Israeli authorities extends ban limiting public protests | Center East

Prime Minister Netanyahu says the restrictions are based on security concerns as the country grapples with a spike in COVID-19, but critics say it muzzles dissent.

The Israeli government has extended an emergency rule that bans public gatherings, including widespread protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for another week.

Government ministers approved the measure by phone, the prime minister’s office said in a statement late Wednesday. It will stay in place until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Shin Bet’s head of internal security admitted breaking lockdown orders by accommodating visiting family members in his home. This was the latest of several senior Israeli officials caught bending the rules.

Israel imposed a nationwide lockdown last month ahead of the Jewish High Holidays to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a law last week allowing the government to declare a week-long state of emergency to limit attendance at meetings over the pandemic.

The government then declared a state of emergency and restricted all public gatherings to one kilometer (0.6 miles) from a person’s home.

Netanyahu said the restrictions were due to security concerns as the country battles an out of control pandemic. However, critics and demonstrators accuse him of tightening the lockdown to resolve dissent.

Thousands of Israelis have participated in weekly demonstrations in front of Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem for months, urging the longtime prime minister to resign over corruption during the trial.

Since the restriction was approved last month, tens of thousands of Israelis have protested on street corners and public places near their homes against the government’s perceived abuse of the coronavirus crisis and its economic consequences.

On Thursday, an Israeli protester painted the Hebrew word “Go” – an increasingly popular slogan among anti-Netanyahu protesters – in large letters across Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

Senior officials, including Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, have been caught violating their own instructions since the pandemic began.

In recent days, Environment Minister Gila Gamliel has come under fire for allegedly misleading contract prosecution after breaking the lockdown and testing positive for the virus.

Shin Bet boss Nadav Argaman confirmed to press reports Thursday that his daughter and other family members were visiting his home over the holidays. “The head of security regrets this incident and takes full responsibility,” Shin Bet said in a statement.

Israel was initially praised for its speedy imposition of restrictions in February to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

However, after the economy and schools reopened in May, the number of new cases increased rapidly. A second lockdown was imposed on September 18 when the infection rate soared to one of the highest per capita in the world.

After nearly three weeks of lockdown, the number of new cases is gradually decreasing, but infections are still spreading, particularly in the country’s severely affected ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

As of Thursday, Israel has registered 284,705 confirmed cases and more than 1,800 deaths in the country of approximately nine million people.

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