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Thousands gather outside Israeli PM’s official residence as protests maintain momentum

Thousands of Israelis protested outside the prime minister’s official residence Saturday as summer-long demonstrations against Benjamin Netanyahu maintained their momentum.

The protesters want the embattled Netanyahu to give up his post while he is on trial for corruption charges. The government’s mishaps in handling the coronavirus crisis after relative success in its early stages have also fuelled the demonstrations.

Saturday’s protest comes ahead of Tuesday’s deadline in which the coalition government must agree on a budget plan or trigger new elections that would be the fourth in just over a year.

Ignoring police suggestions for alternative routes, the protesters marched from several parts of Jerusalem through key roads trying to reach Netanyahu’s residence on Balfour Street.

Outside the residence, they hoisted giant balloons depicting smeared heads of Netanyahu and his rival-turned-coalition partner Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, waved Israeli flags and the black flag of one of the grassroots protest movements.

A protester wearing a rubber mask of Netanyahu and a jail suit gestures during a protest in Jerusalem on Saturday. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

A sign read “Balfour is in our hands,” referring to the residence address. Other signs called on Netanyahu to quit and a placard described him as “Crime Minister.”

Last week, Netanyahu announced a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates, making it the third Arab country to establish full relations with Israel. The historic breakthrough has not helped calm the demonstrations against him.

Netanyahu has rejected calls to step down while he is on trial and claimed the protests are the work of leftists and the media.

Israel appeared to contain the coronavirus pandemic in its first phase last spring, but the quick reopening of the economy led to a spike in cases. Over 100,000 Israelis have tested positive for the virus. The pandemic has caused unemployment numbers to hover over 20 per cent.

Netanyahu was charged last year with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three long-running corruption investigations. In January, the trial will move to a witness phase with three sessions a week.

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