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About 9,000 police will protect gay pride marchers in Jerusalem, the biggest internal civilian security operation in Israel's history, the police commander said Wednesday. The plan follows a week of riots by ultra-Orthodox Jews who are threatening to attack the parade.
Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco said permission was granted for 5,000 gay activists to march Friday through a nonresidential area away from the city center and to hold a closing rally in a university stadium there, while 20,000 religious protesters demonstrate about a mile away near the Jerusalem central bus station.
Other antigay demonstrations are expected at main road junctions in Jerusalem and around the country, he said. The police deployment is codenamed ''Operation Colors of the Rainbow,'' reflecting the gay movement's rainbow flag.
''There will be 8,500 to 9,000 police physically present in Jerusalem,'' Franco said. ''That number is unprecedented in its size in any district of the Israeli police to this day.'' A year ago 9,000 police took part in the evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.
Franco said that should serious public disorder erupt in Jerusalem, as many as 12,000 police and paramilitary border police could be deployed in the city of 700,000, which is considered holy by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
Leaders of the faiths have called for the gay pride event to be banned.
Israeli police are already on high alert in light of threats by Palestinian militants to carry out suicide bombing attacks in revenge for Israel's shelling of a residential neighborhood in Gaza Wednesday in which 18 people, most of them women and children, were killed.
From Thursday night, preparedness will ratchet up one more notch to its highest level, generally used only during major Jewish festivals when there are fears of major terrorist incidents such as a bombing during Passover in 2002 when 29 Israelis were killed.
On Friday police will be faced with possibly violent attempts to stop the parade, the potential of antimarch protests at other sites getting out of hand, and the real danger that crowds of Israelis on the streets could be a tempting target for Palestinian militants.
''The whole police force will be on the highest level, a precaution which is only taken a few times a year,'' police spokesman Micky Rosenberg said. ''We're ready to deal with the possibility of terrorist attacks.''
Ultra-Orthodox Jews who say the gay event in the holy city is ''an abomination'' have rioted on Jerusalem streets for the past week, stoning police and civilian traffic, blocking streets, and setting tires and garbage bins on fire.
A total of 88 people were arrested and brought before judges, and 29 were remanded in custody, Franco said.
On Thursday in the deeply Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, the burned-out shell of a pickup truck still lay on its roof in the road, and scorch marks showed where burning tires had blocked main roads the night before. The glass panes of bus shelters were shattered, and the stench of burning garbage still hung in the air.
During a gay march last year in Jerusalem, an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed and wounded three participants.
Police had warned that Friday's march posed a danger to public safety that outweighs the damage to free speech that would be caused by its cancellation, but Israel's attorney-general ruled that it must be allowed.
Organizers agreed to reroute the march away from its originally planned path through downtown districts. It will now be held in an area of government offices where it can be more easily secured away from main roads, the police said. The offices are closed on Fridays. (AP)