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Driver held for speeding toward protesters as thousands rally against Netanyahu

Police try to divide demonstrators into social distance ‘capsules’ as rallies held outside PM’s homes in Jerusalem and Caesarea, amid second virus lockdown

  • Police officers arrest a man who allegedly sped in his car toward protesters during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Police officers arrest a man who allegedly sped in his car toward protesters during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Police arrest a man who drove toward police and demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the PM's official residence in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Police arrest a man who drove toward police and demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the PM's official residence in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Police officers search the car of a man who sped toward police and demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Police officers search the car of a man who sped toward police and demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Israeli police officers search a car after the driver reportedly drove his car at speed towards security barricades set around an anti-government demonstration, in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
    Israeli police officers search a car after the driver reportedly drove his car at speed towards security barricades set around an anti-government demonstration, in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
  • Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the PM's official residence in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the PM's official residence in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Anti-Netanyahu protesters wave flags, hold signs and chant slogans during a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
    Anti-Netanyahu protesters wave flags, hold signs and chant slogans during a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
  • Israeli protesters hold signs and chant slogans during a demonstration against  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
    Israeli protesters hold signs and chant slogans during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Police arrested a man on Sunday night who was speeding toward barricades set up around a protest in Jerusalem as thousands of Israelis gathered for a weekly demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem.

Police said they had “arrested a suspect who drove toward the police barricades and was a danger to protestors and police.” They did not immediately specify whether the incident was a near-accident or an intended attack.

Video posted to social media showed a white Mini Cooper car coming to a screeching halt as officers called on the driver to stop, some of them with their guns drawn.

Police then pulled the driver from the vehicle and wrestled him to the ground. Toward the end of the video, one officer appears to punch the suspect in the groin area before grasping him by the neck. It was not clear what prompted this.

A separate video released by police showed officers searching the man’s car as he was led away.

Police said the man was taken for questioning, but provided no further details on his identity or possible motivation. It was not immediately clear if the incident was an attempted attack or an accident.

Police officers search the car of a man who sped toward police and demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 3,000 people gathered late Sunday for the weekly protest against Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, in the first such demonstration since the start of a renewed nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic and after fresh restrictions were announced on those taking part.

Several hundred more protested outside his private residence in the seaside town of Caesarea.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. His criminal trial began in June, but he has refused to step down from office and denies any wrongdoing. Many demonstrators also protested against his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

While protests were exempt from the new restrictions on movement and gatherings, which came into force Friday before Rosh Hashanah with the start of the three-week closure, police announced new social distancing regulations for demonstrations.

Hundreds of demonstrators formed a convoy to Jerusalem, waving black flags out of their cars as they drove to the capital.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the PM’s official residence in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Police tried to divide demonstrators into “capsules” of 20 people, but did not physically enforce the efforts as the new guidelines are currently just a suggestion and have not yet been approved by the government.

“I remind you that also during the lockdown it is permitted to protest,” retired air force Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel, one of the Sunday night protest organizers, said in a video earlier Sunday urging demonstrators to take part in the evening’s rally.

Speaking outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, Haskel called for demonstrators to wear masks and maintain the social distancing guidelines. He also later shared photos showing protesters marking the street with chalk drawings to ensure distance between the demonstrators.

“The demonstration this evening is a test for the continuation of our struggle. I call on you to come,” he said.

The weekly protests in Jerusalem and elsewhere across Israel are usually held on Saturday evenings after Shabbat, but this week they were pushed off until Sunday night, when the Jewish New Year holiday ends.

The Prime Minister’s Residence has become the center of ongoing demonstrations against the premier over his indictment on graft charges and handling of the pandemic, with weekly protests there sometimes drawing tens of thousands of people.

Netanyahu and his supporters have claimed the protests are a major vector of infections, though health officials have not provided any definitive information tracing cases back to the rallies so far.

Besides the new measures regarding movement and gatherings, the lockdown also includes far-reaching restrictions on business activity, including limiting restaurants and other eateries to offering delivery.

On Sunday, police hit the Nisso Cafe in Jaffa with a fine of NIS 5,000 for serving some 50 patrons in defiance of the lockdown.

Yoni Salomon, the cafe’s owner, said he had “no choice” but to open.

“There’s no logic to this lockdown,” he told the Kan public broadcaster. “When you got here you saw the whole place was full. People voted with their feet.”

Solomon added: “We won’t allow anyone to take our basic rights of liberty, work and livelihood… I’m ready to absorb the fine.”

Earlier Sunday, police said they had handed out 2,802 fines over the past day for various infractions of the lockdown rules and other coronavirus regulations, the vast majority of them to people who ventured out over a kilometer from their homes without valid reason.

Police have said the public has so far largely adhered to restrictions that came into effect Friday afternoon, in the government’s latest effort to curb the surging pandemic. The closure will remain in effect for at least three weeks. Israel, which has one of the highest daily infection rates per capita in the world, became the first developed country to order a second lockdown to fight the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Israel’s coronavirus czar warned Sunday that virus numbers were reaching “emergency,” levels that could see the country face 600 deaths a month and ordering hospitals to add new virus wards.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu said in an interview with Channel 12 news that he fears the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition could reach 800 by the end of the week, a number that has been frequently touted as the maximum Israeli hospitals can cope with.

The Health Ministry on Sunday reported another 1,906 coronavirus cases since midnight Saturday, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 187,396. It also confirmed another seven deaths, raising the national toll to 1,236.

The case number was significantly lower than recent days, but that likely reflected the drop in testing over the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

The ministry said there are 52,262 confirmed active cases, including 643 in serious condition, with a record 170 on ventilators.

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