JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police used water cannons to disperse protesters in central Jerusalem and arrested at least 55 of them as clashes broke out overnight as thousands staged a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israelis have held a series of demonstrations in recent weeks calling on Netanyahu to resign, citing his trial on corruption charges and his fractious unity government’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The protest near the prime minister’s residence began around sundown Thursday and initially was peaceful. A smaller counterprotest in support of Netanyahu was held nearby, with the two camps separated by metal barricades and a large police presence.
Police say they moved in to disperse the protesters when they tried to stage a procession through the city. Police scuffled with demonstrators as four large trucks roared into action, spraying water cannons back and forth, scattering the protesters.
At times, the trucks sprayed protesters from behind as they tried to leave the area peacefully.
Israel imposed a general lockdown when the first coronavirus cases appeared in March and by May had largely succeeded in containing the outbreak. Then it moved quickly to lift virtually all restrictions, and cases surged in the weeks that followed.
The country has reported more than 57,000 cases and at least 442 deaths. More than 24,000 patients have recovered.
A unity government formed in May following after inconclusive elections in less than a year was supposed to prioritize the pandemic. But it has been plagued by infighting and unable to agree on clear policies to combat the pandemic.
Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust after 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 Thursday press conference.
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.”
By ARIEL SCHALIT