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Israel’s governing coalition becomes minority after legislator quits over al-Quds violence

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Israeli PM Naftali Bennett addresses lawmakers during a special session at the Knesset in the occupied al-Quds. (File photo by AFP)

Israel's ruling coalition has become a minority in parliament after an Arab lawmaker from a left-wing party stepped down in protest at ongoing Israeli forces’ aggression against Palestinians in al-Quds, and violence at the funeral of slain Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.

The decision by Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of the Meretz party leaves the coalition, headed by right-wing prime minister Naftali Bennett, with just 59 out of 120 seats in the Knesset and a more precarious grip on power.

“Again and again the heads of the coalition have taken hawkish, rigid and right-wing stances regarding basic issues of utmost importance for Arab society,” Zoabi said in a letter announcing her decision to leave the coalition.

She referenced an escalation in violence at the sacred al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of al-Quds, tensions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East al-Quds, as well as hard-handed tactics used by Israeli police at Abu Akleh’s funeral last week.

“I cannot continue supporting the existence of a coalition that harasses my community in this disgraceful manner,” Zoabi wrote.

Bennett heads a collection of left-wing, centrist, right-wing and Arab parties that was sworn in a year ago, ending Benjamin Netanyahu's record 12-year run as prime minister.

Several opposition lawmakers, including Zoabi and members of the Arab Joint List, are bitterly opposed to Netanyahu, who is the current opposition leader.

Netanyahu – in office from 1996 to 1999, and again from 2009 until June 2021 – has openly spoken about his desire to topple Bennett’s administration, force new elections and return to power.

Abu Akleh, who shot to fame in the early 2000s while covering the second Palestinian intifada, was hit in the face while covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on May 11.

In video footage from the incident circulated widely online, Abu Akleh could be seen wearing a blue flak jacket marked with the word “PRESS”, exposing the gruesome nature of the daylight murder.

Ali Samoudi, a Palestinian journalist who was accompanying Abu Akleh, was hospitalized in stable condition after being shot in the back.

Samoudi told the Associated Press that they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the Israeli raid early Wednesday.

He said they were all wearing protective gear that marked them as reporters, and they passed by Israeli troops so the soldiers would see them.

The journalist said the first shot missed them, then a second struck him, and a third killed Abu Akleh, adding that there were no combatants or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and Israeli army troops.

Shaza Hanaysheh, a reporter with a Palestinian news website, who was also among the reporters, gave a similar account, stressing there were no clashes or shooting in the immediate area.

She said that when the shots rang out she and Abu Akleh ran toward a tree to take shelter.

“I reached the tree before Shireen. She fell on the ground,” Hanaysheh said. “The soldiers did not stop shooting even after she fell. Every time I extended my hand to pull Shireen, the soldiers fired at us.”

In a raid that has sparked international outrage, baton-wielding Israeli police beat several pallbearers and mourners as they carried the journalist's coffin out of a hospital before her burial.

Her coffin almost fell as Israeli forces waded into a crowd of Palestinians gathered around it.

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