Smoldering trash cans and broken glass littered Jerusalem streets Friday morning as police prepared for a fourth day of rioting by ultra-Orthodox Jews enraged at the arrest of a mentally ill Hasidic woman who authorities say was starving her child.
Security forces armed with water cannons and backed by mounted units battled through the night protesters hurling bricks and bottles and blocking main thoroughfares with piles of garbage.
"We don't have weapons, we don't have tanks, we don't have policemen or jails," Shmuel Pappenheim, a spokesman for the protesters, told Israel Army Radio Friday. "But we are sending in our army to save a family, to save a Jewish mother who is raising five children with love and warmth."
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Associated Press that 18 police officers were injured and 50 protesters were arrested during the overnight street battles and extra police had been drafted into the city from other districts.
Mother suspected of denying food
The woman, who has not been named, is due to appear in court in Jerusalem later Friday morning. Rosenfeld said police will ask that she be sent for psychiatric examination.
Hadassah Hospital where her three-year-old son is recovering from malnutrition says the mother suffers from a condition known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which a person deliberately makes another sick.
The mother is suspected of denying her child food.
Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco told the radio that it was her family and lawyers' opposition to a psychiatric evaluation which had hampered her possible release so far and Haaretz newspaper quoted him as saying that if they agreed in court Friday there was a possibility she could be freed the same day.
Her release could defuse at least some of the tension on the streets of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
"It all depends on how the court hearing goes," Rosenfeld said.
Tensions over vote, driving on Sabbath
Tensions between authorities and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up a third of Jerusalem's residents, have been high since voters replaced an ultra-Orthodox mayor with a secular candidate in a November election.
In recent weeks, ultra-Orthodox Jews and authorities have clashed repeatedly over a decision by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to open a municipal parking lot on the Sabbath. Ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose the idea because driving is forbidden on the Sabbath.
The Jewish Sabbath begins Friday at sundown and a failure to resolve the case of the arrested mother by then would exacerbate ultra-orthodox resentment.
During this week's disturbances, City Hall cut off municipal services to some ultra-Orthodox areas, mainly sanitation, after its workers were attacked.