Orthodox protestors demonstrate against the opening of a new cinema
Jerusalem - AFP
Jerusalem plans to close some convenience stores on Saturdays to observe the Jewish Sabbath, angering shopkeepers who accuse officials of caving in to pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The city government on Wednesday began issuing closure orders for Saturdays starting next month.
Existing laws ban various categories of businesses from opening on the Sabbath, but they are only selectively enforced.
The ultra-Orthodox abide strictly by Jewish law prohibiting work on the Sabbath.
The move to tighten enforcement came after a new cinema complex announced plans to open on Saturdays, drawing ultra-Orthodox protests.
Einav Bar, a Jerusalem councilwoman in charge of promoting businesses, told AFP the owners of eight downtown businesses planned to challenge the city in court over the closure orders.
"There is no explanation to the new policy other than a political deal" between Mayor Nir Barkat and ultra-Orthodox factions, Bar wrote on her Facebook page.
The Jerusalem municipality, however, insisted it was acting in line with a court ruling to reinforce the prohibition on Sabbath trading.
Enforcement would be "enhanced" in areas such as central Jerusalem and ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods, and less stringent elsewhere.
"There is no change in the law or the longstanding status quo in Jerusalem, according to which cinemas, entertainment venues and restaurants are allowed to work on the Sabbath, while businesses and public transportation are prohibited," it said.
West Jerusalem is mainly Jewish while east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War, is mostly inhabited by Palestinians.