Thousands of protesters gathered outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and took to the streets of central Jerusalem, as weeks of protests against the Israeli leader appeared to gain momentum.
The protest in central Jerusalem, along with small gatherings in Tel Aviv, near Netanyahu’s beach house in central Israel and at dozens of busy intersections across the country, was one of the highest turnout in weeks of events.
Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, calling on Netanyahu to step down, protesting his handling of the coronavirus crisis in the country and saying he should not remain in office during his corruption trial.
Although Netanyahu has tried to play down the protests, the twice-weekly rallies show no signs of slowing down.
Israeli media estimated that at least 10,000 people demonstrated near the official residence in central Jerusalem. Late Saturday, thousands marched through the streets in a noisy but orderly rally.
Protesters hoisted Israeli flags and sounded horns as they marched. Many held posters that read “Minister of Crime” and “Bibi Go Home” or accused Netanyahu of being out of touch with the public.
Hundreds of people remained in the area long after midnight, ignoring police calls to leave.
Riot control forces moved into the area and started cleaning up people. Early Sunday morning, most of the remaining people appeared to be leaving peacefully, but police were seen training activists.
Clashes with the police
The rallies against Netanyahu are the largest Israel has seen since 2011 against the country’s high cost of living.
Netanyahu called the protesters “leftists” and “anarchists”.
Late Saturday, his Likud party released a statement accusing Israel’s two private television stations of “giving free and endless publicity” to protesters and of exaggerating the importance of the rallies.
While the protests have been largely peaceful, there have been signs of violence in recent days.
Some protesters clashed with police, accusing them of using excessive force, while small gangs of Netanyahu supporters affiliated with a far-right group assaulted protesters. Netanyahu claimed the protesters were inciting violence against him.
Israeli police have arrested around 20 far-right activists in recent days, and police said they were on high alert over violence during the protests.
Several arrests of Netanyahu supporters were reported on Saturday, including a man who got out of his car in the northern city of Haifa and threw a stone at a crowd of protesters. Police said a 63-year-old woman was slightly injured.
The protests are organized by a united network of militant groups. Some oppose Netanyahu remaining in power during his trial. He has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals. Many carry black flags, the name of the popular movement.
Many protesters, including many unemployed young Israelis, accuse Netanyahu of mismanaging the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused.
After moving quickly to contain the virus earlier in the year, many believe Israel has reopened its economy too quickly, leading to an increase in cases.
The country now faces record levels of coronavirus, as unemployment has climbed to more than 20%.
As of Sunday, there were more than 72,000 cases of the coronavirus reported in Israel with more than 500 confirmed deaths.