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Protesters, police injured in Jerusalem clashes over ultra-Orthodox draft

A banner read: 'We are Jews and therefore will not enlist in the Zionist army'

Eight ultra-Orthodox Jews were arrested and several police officers injured in Jerusalem on Sunday as hundreds took to the streets to protest the arrest of a rabbi's son who allegedly deserted from the Israeli army.

The demonstration -- during traffic was blocked and water cannons were deployed -- comes days after Israel's Supreme Court struck down a legal amendment that exempted ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined equality.

Police claimed that they were attacked by ultra-Orthodox men who also threw stones, injuring seven officers, according to the Walla news website.

However videos that emerged from the clashes prompted claims that police used excessive force on the demonstrators.

A clip that was shared widely online showed a policeman forcefully throwing a man to the ground, and later shoving another, apparently unprovoked, although events preceding the altercation were not shown.

Police said they would refer the incident for internal investigation.

Two demonstrators were evacuated to hospital, including a 16 year-old with a head injury and internal bleeding, the Srugim religious news website reported.

"This is a particularly violent riot that took place in Jerusalem by hundreds of ultra-Orthodox who rioted, blocked a central intersection with their bodies, assaulted police and violated public order in the area. Some of the demonstrators threw stones and other objects at the police," an Israel Police spokesperson was quoted as saying by Ynet.

"In response, the police were forced to use riot dispersal measures to arrest nine rioters, while attempting to prevent the continuation of the violent and illegal demonstration and the blocking of the roads," the statement added.

The son of a rabbi was reportedly arrested by military police for desertion or failing to obey a draft summons, prompting the protest.

Moshe Gafni, a senior lawmaker with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, intervened with the office of defense minister Avigdor Liberman to free the soldier until after the upcoming Jewish new year celebrations, local media reported.

The demonstration in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim was organised by a particularly hardline group known as Eda Haredit.

Rabbis gave speeches in Yiddish, while a banner read: "We are Jews and therefore will not enlist in the Zionist army."

The ultra-Orthodox oppose serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for a variety of reasons, with the most extreme believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the Messiah.

Others argue that seminary study is just as important to Israel as military service or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with salty language and other irreligious behavior.

Read more: Ultra-Orthodox Israeli soldiers face extreme pressure not to serve

Read more: IDF soldier attacked by ultra-Orthodox mob in Jerusalem

(Staff with AFP)

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