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Israel postpones Netanyahu corruption trial by 2 months over coronavirus

Israel has seen 200 confirmed coronavirus cases [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2020

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Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, with his trial now set to commence in late May.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial has been postponed by two months due to concerns about the novel coronavirus, Jerusalem's District Court said on 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 Covid-19 pandemic it had been instructed to hear "only urgent matters".

"We have decided to postpone the first hearing [in Netanyahu's trial] until May 24," the court said. 

Netanyahu's defence team had last week petitioned to see the trial postponed by two weeks due to procedural issues, an effort that was denied by the court.

He 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. 

Israel has 200 confirmed cases of the virus with tens of thousands of people in home quarantine. All travelers entering the country are required to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

On Sunday, the government introduces a raft of stringent new measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including a ban on gatherings over ten people and visits to old age care homes. Restaurants, bars and malls will also be required to close.

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. 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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