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- 9th Prime Minister of Israel
A planned court appearance next week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his much anticipated trial for corruption has been indefinitely delayed in the face of Israel's freshly tightened coronavirus lockdown, the judges announced on Friday.
Netanyahu's trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust began last May, with the premier being excused from subsequent hearings as his lawyers argued for more time to review prosecution evidence.
The Israeli prime minister was due to be in court on Wednesday for the presentation of his formal response to the charges.
But in a statement issued on Friday, the Jerusalem district court ruled that "taking into consideration the large amount of participants in the hearing and the lockdown (in place), the hearing set for January 13, 2021 is hereby cancelled.
"A new date will be announced separately."
Israel had last month imposed its third national lockdown since the start of the pandemic, but tightened the restrictions on Friday after the daily caseload remained high.
A Thursday memo issued by the courts administration said justices should postpone hearings when possible, until the end of the lockdown, currently set for January 21.
The postponement of the hearing comes just two days after the same panel of judges rejected a request by Netanyahu's lawyers to delay next week's hearing.
The longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, Netanyahu says the charges against him -- filed by an attorney general he appointed -- are part of a witch-hunt to drive him from office.
The prosecution has assembled more than 300 witnesses to back its allegations.
They state that Netanyahu, the first prime minister in Israeli history to be indicted while in office, accepted improper gifts and sought to illegally trade favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.
Last month, the court ordered the prosecution to amend the charge sheet against Netanyahu to differentiate between him and family members mentioned in it, who are not on trial.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said Netanyahu could not lead the country while standing trial and suggested the impact of the lockdown on the court system could be politically motivated.
"There is a true fear he will make decisions based on his personal survival interests, and not the national interest," he tweeted.
Newly appointed Justice Minister Benny Gantz, who formed a coalition government with Netanyahu last year before ties soured triggering an early election set for March 23, said the problem was not with the court delaying hearings, but that "Israel has a prime minister who is standing trial".
"This reality must be changed in the upcoming elections," he said.