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Religious, Non-religious Youths Battle in Bnei Brak over Closing of Street to Traffic on the Sabbath

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Hundreds of police re-enforcements and soldiers were rushed to Bnei Brak Friday night where religious youths and non-religious demonstrators battled on the main street over the controversial closing of the thoroughfare to traffic on the Sabbath. Three policemen were injured. One was struck in the face by a rock.

The clash occurred a week after a young Israeli, Herzl Attaya, was killed when his jeep crashed into a chain stretched across Hashomer Street to block traffic. The street runs through non-religious neighborhoods as well as those inhabited by observant Jews in the ultra-Orthodox municipality north of Tel Aviv Non-religious groups are challenging the right of the township to close the street. But the issue appeared to have been resolved at a meeting between the two groups held during the week. The Orthodox town leaders agreed to allow non-observant residents to drive through the street on Saturdays.

But apparently political elements on both sides continued to agitate. On Friday evening, a group of non-religious youths from outside Bnei Brak converged on police barricades to protest religious coercion. Although they had no permit to demonstrate, the police officer in charge allowed them to assemble on condition that they were orderly. The police are under standing orders to act with utmost restraint toward both sides in the dispute.

But when the demonstration become unruly and some of the youths knocked down barricades, re-enforcements were called in and the crowd was forcibly dispersed. None of the demonstrators were injured and no arrests were made. Shortly afterwards, however, large groups of Orthodox youths arrived on the scene and fighting broke out between them and the demonstrators. Police and troops intervened but the area was not cleared until well past midnight.

POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS NOTED

The incidents have political ramifications at a time when many Israelis are concerned by the religious concessions Premier Menachem Begin granted the National Religious Party (NRP) and the Aguda bloc to join his coalition government. The Agudat Israel members of the Bnei Brak town council have charged police with violating an alleged agreement that no traffic whatsoever would be permitted on Hashomer St. on the Sabbath.

Itzhak Meir, Deputy Mayor of Bnei Brak, implied that the Aguda was disappointed that the government has not intervened in the dispute on the Orthodox side. “You cannot sit in the coalition when the government is acting like this,” he said.

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