Five Israeli police officers were wounded Sunday in clashes with ultra-Orthodox demonstrators protesting coronavirus restrictions in cities across the country.
Police reported the five officer injuries and at least four arrests as large crowds of ultra-Orthodox protesters confronted officers in multiple cities in Israel, The Associated Press reported.
Israeli law enforcement has been mostly hesitant to crack down on people in the ultra-Orthodox community for noncompliance with COVID-19 requirements, including by reopening schools, praying in synagogues and holding large weddings and funerals.
But on Sunday, officers were faced with the crowds of demonstrators speaking out against the restrictions.
In Bnei Brak, young men challenged police and threatened journalists, leading an officer to fire his pistol into the air to deter the crowd, according to the AP. Two days earlier, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators had attacked a police vehicle in the city.
Law enforcement used tear gas and putrid-smelling water to break up hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protesters who were outside of a reopened school and calling police “Nazis.” Dozens of demonstrators also faced off with police in Ashdod outside of an ultra-Orthodox school.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE condemned disobedience of the coronavirus restrictions, saying a small minority of people were behaving in an “unacceptable” way.
“I expect all citizens of Israel to respect the safety guidelines,” he said, according to the AP. “That includes all the sectors, including the ultra-Orthodox.”
Israel has one of the highest rates of infection of any country in the world, with an average of more than 8,000 cases being confirmed per day. Health experts have attributed the recent spread of the virus to the lack of compliance among the ultra-Orthodox community.
Israel has recorded almost 600,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 4,400 fatalities, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the ultra-Orthodox community, which makes up more than one-third of Israel’s cases while being slightly more than 10 percent of the population.
The uptick in cases could endanger the success of Israel’s vaccination effort after the country has vaccinated more than a quarter of its 9.2 million population, according to the AP.
The protests also come as Netanyahu announced that the nation will shut down its international airport to almost all flights beginning on Tuesday until Jan. 31. Exceptions will be made for a small amount of humanitarian cases and cargo flights.