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article imageProtest by hardline religious Jews shuts entrance to Jerusalem

By AFP     Oct 23, 2017 in World

Several thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked the main entrance to Jerusalem on Monday and protested in other areas as part of a series of demonstrations against serving in the Israeli military.

The protesters occupied an area around Jerusalem's main bus station that serves as the city's primary exit and entrance point, police and an AFP journalist said.

At one point, police used a foul-smelling spray known as "skunk" to disperse them.

There were reports of roads being blocked in other areas as well. Police said at least 10 people had been arrested.

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

On Thursday, police arrested 120 demonstrators after a major intersection was blocked as part of a string of protests throughout the day.

Police said protestors in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighbourhood had blocked streets and set fire to garbage bins, using them as flaming barricades.

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 with the military and can be arrested if they refuse.

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

However, the court suspended its ruling for one year to allow for preparations for a new arrangement, also 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 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 behaviour.

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