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'New plot' against Jerusalem Gay Pride one year after attack

Shlissel an ultra-orthodox Jewish man had spent ten years in jail after attacking the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride march and had been released three weeks prior to the 2015 attack where he killed six. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Jerusalem, Israel Jul 21, 2016, 04.48 PM (IST)
Israeli police said they had detected a new plot against Jerusalem's Gay Pride march held today, a year after an ultra-Orthodox Jew killed a teenager and stabbed five other people.

Police said they suspected the man behind the attack on last year's march, Yishai Shlissel, had been in contact with his brother from prison about an assault on this year's parade. Shlissel's brother, Michael, was arrested and was being held in police custody as the march got underway.

Police said in a statement they uncovered information that "Yishai Shlissel had planned, with his brother Michael Schlissel, to attack march participants".

Twelve people were also arrested as marchers were gathering, police said, including two who were carrying knives. There was no indication they were linked to Shlissel. The alleged plot revealed hours before the march raised fresh concerns, with hundreds of Israeli police already deploying in Jerusalem to protect participants.

Shira Banki, 16, was killed at the march in July last year after she was attacked at random along with five others by Shlissel, who is now serving a life sentence.

Shlissel had spent ten years in jail after a similar attack on the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride march and had been released just three weeks before last years event, leading to criticism of police.

This year they increased the number of officers, with up to 2,000 reportedly being deployed. Thursdays march began at around 6pm (1500 GMT), with thousands gathering in central Jerusalem, waving Israeli and rainbow flags.

All marchers were inspected before joining, with many pre-registering, while carrying a weapon of any kind was prohibited, police said.

Public security minister Gilad Erdan attended, saying he "came here for this march of tolerance to show our solidarity".

Last year, around 5,000 people marched, and organisers expected a higher turnout this year. The participants were to walk past the site where Banki was murdered, and her parents were to address the crowd at the end of the march.

Tom Canning, one of the organisers who himself narrowly avoided being stabbed last year, said he was satisfied with the security steps taken by police.

"I think the police got a big blow from what happened last year," he said. "This year the entire security plan has been in planning for the last three months and is being managed by the highest ranks of the police." Israel has long had by far the most liberal approach to homosexuality in the Middle East, compared to its Arab neighbours, with a large and influential gay community.

The annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, is however far smaller than the one held in nearby Tel Aviv. Tel Avivs parade typically attracts tens of thousands of people to what is considered one of the world's most gay-friendly cities, while Jerusalem is far less welcoming to homosexuals.

The march came at a difficult time for Israel's LGBT community, with an alleged homophobe recently nominated as the army's chief rabbi.

The military named Colonel Eyal Karim as its chief rabbi, despite him having allegedly referred to gay people as "sick and disabled".

A Gay Pride march in the southern city of Beersheba was also cancelled by organisers last week after the high court agreed with police that it could not go through the city's main thoroughfare due to security threats.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat drew the ire of many in the gay community for announcing he would not attend Thursday's march in part because it "offends the (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) public and the national-religious public".

Imri Kalmann, co-chair of Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, was scathing in his criticism. "I think it is cowardice. He is not doing it because this is his opinion. He is doing it because he wants to please voters," he said.

(AFP)
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