Thousands of gay pride celebrants took to the streets of Jerusalem Thursday while police stood on guard against potentially violent opposition from the Holy City's religious communities.
Policearrested an ultra-Orthodox man carrying a homemade explosive device that he said he intended to plant along the parade route, a police spokesperson said. About 7,000 officers were deployed to protect marchers waving multicoloured balloons along the street in front of the historic King David Hotel.
Police estimated 2,500 Israelis came out on Thursday to show support for gay rights.
"I am demanding my civil rights, including the right to get married and have children," said marcher Guy Frishman, 27. "I want to have rights like every other person."
In November, an Israeli court ruled that two gay men married in Canada, as well as four other same-sex couples wedded abroad, should have their unions recognized in Israel and enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples marrying out of country in civil ceremonies.
In another part of the city on Thursday, several hundred ultra-Orthodox protesters staged a fiery counter-demonstration. While the putrid smoke from burning trash bins wafted through the air, protest leaders chanted psalms through loudspeakers and marchers waved banners that read "Shame" and "Israeli Supreme Court: Destroying the Holy City."
Ultra-Orthodox Jews burned tires, assaulted policemen and damaged police cars in the week leading up the rally. Twenty-two policemen were injured and 130 people arrested, a police spokesperson said.
On Wednesday night, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favour of the pride march, defying opposition appeals to ban the event.
"Such a march contradicts all religions and morals and the natural human way of being," said Sheik Mohammed Hussein, mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine.
Last November,apride rally was held in a sports stadium on the edge of the city after Israeli police said they couldn't guarantee the marchers' safety in the streets. Leading up to the event, ultra-Orthodox activists torched cars and demonstrated with goats and donkeys, comparing gays to animals.
At the 2005 pride march, three participants were stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man. The annual march in Tel Aviv, by contrast, usually carries on without incident.
There are an estimated 60,000 gays living in metropolitan Jerusalem.