Israel on high alert

Israel went on a heightened state of alert on Friday amid fears of Palestinian suicide bombings following a lethal shelling in the Gaza Strip and as gay people staged a controversial rally in Jerusalem.

Security forces have been braced for possible attacks after Palestinian groups that had observed a near-two-year truce in attacks inside Israel called for a resumption of suicide bombings to avenge the deaths of 18 Palestinians.

“Altogether, 7 000 policemen are on patrol in Jerusalem maintaining security measures,” said police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld ahead of the gay rally, which passed off without violent incident.

About 4 000 officers were concentrated in such locations as Jerusalem’s Old City and flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, where the main Muslim weekly prayers take place.

Another 3 000 police officers were drafted in to secure the gay rally in a Hebrew University stadium as a police surveillance balloon hovered over the site of the scaled-down event and helicopters patrolled Jerusalem’s skies.

In addition, a general closure was slapped on the West Bank amid fears of Palestinian attacks. An army spokesperson said that would remain in place until late Saturday—the end of the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday.

One security source said that following the Gaza deaths on Wednesday, “no less than 80 warnings of imminent Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets have reached the intelligence services”.

Security forces also went on high alert nationwide to prevent possible protests against the gay event, which had already been the cause of near daily clashes between police and members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Nevertheless only about 4 000 gay and lesbian participants and left-wing and liberal activists turned out for the rally, significantly less than original police estimates of up to 7 000 people.

Banners proclaiming “a free and proud Jerusalem” and placards such as “There are different ways to be a Jew” were held aloft as police arrested five people at a park outside the stadium for trying to confront gays and lesbians.

Several far-right activists had clashed briefly with gay-rights activists who tried to organise an unauthorised march not far from the stadium.

Watered down and already twice postponed, the rally has been slammed by Christian, Jewish and Muslim faithful as an abomination to the sanctity of Jerusalem, and it has sparked threats of violence from hard-liners. The Vatican also called for the planned march to be cancelled for fear of offending “the sensibilities of religious communities” in Jerusalem.

Under a last-minute compromise because of the high security alert, organisers and Orthodox leaders agreed to limit the rally to the Givat Ram stadium, to calm hard-liners who planned violent retribution.

Rabbis called on Jews in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods to pray in synagogues against the parade but on Thursday all authorised protests against the parade were called off following the police compromise.

Last year, at least two participants were injured when an ultra-Orthodox man went on a stabbing rampage during what was the fourth such parade in Jerusalem.

“The Holy City belongs to everyone,” shouted the chairperson of the city’s gay rights pressure group, Elena Canetti, into a microphone at Friday’s rally.

“Why in Jerusalem? Because this is my city, Israel’s capital and because everyone’s rights, whatever their sexual, religious or national tendencies are, should be respected,” she added.

In agreeing to sanction the rally in the stadium, representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community had persuaded police to release dozens of religious hard-liners who had been arrested during violent anti-gay protests.—Sapa-AFP

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