Israelis protest against unity government

Tel Aviv (AFP) –


Thousands of Israelis demonstrated Saturday to protest a deal struck earlier this week between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and parliament speaker Benny Gantz to form a unity government.

The protesters rallied in the coastal city of Tel Aviv to denounce Monday's deal as manoeuvering by Netanyahu, who is facing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Israeli media reported that 2,000 demonstrators took part in the protest.

They wore face masks and observed social distancing rules in force to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The protesters, many dressed in black and waving black flags, chanted against "corruption" and for "safeguarding democracy", which they claimed Netanyahu was threatening.

They held up signs that read: "The people against the government" and waved Israeli flags.

Monday's deal ended a 16-month political deadlock in Israel and will see Netanyahu serve as prime minister for the first half of a three-year term as he faces trial on corruption charges, which he denies.

Gantz, his former election rival and an ex-general, will serve as defence minister before taking on the premiership in October next year, with new elections to be held 18 months later.

Netanyahu and Gantz had tried multiple times in recent months to form governments, but neither could summon the necessary support in Israel's 120-seat legislature to do so successfully -- until Monday evening.

Netanyahu was in January formally charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, becoming the first Israeli premier ever indicted in office.

His trial was due to open in March but has been postponed until May 24.