Anti-Netanyahu protests continue in Israel

Thousands of Israelis gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence as summer-long demonstrations against Benjamin Netanyahu go on

Protesters link arms as police move in to clear the square outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, late Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
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Thousands of Israelis protested outside the prime minister’s official residence on Saturday night, as summer-long demonstrations against Benjamin Netanyahu kept their momentum.

Thirty of the demonstrators were arrested after outbreaks of violence, with three due to appear in court, Israeli police said on Sunday.

"During the protests three policemen were injured by protesters," police said.

The protesters want the embattled Mr Netanyahu to give up his post while he is on trial on corruption charges. The government’s mishaps in handling the coronavirus crisis after relative success in its early stages have also fuelled the demonstrations.

The protest came before Tuesday’s deadline where the coalition government must agree on a budget plan or trigger a fourth general election in just over a year.

Ignoring police suggestions for alternative routes, the protesters marched from several parts of Jerusalem along main roads in an effort to reach Mr Netanyahu’s residence on Balfour Street.

Outside, they hoisted giant balloons depicting smeared heads of Mr Netanyahu and his rival-turned-coalition partner, Benny Gantz, of the centrist Blue and White party, waved Israel flags and the black flag of one of the grassroots protest movements.

One sign read “Balfour is in our hands,” while others called on Mr Netanyahu to quit, and a placard described him as “Crime Minister”.

Israeli police said they arrested seven protesters on suspicion of violating public order and assaulting police officers.

Mr Netanyahu rejected calls to step down while he is on trial and claimed leftists and the media were responsible for the protests.

Israel appeared to contain the pandemic in its first phase last spring, but the quick reopening of the economy led to a spike in cases. More than 100,000 Israelis have tested positive for the virus. The pandemic has sent unemployment to about 20 per cent.

Mr Netanyahu was charged last year with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three long-running corruption investigations. In January, the trial will move to a witness phase with three sessions a week.

Meanwhile, members of Israel's ruling coalition were trying to negotiate a last-minute deal on Sunday to push back the looming budget deadline and avoid another general election. By law, if the government does not pass a national budget by 90 days after its formed, the Knesset automatically dissolves. The deadline expires on Monday night.

After three deadlocked elections, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz reached a power-sharing agreement in April to form a government to address the coronavirus crisis. As part of their coalition deal, Mr Netanyahu's Likud party and Mr Gantz's Blue and White agreed to pass a two-year budget.

But Mr Netanyahu now insists on passing a budget to cover only the remainder of 2020, saying it will provide immediate assistance to the economy. Mr Gantz is adamant that the government honour its agreement and pass one for 2020 and 2021.

The Knesset’s finance committee was to convene on Sunday to discuss a bill to postpone Monday’s deadline by 100 days, until December 3. If the committee approves the deferral, it must pass two rounds of voting in parliament before Monday night’s deadline.