infant son to death. The rabbis were seeking to put a lid on violent protests in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood, officials said Sunday. The streets of the neighborhood were unusually tranquil Sunday, after two nights of demonstrations in which haredi protesters set garbage bins on fire, pelted police and motorists with stones and blocked traffic in the area. "The intention is to get this topic off the front pages, which is only doing us damage," said Shmuel Popenheim, editor-in-chief of Haedah the weekly mouthpiece of the virulently anti-Zionist Edah Haredit, which had been spearheading the protests. "All these demonstrations do not add anything to our cause," he added. The suspect, Yisrael Valis, is facing manslaughter charges for beating his three-month old baby to death. Valis, who allegedly hurled the baby against the wall after he started to cry, is suspected of repeatedly biting, beating, pinching and punching the infant because he "did not accept him" due to a birth defect in the child's neck muscles, police said. In an effort to ease tensions, rabbis and Valis' family issued a statement last week, which was read out by megaphones in the neighborhood Friday, calling on the protesters to refrain from violence and from burning trash on the street. Their call for calm appears to have worked, with the protest on Saturday night much smaller than on previous nights, police said. Extremist elements in the haredi community had previously threatened to riot and to "make Jerusalem burn" if the suspected baby killer was not released from custody, even though police said that he had admitted beating his child. Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said Sunday that police would continue to work to maintain law and order, and would not tolerate any violent lawbreakers. He noted that there were no further contacts with the group's leaders over the weekend, following last week's meeting held after the infant was pronounced dead at Hadassah Hospital, and amidst Edah Haredit charges of a police "Pessah-eve blood libel" against the haredi community. Even as the violent protests subsided, posters reading "Blood Libel 2006 in Jerusalem," in both Hebrew and English, remained affixed on neighborhood billboards Sunday, alongside announcements of the massive protest planned "in the coming days." The advertisements were signed by "the committee for the protection of religion." In the meantime, Valis has been receiving visitors at his Jerusalem detention cell. The Jerusalem Municipality said that the haredi riots over the last week have caused NIS 140,000 in damage, including the destruction of 30 city garbage bins.