Israeli police have arrested 12 people and used water cannon in Jerusalem before dawn on Sunday to disperse furious demonstrators protesting against the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The arrests came as thousands of Israelis held several demonstrations across the country on Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the main protest taking place in Jerusalem outside his official residence.
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The protests have been going on for the past few weeks, sparked by what critics see as the government’s failure in handling the coronavirus crisis after initially seeming to succeed in keeping the virus at bay.
Corruption charges against Netanyahu have further fuelled the demonstrations.
“Bibi, go home,” read one sign held by a protester. Other placards said “We are fed up with the corrupt”, and “Where are the morals? Where are the values?”
They blew horns, beat drums and chanted slogans, including “One million unemployed,” “Bibi resign,” “Crime Minister,” “Shame,” and “Bloated, corrupt cabinet, we are sick of you”.
Protesters also slammed a law passed this week that gives the government special powers, under the banner of fighting COD-19, until the end of 2021.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside Netanyahu’s beach house in Caesarea, and in the capital Tel Aviv.
According to Rosenfeld, police handed out face masks before they called on the largest crowd in Jerusalem to go home over police-van loudspeakers several hours later.
They carried away some protesters who sat on sidewalks and refused calls to disperse in a show of civil disobedience.
“Police will allow demonstrations. However, will not allow disturbances of the order,” Rosenfeld said.
After what has been called a hasty and erratic reopening of the economy in May, infections shot up with the average number of new cases 2,000 a day.
The government has reimposed some restrictions, including closing bars, nightclubs and gyms.
Out of some nine million people, Israel has so far recorded 60,496 confirmed cases, including 455 deaths.
On Sunday, the government is expected to endorse an economic plan worth 6.5 billion shekels ($1.9bn) to address the crisis, according to local media reports.
Protesters say the government’s offers of financial assistance have been nowhere near enough, with the unemployment rate skyrocketing to nearly 20 percent.
The protests came as Netanyahu faces trial for corruption, which resumed this month. He is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals. Hearings will start in January.