July 19, 2020 / 5:06 AM / in 22 days

Israelis protest against Netanyahu, government handling of COVID-19 crisis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Saturday as protests mounted against him over alleged corruption and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Police use water cannon as Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem July 18, 2020. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

Hit by high unemployment, a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and reimposed coronavirus curbs, Israelis have taken to the streets in almost daily demonstrations against the government.

Public anger has been compounded by corruption alleged against Netanyahu, who went on trial in May for bribery, fraud and breach of trust - charges he denies.

In Jerusalem hundreds gathered outside the prime minister’s residence and then marched through the streets, calling for Netanyahu’s resignation as police used water cannons to disperse the crowds. At least two people were arrested, police said.

In Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub, thousands gathered at a rally by the beach, demanding better state aid to businesses hurt by coronavirus restrictions and to people who have lost jobs or have been put on unpaid leave. Unemployment presently stands at 21%.

Israel’s Reshet TV News said police in Tel Aviv used tear gas to try to disperse the demonstrators who had marched through the streets. It broadcast footage of scuffles with police. Police said arrests were under way at that demonstration.

Israel reopened schools and many businesses in May, lifting restrictions that had flattened an infection curve after a partial lockdown imposed in March.

But with the infection rate rising sharply in the past few weeks, many public health experts said the government had moved too fast while neglecting to take the necessary epidemiological steps to control the pandemic once the economy reopened.

A poll by the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute on Tuesday found only 29.5% of the public trust Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis.

Netanyahu has announced numerous economic aid packages, some of which have been slow to come through while others have drawn criticism for being ineffective.

Israel, with a population of 9 million, has reported almost 50,000 coronavirus cases and 400 deaths.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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