'J'lem parking lot will open next Shabbat as well'

7 arrested as ultra orthodox protest municipality decision to open parking lot on Shabbat; six police, one photographer lightly injured.

kikar safra 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
kikar safra 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat continued to stand behind his decision to open the Kikar Safra parking lot on Saturday, despite the uproar it evoked among ulta-orthodox Jerusalem residents, though expressed an openness to examine other solutions to the city's weekend parking needs. "There is no reason to close the parking lot," he said on Army Radio. "We must deal with the problem as is. I will agree to further discussions with representatives of the ultra-orthodox and to consider alternative solutions. I am full of hope that the demonstrators will be on their way, and we will proceed to deal with other issues in the city." Earlier on Sunday, city councilor Yakir Segev expressed a similar sentiment, and stressed the parking lot would open next weekend. Speaking on Israel Radio, a decisive Segev said that "we won't let the ultra-orthodox run the city." In a violent new flare-up of haredi-secular tensions in Jerusalem, thousands of haredim rioted on Saturday at the entrance to city hall over the city's decision to open a parking lot under the municipality buildings at Kikar Safra for visitors on Shabbat. A non-Jew was used to operate the lot in accordance with Jewish religious law. The illegal protest, which left six police officers and one photographer lightly injured, was the first major test of the always delicate haredi-secular coexistence in the city for Mayor Nir Barkat since his election seven months ago. The protesters, who spilled over into the nearby Mea She'arim neighborhood after they were repelled from city hall by police, pelted officers with stones, food and diapers, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. Seven haredi protesters, including three minors, were arrested on suspicion of rioting and stoning police officers, he said. One of the police officers hit in the head by a stone required hospitalization. The rioting was sparked by the city's decision to open the parking lot free of charge on Shabbat, to accommodate thousands of visitors to the capital. Over the last several years, all parking lots near the Old City were closed on Shabbat due to haredi pressure. But after a recent decision to bar vehicles from entering the Old City itself on Shabbat, a parking solution for the visitors became more pressing, since many drivers just parked their cars in no-parking zones around the Old City. The municipal move had been made in agreement with haredi representatives on the city council, but not all haredi elements in the city were consulted. As part of the accord, a larger parking lot opposite the Old City walls, which was originally intended to be opened, remained shut. The opening of the city lot had already been postponed by a week after police warned the mayor of major haredi protest, and talks between the mayor's officials and the haredi community continued. But by the week's end, the talks had ended without results, and the ground was set for the protest. Fliers posted in Mea She'arim on Friday read: "Prepare for a battle for Jerusalem." Meanwhile, a small secular counter-protest included placards that read "This is not Teheran," and "The haredim have no shame." Barkat's office denounced the violent demonstration. "The parking lot was opened in consultation with all sectors of the public, including the haredim, without the desecration of the Shabbat in order to solve the lack of parking in the city," Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said late Saturday, in a statement. In the meantime, Jerusalem police were planning to hold talks with haredi leaders in the city as well as the mayor to prevent further Shabbat protests. Jerusalem Police Chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco called the haredi demonstration, whose size and force caught police by surprise, "brutal and severe." He said that parking lots needed to be opened in the city - by agreement between the sides - to accommodate visitors. During the 1990s, haredim held violent protests in the city for months on end over Shabbat traffic on Rehov Bar-Ilan, a major thoroughfare in the capital that runs through a haredi neighborhood. An accord was eventually reached shutting the road during prayer times. jpost.com contributed to this report.