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Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in a rally in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak on June 17, 2010
Jack Guez (AFP/File)
Ultra-Orthodox protesters threw firecrackers at riot officers and blocked streets

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews battled Israeli police near Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem on Monday, with 33 people arrested in the latest protests against compulsory military service, police said.

In mainly ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak, adjacent to Tel Aviv, protesters threw firecrackers at riot officers and blocked streets, a police statement said.

Two policemen were injured and 28 protesters arrested, it said, during what it called "severe violence".

"The Israel police will act with determination and zero tolerance against any attempt to disturb public order, endanger passersby and road users, and disrupt the lives of residents," the Hebrew-language statement added.

In Jerusalem, it said, five "ultra-Orthodox extremists" were arrested during a protest outside an army draft centre, during which they attempted to block vehicles leaving the building.

A series of such protests in recent months has been spurred by the occasional arrests of ultra-Orthodox young men accused of dodging military service.

Israeli law requires men to serve two years and eight months in the military on reaching the age of 18, while women must serve for two.

Ultra-Orthodox men are exempt from military service if they are engaged in religious study, but must still report to the army to receive their exemption.

Those who are not exempt must enlist and are subject to arrest by military police if they refuse.

In September, a decision by Israel's supreme court struck down the law exempting them.

But the court suspended its ruling for one year, giving the government time to pass a new law.

The ruling raises the possibility that the ultra-Orthodox could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with political implications.

Ultra-Orthodox parties are a key part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition and have often acted as kingmakers in Israeli politics.

The ultra-Orthodox are against serving for a variety of reasons. 

Some do not recognise Israel, believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the Messiah.

Others argue that religious study is just as important to Israel as military service, or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with strong language and other irreligious behaviour.

Around 10 percent of Israel's eight million people are considered ultra-Orthodox.

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