Hundreds of Orthodox Jews and secular residents of southwest Jersusalem hurled rocks at each other today as the longrunning Sabbath protest against a new road to an outlying suburb entered its second year.
Riot-equipped police and Army troops moved in quickly to separate the feuding factions, but tensions between the secular Jews and religious extremists continued to mount as authorities vainly sought a compromise to end the strife.
Mayor Teddy Kollek, who during his 13 years in office has been credited with reconciling Arabs and Jews despite deep bitterness left from the 1967 Six-Day War, threw up his hands in frustration and watched the confrontation from the safety of a police van. So far he has been unable to find a solution to what is quickly becoming one of Israel's major domestic problems.
Religious extremism is nothing new in the holy city, but the level of violence has escalated rapidly in recent weeks, partly over the Ramot road and partly because of Kollek's attempt to build a new sports stadium near an Orthodox neighborhood.
Several persons were slightly injured in today's clash. Authorities said riot-trained police averted more bloodshed by swiftly positioning themselves between the two groups.
Religious Jews, who comprise about a third of Jerusalem's 350,000 Jews, were protesting that the new Ramot road passes too close to Orthodox neighborhoods and that the traffic disturbs the Sabbath peace.
They are demanding that the road, a safe access to Ramot for the suburb's 3,000 residents, be blocked off on Saturdays, as are 43 streets in the nearby Orthodox quarter of Mea Shearim.
The city has countered with offers to divert some traffic to an old, narrow and winding road that Ramot residents say is unsafe. In addition, the Housing Ministry is planning to spend up to $400,000 to build an elaborate screen along the 800-yard-long stretch of road that the Orthodox Jews say is offensive.
The road has become a symbol of what Israel's secular majority feels is extremist religious intolerance being imposed on the country by a minority. Many secular Jews are outspoken in their criticism of the government for giving in to demands by extremists.
Today's clash began after several hundred secular Jews gathered for a "promenade in the sun" to protest the stoning of cars along the road by religious extremists on the Sabbath. Every week for the past year, cars traveling along the road have been the target of a hail of stones from the Orthodox section.
As the secular Jews taunted the black-cloaked Orthodox Hasidim, including self-described zealots who oppose Zionism and even call for an end to the Jewish state until the "coming of the Messiah," helmeted police formed a line between the two groups as a barrier.
As the extremists shouted back, "Shabbos! Shabbos!" (Sabbath in Yiddish), one of the Ramot leaders urged restraint over a loudspaker saying, "We must rely on the Israeli police."
But one 17-year-old youth, who later said he does not live in Ramot but came with a carload of youths to help secular friends, ran at the Orthodox demonstrators, shouting insults and hurling stones.
Standing barely 10 paces apart, the two sides then opened up with a barrage of stones until the Orthodox Jews were driven behind a wire fence and police had pushed the secular demonstrators back.
For about 20 minutes, rocks were hurled in both directions until the confrontation simmered down to a shouting match that lasted the rest of the afternoon.
As the cars continued to pass along the road, secular Jews cheered and the Orthodox chanted insults, occasionally throwing stones. At its height, the crowd reached 1,000, but as sundown and the end of the Sabbath, neared, it thinned quickly.
Rabbi Moshe Hirsch of the extreme Neturei Karta Hasidic sect, which has spearheaded previous Orthodox-secular riots, vowed to continue the confrontation next Saturday.