Ne­tanyahu crit­ics de­nounce ar­rest of for­mer gen­eral

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Tia Goldenberg Tia Goldenberg is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

JERUSALEM — A Jerusalem court early on Sunday or­dered the re­lease of a for­mer Air Force gen­eral and lead­ing ac­tivist op­posed to Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s rule whose ar­rest prompted hun­dreds to protest out­side the Is­raeli leader’s res­i­dence.

Re­tired Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel has been a leader of the protest move­ment against Ne­tanyahu, de­mand­ing that the leader step down while fac­ing charges of fraud, breach of trust and ac­cept­ing bribes. Haskel and sev­eral oth­ers were de­tained on Fri­day in what po­lice said was an “il­le­gal” demon­stra­tion be­cause the pro­test­ers blocked roads.

Haskel, a for­mer top Is­raeli Air Force gen­eral, has be­come a sym­bol of the protest move­ment that op­poses Ne­tanyahu’s con­tin­ued rule. Demon­stra­tions have been held reg­u­larly around the coun­try, with pro­test­ers wav­ing signs read­ing “crime min­is­ter” and call­ing for Ne­tanyahu to re­sign.

“No one will pre­vent us from protest­ing any­where,” Haskel said upon his re­lease. “We were in Hadarim pri­son for 15 hours. It wasn’t pleas­ant, but it wasn’t ter­ri­ble.”

The arrests drew an­gry de­nun­ci­a­tions from prom­i­nent Is­raelis, and hun­dreds protested out­side Ne­tanyahu’s res­i­dence on Satur­day, with many slam­ming the po­lice for mak­ing what they viewed as po­lit­i­cally­mo­ti­vated arrests.

Po­lice said they of­fered to re­lease Haskel and oth­ers if they agreed to re­frain from re­turn­ing to the scene of the protests. Haskel and two oth­ers re­fused the con­di­tions and re­mained in de­ten­tion.

Gabi Lasky, the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Haskel, told Is­raeli Army Ra­dio that the court re­leased him with­out con­di­tions, say­ing protest­ing was the foun­da­tion of democ­racy.

The coun­try’s act­ing po­lice chief said the force would learn a les­son from the in­ci­dent.

“The role of the po­lice is to al­low free­dom of ex­pres­sion and demon­stra­tion to ev­ery per­son and to keep the pub­lic peace and se­cu­rity, this re­gard­less of the protest’s sub­ject, the iden­tity of the pro­test­ers or their opin­ions,“act­ing com­mis­sioner Motti Co­hen said.

Ne­tanyahu is on trial for a se­ries of scan­dals in which he al­legedly re­ceived lav­ish gifts from bil­lion­aire friends and traded reg­u­la­tory fa­vors with me­dia moguls for more palat­able cov­er­age of him­self and his fam­ily. The trial is set to re­sume next month. He has de­nied wrong­do­ing.

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