Israel extends restrictions on protests amid virus lockdown

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A woman holds a placard that reads, "go," during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel,Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 during a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The Israeli government has extended an emergency provision that bars public gatherings, including widespread protests against Netanyahu, for an additional week. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM – The Israeli government has extended an emergency provision that bars public gatherings, including widespread protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for an additional week.

Government ministers approved the measure by a telephone vote, the prime minister's office said in a statement late Wednesday. It will remain in place until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the head of the Shin Bet internal security service acknowledged violating lockdown orders by hosting visiting family members at his home, becoming the latest of several senior Israeli officials caught bending the rules.

Israel imposed a nationwide lockdown ahead of the Jewish High Holidays last month to rein in the country's surging coronavirus outbreak. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a law last week allowing the government to declare a special week-long state of emergency to limit participation in assemblies because of the pandemic. The government then declared the state of emergency, limiting all public gatherings to within a kilometer (half a mile) of a person's home.

Netanyahu has said the restrictions are driven by safety concerns as the country battles a runaway pandemic, but critics and protesters accuse him of tightening the lockdown to muzzle dissent.

Thousands of Israelis have participated in weekly demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem for months this summer, calling on the longtime prime minister to resign while on trial for corruption.

Since the restriction was approved last month, tens of thousands of Israelis have staged protests on street corners and public squares near their homes against the government’s perceived mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

On Thursday, an Israeli protester painted the Hebrew word “Go” — an increasingly popular slogan among anti-Netanyahu protesters — in large letters across Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.