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JERUSALEM — Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked highways across Israel on Thursday and clashed with security forces to protest government plans to draft them into the military, police said.

The simultaneous rallies in numerous locations caused large traffic jams, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

In Jerusalem, some 400 activists tried to block the entrance to the city but were dispersed with water cannons and 15 were arrested. In the southern city of Ashdod, the demonstrators hurled stones at the police, injuring two policemen. Rosenfeld said eight protesters were arrested there.

Elsewhere, a major highway in central Israel was blocked by about 2,000 protesters. Police on horses beat back demonstrators with clubs and used to stun grenades to clear the roads.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have for years been exempt from military service, which is compulsory for Jewish Israelis. The arrangement has caused widespread resentment among Israel's secular majority and featured prominently in last year's election.

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