Saturday, July 20, 2024

Jerusalem police forcefully disperse protesters demanding Netanyahu’s departure

Thousands demonstrated against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government in Jerusalem late Monday demanding early elections and a hostage deal in the first of several protests scheduled for this week, amid rising political turmoil in the country.

Police said the protesters turned violent in the final hour and that the demonstration degenerated into a riot, with people attacking police officers and setting fires. In a statement, police said they used “force and means to disperse the rioters” and reported nine arrests.

The protests come as Netanyahu faces intensifying domestic pressure over what critics say is his refusal to commit to a cease-fire deal that would secure the release of 120 hostages still being held in Hamas captivity in Gaza. The United States has presented a cease-fire plan that would have Hamas release the hostages in Gaza in exchange for a pause in hostilities.

While Israel said it “authorized” the cease-fire plan, Netanyahu and other members of his government have objected to certain elements of it. Hamas has said it views the plan “positively” but has demanded a number of changes rejected by Israel.

Netanyahu has also indicated that he plans to continue military operations until all elements of Hamas are destroyed.

Protesters gathered in front of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem in one of the city’s largest demonstrations since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. Protest leader Shikma Bressler told demonstrators that the government is “engaged in division and incitement” and must “return the mandate to the people.”

“With the proper leadership, the state of Israel can be rebuilt as a Jewish and democratic state,” Bressler said. According to the latest polling, elections might depose Netanyahu.

Demonstrators then marched toward Netanyahu’s house on Gaza Street, where the protesters breached police barriers as they tried to approach his home, police said in a statement. Demonstrators were acting “contrary to the instructions of the police, contrary to the early coordination of the permitted location of the protest on the street and contrary to the ruling of the Supreme Court regarding the permitted distance to demonstrate from the homes of elected officials,” police said.

Police then “declared an illegal protest” and tried to disperse the demonstrators. Some protesters refused to leave, police said, so officers used force.

A video posted on X showed a man wearing a police hat dragging someone by the hair; police said in a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday that the man being dragged had attacked a police officer. Other videos showed people being pulled off the street.

Hagai Levine, chair of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, wrote on X that Tal Weissbach, a doctor wearing an orange medical identification vest, was injured during the protest. A photo of her injured left eye circulated on social media.

Weissbach told Kan Radio that she was hit by the stream from a water cannon with no prior warning.

“It’s important to stress that I was wearing a fluorescent vest that said ‘doctor’ on it. There was no way that the water cannon driver could miss it. And I got a jet straight in my back; it threw me into the air,” she said. A second jet hit her in the eye.

“The Israel Police will continue to allow freedom of expression and protest according to the law,” police said in a statement, “but will not allow the violation of public order and riots that are carried out in violation of the law.”

Police said they are preparing for another demonstration in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, with further protests planned for the cities of Ashkelon, Caesarea and then Tel Aviv later this week.

“I have been protesting for a year and a half and have been to hundreds of protests, but yesterday I saw cops who simply came to beat people,” said Omer Vinokur, a 25-year-old resident of Jerusalem and a second-year student of psychology and humanities at the Hebrew University. Vinokur is part of an organization called The Day After, an activist movement of young Israelis.

Vinokur said he saw people his parents’ age harmed by “police violence” on Monday: “It seemed like last night they came to settle a score with the protesters.” He said that as thousands of people filled the street, police “lost control” and began arresting protesters, many of whom became more adamant about staying after the violence.

On Tuesday, the third day of the Islamic Eid al-Adha celebration, Palestinians in Gaza mournfully marked the holiday, which is typically one of the most festive times of the year.

In southern and central Gaza — where most of the Strip’s population has been squeezed after fleeing the Israel offensive in Rafah — aid groups warn that malnutrition and hunger are spreading fast among bone-tired residents.

The Israeli military on Sunday announced a new “tactical pause” along a route from the Kerem Shalom crossing to enable aid groups to safely reach the area, which for six weeks has been the only entry point into southern Gaza. But aid groups say the Strip continues to face dire and deadly shortages of food, water, medical care, housing and electricity

“We’re providing the basic needs for them to be able to basically not die of starvation,” said Alia Malek, a World Food Program spokesperson, of the U.N. agency’s food distribution in Gaza. “But it doesn’t provide all of their diverse nutritional needs.”

“We need to work on improving the other sectors as well,” she continued. “We need to make sure that there’s clean water. We need to make sure that there’s proper shelter, because otherwise this together is a recipe for disease outbreaks and disasters.”

U.S. special envoy Amos Hochstein emphasized the need to calm the increasingly tense Israel-Lebanon border during his visit to Beirut on Tuesday. “The situation on the border between Lebanon and Israel is extremely dangerous, and we need to de-escalate,” he told Lebanon’s MTV channel. Hochstein met Israeli leaders on Monday. Opposition leader Benny Gantz told him that time is running out for the United States to mediate an agreement between Israel and Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah released a video of what it claimed was footage gathered from surveillance drones over Israel. Videos included shots of sea and air ports in the city of Haifa, 17 miles from Lebanon’s border.

The Israeli military has killed more than 500 Hamas militants in Rafah since it began an offensive there in early May, according to CNN, citing an Israel Defense Forces statement. The capacity of two of Hamas’s four battalions in the city has dwindled, the news channel reported.

Norway will increase its support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), announcing that it would add about $9.4 million to the roughly $25.7 million it has already contributed this year. “We are full of praise to the work that all your employees, all your staff is doing under these incredibly difficult circumstances,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told UNRWA Commissioner Philippe Lazzarini at a news conference on Monday.

At least 37,372 ​​people have been killed and 85,452 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 311 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

Louisa Loveluck contributed to this report.

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