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Coronavirus: Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu creates 'emergency' unity government with opposition

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Benny Gantz (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and agreed to a coalition
Benny Gantz (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and agreed to a coalition   -   Copyright  AP
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has joined forces with opposition rival Benny Gantz to create an "emergency" government in the face of coronavirus.

The new deal, announced in a joint statement from both parties on Monday, also means a fourth election in a year will be avoided.

According to local media, the deal could cover the next three years and will likely see Netanyahu hold onto power for the first half of the period, while former army chief Gantz would take over in the second.

It comes as a result of months of political stalemate for the two sides, who agreed after the last inconclusive election in March to try and form a coalition amid the worsening COVID-19 crisis.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.Oded Balilty

Much of the negotiations, which likely saw both sides make concessions, have been centred on Netanyahu's corruption trial, which begins next month.

Netanyahu faces a slew of charges including bribery, breach of trust and fraud - and has been further accused of exploiting the pandemic to avoid standing the already delayed trial.

But the Israeli prime minister denies any wrongdoing and has instead labelled the investigations into his conduct as an "attempted coup" and a "false plot in the process of filthy and tragic" probes.

Meanwhile, Gantz and his Blue and White party had earlier said they would never operate under a Netanyahu government while such charges stood against his political rival.

He changed this tact last month both after the election and as the pandemic grew more intense in a decision that led to severe effects on his party.

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On Sunday, thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the deal and accused Netanyahu of using the pandemic to prevent prosecution, while dismissing Gantz for backtracking on his promise.

Gantz's former political partner Yair Lapid, who was at the demonstration, said of the pair: "You don’t fight corruption from within. If you’re inside, you’re part of it."

There have been more than 13,000 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Israel since the outbreak began, with 172 deaths.

The country has, this week, begun relaxing some of its measures in a bid to grasp back some normality for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been left without work.