28/12/2011 12:06 GMT | Updated 27/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Beit Shemesh: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Group Condemned By Peres After Spitting At Eight-Year-Old Girl

Shimon Peres has spoken out against the "small minority" of religious fanatics who attacked an eight-year-old girl following escalating tensions between Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews and the country's secular "majority".

"We are fighting for the soul of the nation," said the president, urging "the entire nation" to "support the battle".

On Tuesday, thousand of Israelis gathered to protest in the town of Beit Shemesh, west Jerusalem, following an attack on Naama Margolese by ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, who accused the schoolgirl of dressing "immodestly".

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 (the religious group responsible for the attack) have targeted the school before, often shouting "Nazi" and "whore" to the pupils and their parents.

Following the incident, Margolese 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.

Following the broadcast, media flocked to the town where clashes occurred as members of the extremist group attacked camera crews and journalists.

The fresh violence follows months of increasing tension, with the local Haredim, the majority religious group in the area, making 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 following demands from a Haredi man. The police were called and eventually the man got off.

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.