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Beit Shemesh: Second Night Of Protests In Israel Following Attack On Schoolgirl By Religious Group

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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men gather around a sign that reads in Hebrew:
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men gather around a sign that reads in Hebrew: "Women are asked not to linger in this area"

Protesters have taken to the streets for a second day in the restive Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, west Jerusalem, in demonstration against the increasing influence of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group.

The rally follows a similar protest on Tuesday near to a girls’ school, which had become a target for the town’s Haredi Jewish men, who recently attacked an eight-year-old girl for dressing “immodestly”.

The town has become a focus point for the increasing tension between Israel’s modern secular majority and the minority of religious zealots, who are demanding gender segregation within Jerusalem.

The rift is such that Shimon Peres was forced to speak out against the "small minority" of religious fanatics, saying: “We are fighting for the soul of the nation." In a statement, the president urged "the entire nation" to "support the battle".

Tuesday’s demonstration followed an attack on schoolgirl Naama Margolese, who subsequently appeared on Israeli TV, describing how she was spat at by the zealots, who reportedly targeted the school because the pupils wear regulation knee-length skirts.

"When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared ... that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting... They were scary. They don't want us to go to the school," Margolese told the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, the BBC reported that the demonstrators rallied with signs that read "free Israel from religious coercion" and "stop Israel from becoming Iran".

According to the Guardian, the Haredi have long targeted the school, often shouting "Nazi" and "whore" to the pupils and their parents.

Following the broadcast, media flocked to the town where clashes occurred as members of the extremist group set upon journalists. According to the Jerusalem Post, two film crews were attacked and a policeman was lightly injured.

The fresh violence follows months of increasing tension, with the local Haredim submitting increasingly bizarre demands, including the removal of women from advertising billboards and the enforced separation of men and women on public transport within Jerusalem.

Last week, an Israeli woman refused to move down a bus despite the remonstrations of a Haredi man. The police were called and eventually the man got off.

According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has said the country will act against anyone that harasses women in the public sphere.

On Wednesday, a fight broke out in Bethlehem between Armenian and Greek orthodox clerics, many of who were wielding brooms.

The scuffle occurred as both sets of priests were cleaning the Church of the Nativity ahead of the Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

According to the police, no one was injured ad no one was arrested.


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