Israel Postpones Netanyahu's Trial Amid Virus Lockdown

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel has postponed the next hearing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial because of a tightened coronavirus lockdown that began Friday.

The Jerusalem District Court said the hearing scheduled for Wednesday would be postponed indefinitely because of the number of people required to attend in person.

Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust connected to three long-running investigations. He has denied any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a “witch hunt” by hostile media, law enforcement and judicial officials.

In recent months he has faced weekly protests calling on him to resign over the allegations and the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Israel has seen a recent surge in cases despite unleashing one of the world's fastest vaccination campaigns. The country has given the first of two vaccine doses to nearly 20% of its population, and Netanyahu said Thursday that it has secured enough vaccines to inoculate the whole adult population by the end of March.

Netanyahu has placed the vaccination drive at the center of his campaign for re-election that month, when Israel will hold its fourth nationwide vote in less than two years. In the meantime, he has called on Israelis to make “one last big effort” to halt transmission by adhering to the tightened restrictions.

Most schools and businesses were closed starting Friday, with people required to remain within 1,000 meters (yards) from home except for essential needs. Public gatherings are heavily restricted and public transportation is limited. The restrictions are to last for at least two weeks.

Thousands of police will be deployed to enforce them, with roadblocks set up on major thoroughfares. Israel was already in its third national lockdown since the start of the pandemic.

Deputy Police Commissioner Ziv Sagiv called on people to stay home, saying police would operate in “every possible way” to enforce the restrictions.

Israel has reported 474,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 3,565 deaths. It currently has more than 60,000 active cases, and officials had warned that without the tightened lockdown its medical facilities could be overwhelmed.