Police suspect Ashdod baby buried

Amid riots in haredi community, reports emerge family begun mourning period.

haredi silouhette 298 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
haredi silouhette 298 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A baby snatched by haredi "extremists" Sunday from Ashdod municipal cemetery has apparently been buried in an unknown location. The baby-snatching episode had by Monday become the subject of a standoff between haredim and the legal system. One man was briefly held in connection with the incident, but was then released Monday.
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Police said a group of unidentified haredi men whom they labeled as "extremist elements" broke through a window, eluded police guards, and left the Ashdod municipal cemetery carrying the body. But members of Ashdod's haredi community and police officers were quick to place blame for Sunday night's violent confrontations between haredim and police, as well as the disappearance of the body, on "outside extremists" from Jerusalem. Four police officers were wounded as haredim protested the transfer of the body of a baby girl, who had died earlier Sunday, to the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir. A short time later, the baby's body was stolen from the cemetery, leaving police stymied. "Police have good communication with the haredi community and handled the incident with silk gloves," said ZAKA worker Avi Deri. "But unfortunately, people came here from Jerusalem, from places like Mea She'arim, and made trouble." Lt.-Cmdr. Gabi Dadon, head of investigations and intelligence for the Lachish Subdistrict said that "a small group, apparently from Jerusalem, took advantage" of the open communication and understanding between Ashdod rabbis and the police. Discussions between police and the rabbis began shortly after police received reports that a 13-month-old girl had lost consciousness and died in the city's Zion Quarter. The baby had been ill for days, but her parents had disregarded a doctor's instructions to administer antibiotics. Instead, the family turned to an alternative medicine specialist for treatment. On Sunday morning, the baby's condition worsened. According to ZAKA teams at the scene, the mother called for an ambulance when she saw her baby had lost consciousness but then, panicked, took the baby to a nearby corner store where the shopkeeper had been trained by Hatzolah to administer first aid. Attempts at resuscitation failed and the baby was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Initially, Southern District Attorney Iska Leibovitch ordered that the baby's body be given a full postmortem examination, a procedure which is highly problematic for haredi communities due to proscriptions against desecrating the dead bodies. Leibovitch said there was adequate evidence to suspect that negligence - by either the parents or the alternative medicine specialist - may have been a factor in the baby's death and argued that the postmortem could confirm or deny the suspicions. After hours of discussion, Ashdod Magistrate's Court Justice Robin Lavi ruled that less invasive tests could be carried out, in light of the family's adamant protests. The family, in consultation with rabbis, agreed to the tests, which would involve the drawing of brain fluid from the baby and would also allow for an epidemiological determination of cause of death. While the court proceedings were underway, large groups of haredim arrived from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, according to police, and gathered outside the room at the cemetery in which the body was being held. Police formed a wall to prevent them from entering the room, and the protesters broke windows and threw rocks and glass at the policemen, wounding four. Throughout the protests, Ashdod Police held meetings with local haredi leader Rabbi Shmuel Gross, and reached a decision whereby a ZAKA ambulance would bring the body to a forensics lab on Monday, accompanied by a family member. "The rabbis were excellent," said Dadon, "they did everything to make sure that we could come to a peaceful and acceptable agreement." But upon emerging from the meeting in a neighboring room, police commanders and rabbis were horrified to discover that the body was gone. A small group of people had apparently broken into the room where the body was stored by sawing through the bars on the windows and breaking in from the back of the building through the women's bathroom. "This incident caused serious damage to the trust between the police and the rabbis, and the police were disappointed. It was unpleasant for me as well," said Deri, who also is an employee of the cemetery and was present during the disorder. "They destroyed my workplace as well." Police set up roadblocks at the exits to the city, and searched suspicious vehicles. In addition, detectives searched houses of residents known to police for previous attempts to prevent postmortem examinations. Police detained a 53-year-old Ashdod resident who had been involved in previous attempts to abscond with bodies, and who had been present, police said, and "very vocal" at the cemetery during the protests. He was released Monday afternoon, after detectives said they did not have enough evidence to justify his continued detention. By Monday afternoon, though, police had given up on searches for the body and instead said they were relying on "investigative and intelligence leads." Rabbis instructed the family to start the mourning process, which police believed was confirmation that the body had already been buried by its captors. Haredi rabbis condemned the theft of the body, describing it as an act of desecration of the dead. On Monday afternoon, they instructed their communities to cooperate with police and offer them any information they might have as to the whereabouts of the body. "The police will take every necessary step to find the body and to carry out the court order. If this is a case of neglect, then we will take necessary legal steps," said Dadon.