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Netanyahu heads to US amid outrage in Israel over general coronavirus lockdown

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a briefing on coronavirus developments in Israel at his office in Jerusalem al-Quds, on September 13, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has headed to the United States amid protests in the occupied territories against his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic that prompted a second general lockdown.

The Israeli regime on Sunday reimposed a second general coronavirus lockdown, which will begin on Friday, after daily infections exceeded 4,000 for the first time last week since the outbreak began.

Speaking in a briefing before his trip to Washington in which he would sign a normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Netanyahu announced that Israel was about to enter a three-week lockdown.

But he was happy saying, “I’ve got to fly to Washington now… I’m going on a historic mission.”

Haaretz slammed the premier over “a shocking detachment from the reality Israelis are experiencing”.

Netanyahu also faced protests on Sunday, as demonstrators gathered outside Ben-Gurion Airport in Jerusalem al-Quds in an attempt to prevent him from traveling.

The demonstrators accuse Netanyahu of “campaigning” in the US as they struggle to contain the virus, arguing that it is hypocritical of the premier to close down Israel and leave it on the same day.

Housing minister resigns

In protest at the lockdown decision, Israel’s housing minister Yaakov Litzman resigned on Sunday, accusing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu of planning for months to impose a lockdown on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while avoiding the move during the summer season.

“Unfortunately, it has been proven that I was right and that the decision to impose a general lockdown during the Tishrei festivals was pre-made while taking an unnecessary risk and causing a rise in infections in the meantime,” he wrote in a letter to Netanyahu.

Litzman had opposed the lockdown which he said would prevent tens of thousands of Jews, who do not go to a synagogue during most of the year, from attending the Jewish services.

Haaretz also questioned whether “a signing ceremony of a document that isn’t the actual agreements with either the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain (those have yet to be finalized), and to which the two other signatories are sending only their foreign ministers, is a ‘historic mission’”.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that the tiny Persian Gulf state of Bahrain had agreed to join the UAE in striking an agreement to normalize relations with Tel Aviv, hailing the deal as yet another “HISTORIC breakthrough.”

Back on August 13, the UAE and Israel announced a US-brokered deal that laid the groundwork for the full normalization of their relations. The agreement was met with uniform condemnation of all Palestinian factions, who called it a stab in their back and sheer betrayal of their cause.

Hungarian FM to attend signing ceremony

Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban was an early and avid supporter of Trump, will be the only EU country to dispatch its minister to the Israel-UAE agreement signing ceremony.

“At the invitation of US President Donald Trump, as the only European Union minister, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto will also attend ... the signing ceremony in the White House on Tuesday,” his spokesman Mate Paczolay told Hungarian news agency MTI on Sunday.

Hungary’s premier has often sparked criticism in the EU over his anti-refugee rhetoric and erosion of democratic standards in the media, judiciary and academia.

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