TEL AVIV – The corruption trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resumed on Sunday after a hiatus of more than a month, as protests mounted against his handling of the coronavirus crisis in Israel.
The trial will officially resume in January with witnesses heard three times a week, the court ruled on Sunday.
Lawyers for the Israeli leader have asked for a six-month delay to prepare their strategy. They suggested that it would be difficult to assess the veracity of witnesses wearing masks – currently mandatory in Israel.
Netanyahu, 70, was not required to attend Sunday’s session at the Jerusalem District Court, where he appeared on May 24 at the start of the trial.
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The current Israeli prime minister to be tried, Netanyahu was indicted in November and charged with one count of corruption and three counts of fraud and breach of trust in three long-standing corruption cases.
He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch hunt”.
If convicted, Netanyahu could face up to 10 years in prison for corruption and a maximum sentence of three years on each count of fraud and breach of trust. However, legal experts have suggested he is unlikely to be given maximum sentences even if convicted.
The trial resumed after another night of protests in Israeli cities as public anger rose over high unemployment and frustration over the government’s response to the pandemic.
Police used water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters around Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Saturday evening.
In Tel Aviv, Israel’s trade hub, thousands of people gathered to demand better state aid for businesses affected by the pandemic. Hundreds of police were stationed at both protests as protests the previous weekend turned violent.
During a protest in the city’s Charles Clore Park on Saturday, police in riot gear stormed the rally, abducting hundreds of protesters by truck, according to a police spokesperson.
After coronavirus cases exploded in recent weeks, Israel reimposed sweeping restrictions on Friday. It had largely contained its outbreak by the end of May, but the government said on Friday that gyms and exercise studios would be closed to the public and that stores, beauty salons, museums and tourist attractions would close on weekends. end.
The restrictions hit the economy and skyrocketed unemployment to more than 20%, from 3.9% before the outbreak, according to the Associated Press. With a population of around 8.6 million, Israel has reported nearly 50,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic with more than 400 deaths on Sunday. There are currently around 28,000 active patients.
Netanyahu spoke to his cabinet on Sunday about a billion-dollar framework to approve subsidies to citizens of Israel to stimulate the economy, according to a government adviser.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv and Isobel van Hagen from London.