Water cannon and arrests as thousands demand Netanyahu resign

Demonstrators have been calling on the Israeli prime minister to resign over corruption charges

Police use water cannons as they clash with people during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Reuters
Police use water cannons as they clash with people during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Reuters

Israeli police fired water cannon and arrested 50 protesters outside Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Monday, where demonstrators have been calling on the prime minister to resign over corruption charges for more than a month.

Police sent in mounted officers to disperse protesters, who blocked roads and set fire to dustbins in the city centre.

"Suspects... were involved in disturbances and attacking police officers and journalists," a police spokesperson said.

One policeman was wounded in the scuffles, Israel's 12 News reported.

The demonstration was organised as part of 'The Black Flags' civil protest campaign, whose members say they want to protect Israel's democracy and call on Mr Netanyahu to step down from office over graft charges.

Earlier in the day, Jerusalem city hall said that the municipality had removed the protesters’ equipment for a second day in a row because it “was placed without a permit and harms public order”.

Opposition politicians denounced the move as an attempt to stifle free expression.

“There’s no chance that we’re moving from here,” Amir Haskel, a former Israeli air force general and one of the leaders of the protest, told Army Radio. “You can’t ignore the fact that we’ve been here 35 days.”

More people have joined the sit-in since Mr Haskel was arrested last month for allegedly holding a protest without a permit. He was released without charge.

By Friday, several thousand people gathered outside the prime minister’s residence, demanding his resignation.

Mr Netanyahu is on trial for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. He has denied any wrongdoing and accused the media and law enforcement officials of a witch hunt.

Israel’s long-standing prime minister's popularity plummeted in recent months amid mounting dissatisfaction with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, thousands gathered in a separate demonstration in Tel Aviv to criticise his government’s response to the economic fallout from the crisis.

Unemployment has surged by 21 per cent since the country when into lockdown in March, and many said government compensation for hundreds of thousands of job losses has not been paid.

After Monday’s dismantling of the sit-in, opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that “Netanyahu has lost public trust and with it the courage to stand before citizens who tell him the truth daily — that he’s failed”.

The incident came a day after a Channel 13 survey found that 75 per cent of respondents were unsatisfied by the government’s performance in handling the pandemic, while a similar poll by public broadcaster Kan showed that 85 per cent were dissatisfied.

Israel’s health ministry confirmed more than 38,000 cases of Covid-19 and 362 deaths, with the number of new infections surging in recent weeks.

Updated: July 15, 2020 09:34 AM

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