Confronting photos emerge as thousands flout Covid rules

Confronting photos emerge as thousands flout Covid rules

Highlighting Israel's challenges in enforcing restrictions, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews attended the Jerusalem funerals of two prominent rabbis on Sunday, drawing criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition partners. "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke today by telephone with Indian Prime Minister @narendramodi and thanked him for his government's efforts to safeguard Israeli representatives in the aftermath of the terrorist event near the Israeli Embassy in India", the Office of PM of Israel said in a tweet.

Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as coronavirus variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the health and economic crisis.

Officials blame rising infections on communicable foreign virus strains and lockdown breaches.

Local media outlets report that the police stopped buses and issued tickets for health violations.

The latest figures indicate that Israel, with nine million inhabitants, has registered more than 640,000 cases of coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, of which 72,000 are still active and 1,162 are seriously ill.On the other hand, more than three million people have already received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and about two million also the second, which maintains the country as the world leader in percentage of inoculated population. Recent weeks have seen violent clashes between members of the ultra-Orthodox community flouting the rules and police officers trying to enforce them.

Israel has extended its lockdown by an additional five days, with the cabinet voting Sunday to keep schools and most businesses closed through at least Friday morning.

The funeral went ahead with huge crowds despite outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people being banned in Israel.

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Israel's ultra-Orthodox, or haredim, have been at the centre of the country's struggles to control the spread of coronavirus, with some groups flagrantly defying lockdown rules, especially concerning school and synagogue closures.

Netanyahu has long relied on ultra-Orthodox parties for support, and critics say he has refused to antagonize his allies ahead of critical elections.

Without ultra-Orthodox support, it will be extremely hard for Mr Netanyahu to cobble together a governing coalition - especially as he seeks immunity from an ongoing corruption trial.

The funeral came a day after police used a water cannon to disperse anti-Netanyahu protesters near the prime minister's residence. Parliament earlier voted to double fines for lockdown violators to 10,000 shekels ($3,051).

The conservative Netanyahu is up for reelection on March 23.

"There will be one law for all and it will be enforced". This won't happen in a government headed by me.

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