An Orthodox Jewish assailant stabbed and injured six participants of an annual Gay Pride march in Jerusalem on Thursday, police and witnesses said.
Police reportedly said a suspect is the same man who was convicted of a similar attack in 2005 and was recently freed from prison, the Times of Israel reported.
It was the worst attack in years on the event in Jerusalem, a city where the religious population is more prominent than in other parts of Israel.
“I saw an ultra-Orthodox youth stabbing everyone in his way,” said Shai Aviyor, a witness interviewed on Israel’s Channel 2 television.
“We heard people screaming, everyone ran for cover, and there were bloodied people on the ground,” Aviyor said.
A paramedic with the Magen David Adom rescue service said at least six people had been injured, and at least two appeared to be in serious condition.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said a suspected ultra-Orthodox Jewish man had stabbed at least four of the marchers.
The march, which attracts thousands of participants, has long been a focus of tension between Israel’s predominantly secular majority and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority, who object to public displays of homosexuality.
Oded Fried, the head of a leading gay rights group, said the march would go on despite the attack. “Our struggle for equality only intensifies in the face of such events,” he said.
Ten years ago, in the 2005 parade, an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed three LGBT marchers. The attacker, Yishai Shlissel, was recently released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence. A police source identified Shlissel as the suspect in today’s attack.
Shlissel was convicted of attempted murder and aggravated assault and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. In 2007, following an appeal, the Supreme Court mitigated his sentence to 10 years.
The annual pride march began calmly. The police cordoned off protesters and used buses to separate them from the marchers. The streets were mostly empty save for the marchers.
Some 5,000 people were expected to hit the streets of the capital for the parade.
Starting in the afternoon, hundreds of police, Border Police and volunteers were set to fan out along the parade route and assembly areas, making sure the marchers would be able to parade in peace.
Police had granted a permit to 30 right-wing activists to protest against the event near the Great Synagogue, not far from the marchers. Earlier on Thursday, Israel Police arrested right-wing extremist Baruch Marzel though they denied the arrest had anything to do with the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade. Marzel is a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and usually takes part in the annual protest against the parade.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the stabbing was a very serious event, and promised that the state will bring the full weight of the law against the suspects.
“In the state of Israel the individual’s freedom of choice is one of basic values. We must ensure that in Israel, every man and woman lives in security in any way they choose. That’s how we acted in the past and how we’ll continue to act. I wish the wounded a speedy recovery,” he said in a statement.
Benzi Gopstein, chairman of the right-wing group Lehava, said that while activists from the organization staged a protest against the “abomination parade,” they “oppose the stabbing of Jews.” He called on the police not to allow the parade to take place in Jerusalem again.—Reuters