Ultra-Orthodox men clash with Israeli police at rally


Police turned water cannons on Jewish ultra-Orthodox protesters after a rally turned violent.
Police turned water cannons on Jewish ultra-Orthodox protesters after a rally turned violent.

Thousands of Jewish ultra-Orthodox men have clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem while protesting a court order for them to enlist for military service.

The landmark Supreme Court decision on June 25 ordering the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Tens of thousands of men rallied in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood to protest the order. 

Protesters in Ultra-Orthodox
Ultra-Orthodox men have previously been exempt from Israel’s compulsory military service. (EPA PHOTO)

After nightfall on Sunday, the crowd made its way toward central Jerusalem and turned violent with protesters throwing rocks and police using skunk-scented water cannons to disperse them. 

Military service is compulsory for most Israelis, but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their followers to skip military service and instead study in religious seminaries. 

The long-standing arrangement has bred resentment among the broader public, a sentiment that has grown stronger during Israel’s war against Hamas. 

More than 600 soldiers have been killed in fighting, and tens of thousands of reservists have been activated, upending careers, businesses and lives.

ultra-Orthodox protesters
Protesters were rallying against a court decision ordering the government to begin drafting them. (AP PHOTO)

Israel launched its war in Gaza after Hamas’ October 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1200 people, Israeli authorities say, and abducted about 250. 

Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 37,700 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. 

The war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and basic goods to Gaza, and people there are now totally dependent on aid. 

The top UN court has concluded there is a “plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza, a charge Israel denies.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian health official said Israel has released 55 Palestinians whom it had detained from Gaza, including the director of the territory’s main hospital. 

Shifa Hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia was detained in November when Israeli forces raided the facility. 

Nahedh Abu Taema, director of the Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza, says Abu Selmia was among 55 Palestinian detainees from Gaza released. 

He says all but five were taken to Nasser Hospital for medical checks while the others were taken to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah.

In video comments aired by Palestinian media following his release, Abu Selmia accused Israeli authorities of subjecting Palestinian detainees to “daily physical and psychological humiliation”. 

Israeli authorities have denied such allegations. The army said Hamas was using the facility for military purposes and uncovered a tunnel within the medical complex. Abu Selmia and other staff denied the allegations.

Palestinians in Khan Younis
Projectiles were launched from the vicinity of the Gaza town of Khan Younis, Israel says. (AP PHOTO)

The Israeli military said about 20 projectiles were fired from Gaza at communities near the border. 

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the barrage.

The military said some were intercepted while others fell inside southern Israel.

It says they were launched from the vicinity of the southern town of Khan Younis, and that Israeli forces are striking the sources of the fire.

Nearly nine months into Israel’s massive offensive, Palestinian militants have continued to launch sporadic rocket attacks, though the intensity has been greatly reduced.

Fighters have also regrouped in heavily damaged areas of Gaza where Israeli ground troops operated earlier in the war.

In recent days, fighting has erupted in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City in the north, which was largely evacuated and heavily bombed early in the war. 

Tens of thousands of people have fled the area in recent days, according to the UN.