Middle East

Israel tightens lockdown as critics accuse Netanyahu of trying to curb protests

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Israel tightened COVID-19 lockdown measures on Friday as critics accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to curb protests against his handling of the health and economic crises.

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Netanyahu's government decided on Thursday to tighten a three-week lockdown imposed on September 18, forcing Israelis to stay mostly at home, shutting down most businesses and curbing group prayers during the ongoing Jewish high-holiday season.

The measures had also sought to restrict citizens' protests to within 1 km (0.6 miles) of their own homes, which would have effectively halted ongoing protests outside Netanyahu's residence over his handling of the economy, the pandemic and over corruption allegations. He denies all wrongdoing.

But parliament failed to agree on that measure before the tightened lockdown took effect on Friday, meaning that the weekly demonstrations outside Netanyahu's residence can continue.

Cabinet rift

In an attempt to bypass parliament, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party earlier said it had proposed for cabinet approval "emergency regulations for a few days to prevent mass demonstrations that would cause the public to disregard the closure and endanger many lives".

It was not clear whether Likud's emergency measures would win cabinet approval. Defence Minister Benny Gantz said his Blue and White party "will not allow emergency regulations to be used to prevent demonstrations".

"The decision on a stringent lockdown was designed to stop the spread of the virus, not to block protests," he wrote on Twitter.

Without mentioning the curbs on protests, Netanyahu defended the new measures on Thursday, saying that Israelis had not complied with social distancing requirements.

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