The Health Ministry on Tuesday warned the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Beit Shemesh and Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem that they face renewed lockdown after large numbers of people gathered in both locations to mark the festival of Lag BaOmer.
Hundreds congregated on Monday night to light the traditional bonfires, despite Health Ministry regulations aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus, sparking concern among the authorities of a second outbreak in these areas.
"This is a very serious incident, especially in a place that has already been defined as a 'red zone' due to a past major outbreak," a senior official in the Health Ministry said Tuesday, referring to Mea Shearim.
In Jerusalem, police forces were called to disperse the mass gathering of hundreds of people, although they avoided entering the Mea Shearim neighborhood for fear of attack from the residents and instead called in the special riot unit (Yasam) for backup.
“The Israel Police acted to disperse several hundred residents in the Mea Shearim neighborhood who gathered in clear violation of health regulations,” the police said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat on the issue.
The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that it "strongly condemns the breach of the rules" and that "enforcement should be increased immediately and the crowds dispersed."
Meanwhile, certain Mea Shearim residents tried Tuesday to downplay the locals' role in the lack of compliance.
“I want to say that there are different communities here and they do not all represent what is happening here in the neighborhood,” said one resident.
"There are people here who do not throw stones at the police and Magen David Adom rescue service. There are the fanatical public, but not all ultra-Orthodox people are the same,” he said, adding that there had been not hundreds of people gathering.
"There were 70-60 people; it should be taken in proportion. Eighty percent of the public you saw were aged from 4 or 5 to 20 years old. That means guys who had been shut in at home for two months,” he added.