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Israel postpones Netanyahu graft trial by 2 months over virus

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office on March 14, 2020, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the Coronavirus in Israel. – Netanyahu said Israel would shut down eateries, shopping centres and gyms in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus. Netanyahu also said he would ask the government’s approval in the upcoming cabinet meeting set to be held via video conference to allow “technologies used in the war against terror” to be used to track the movements of Israelis with coronavirus. (Photo by GALI TIBBON / various sources / AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has been postponed until May 24 due to concerns about coronavirus, Jerusalem’s District Court said Sunday.

Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier ever to be indicted in office, had been scheduled to stand trial from Tuesday over alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

In a statement, the court noted that given the coronavirus pandemic it had been instructed to hear “only urgent matters”.

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“We have decided to postpone the first hearing (in Netanyahu’s trial) until May 24,” the court said.

Israel has 200 confirmed cases of the virus with tens of thousands of people in-home quarantine.

Netanyahu has been charged with a range of offences including receiving improper gifts and offering a media mogul lucrative regulatory changes in exchange for favourable coverage.

He denies wrongdoing.

Despite the indictments, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won the most seats in March 2 elections and he is aiming to form a new government.

But Likud and its allies fell short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, or parliament. It was Israel’s third inconclusive vote in less than a year.

Netanyahu has called on his main challenger Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party to form an emergency, national unity government to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Gantz has said he is open to discussing the proposal, with negotiations set for this week.

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