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Thousands protest outside PM’s residence against corruption and arrests

Thousands of people were protesting on Saturday evening outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, a day after several demonstrators were arrested there during a protest against the premier.

Among the protesters on Saturday were Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon and Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy.

The demonstrators held up signs calling Netanyahu a “crime minister” in reference to his indictment on corruption charges and also called for the release of Amir Haskel, a former Israeli Air Force brigadier general who was among those arrested on Friday outside the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence.

Haskel and two other protesters remained in custody on Saturday after refusing to be released under restrictive conditions, including a commitment not to appear at Saturday’s demonstration.

Defense minister and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, also from Blue and White, called on Saturday for the police to immediately release those arrested.

“The right to demonstrate is a sacred right in the State of Israel and it is strictly forbidden to harm [this right] except in extreme cases,” Gantz wrote on Facebook.

Ashkenazi took to Twitter to say that Haskel “earned the right and the duty to speak his mind, to protest and to demonstrate.”

“I appreciate his work and position…and call for his immediate release without any restrictive conditions,” wrote Ashkenazi.

Police earlier Saturday defended Friday’s arrests with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana denying they were politically motivated. Police said the demonstration was an “illegal protest.”

“Hundreds of protesters blocked a main road and prevented cars from passing for a continued period while disturbing the public order,” a police statement said Saturday.

“Therefore, a number of the rioters were detained, among them a man who was identified as the leader and organizer of the illegal protest,” the statement added in reference to Haskel.

Without naming him, police said Haskel refused to be released under certain conditions, including staying away from the Prime Minister’s Residence, and therefore remained in custody.

He was questioned on suspicion of disorderly conduct and taking part in an illegal protest.

According to the Haaretz daily, two of the other six protesters arrested also refused to abide by the conditions and remained under arrest.

“The Israel Police will continue to allow every person the freedom of expression and protest, but won’t allow anyone to so blatantly violate the law and obstruct public order in violation of the law,” the police statement said.

Haskel, 66, had a 32-year career in the Air Force, including as a pilot in the 1973 war, a squadron commander, and head of IAF personnel.

He has been leading a series of protests outside Netanyahu’s official residence. On Friday, in interviews before his arrest, he said the public found it unacceptable that Israel is being led “by a prime minister who is on trial for corruption.”

Ohana, a close Likud party ally of Netanyahu’s, backed police over the arrests.

“Lieutenant general, brigadier general or a private, there will be no tolerance for blocking roads,” he wrote on Facebook, referring to Haskel. “Blocking roads is an application of violence toward innocent and peaceful civilians who use the road on their way to their daily routines.”

His comments came amid condemnations of the arrests by opposition figures.

“The public security minister tweeted ‘zero tolerance for blocking roads.’ What about zero tolerance for bribery? Zero tolerance for fraud?” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tweeted, referring to the criminal charges against Netanyahu.

He added: “I call for the immediate release of Brig. Gen. Haskel. Israel isn’t a dictatorship and every citizen is allowed to express their opinion, including, yes, about the prime minister.”

While backing the protests against Netanyahu, the head of the left-wing Meretz party criticized the focus on Haskel’s arrest.

“What does it matter if Amir Haskel is a brigadier general, pilot, commander, etc.,” MK Nitzan Horowitz wrote on Twitter. “Our test now is solidarity with all the protesters and linking-up the struggles.”

Haskel’s wife, Aliza, said in a video shared on social media she hoped he would be freed soon and that more people would join the protests calling for Netanyahu to step down over his indictment on corruption charges.

Opponents and supporters of Netanyahu have held a number of recent demonstrations outside his official residence, including dueling rallies in May, on the day his corruption trial began.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and has claimed the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

Header: Police remove a protester during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, on June 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Source: TOI