Police in Israel use water cannon on anti-Netanyahu protesters

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Israeli police have used water cannons on protesters in central Jerusalem. It happened as clashes broke out overnight after thousands staged a demonstration against the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israelis have held a series of demonstrations in recent weeks calling on Netanyahu to resign. Protesters are citing his trial on corruption charges and his fractious unity government’s poor handling of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic as reasons.

Protests

The protest near the prime minister’s residence began around sundown on Thursday 23 July. It was initially largely peaceful, but police said at least 55 people were later arrested.

A smaller counter-protest in support of Netanyahu was held nearby. The two camps were separated by metal barricades and a large police presence.

Virus Outbreak Israel Politics
Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Police say they moved in to disperse the protesters when they tried to stage a procession through the city. Officers confronted and fought with demonstrators before four large trucks roared into action.

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The trucks sprayed water cannons and scattered the protesters. At times, it appeared the trucks were spraying protesters from behind as they tried to leave the area peacefully.

Pandemic response

Israel imposed a general lockdown when the first coronavirus cases appeared in March. By May, the country had largely succeeded in containing the outbreak. But then it moved quickly to lift virtually all restrictions, and in the following weeks cases surged.

The country has reported a total of more than 57,000 cases and at least 442 deaths. More than 24,000 patients have recovered.

A unity government formed in May, following three inconclusive elections in less than a year, was supposed to prioritise the pandemic. Instead, it’s been plagued by infighting and unable to agree on clear policies to combat the pandemic.

Bribery, fraud and breach of trust

Meanwhile, Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over a series of long-running corruption investigations. Critics say he is more focused on escaping legal accountability than on containing the pandemic. Many have speculated he intends to call yet another election, allegations he dismissed as “absurd” in a press conference on 23 July.

At the same conference, held as the protests were under way, he called on demonstrators not to clash with police, saying it would “lead to anarchy”.

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