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March 12, 2020 3:16 pm

Amid Coronavirus Crisis, Israel’s Netanyahu Orders Schools Closed, Calls for Unity Government

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Abir Sultan / Pool via Reuters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered most schools in the country closed as a precaution against coronavirus, and called for the formation of an emergency national unity government.

Primary and secondary schools, with some exceptions such as special education programs, would be closed, he said.

“We are altering our internal routine in order to handle an outside threat, the threat of the virus,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast live.

The right-wing Likud leader, whose tenure is still in doubt after three inconclusive elections in less than a year, also called for an emergency national unity government.

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“It will be an emergency government for a limited time, and together we will fight to save the lives of tens of thousands of citizens,” he said.

Netanyahu’s principal rival, centrist Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz, said he would be willing to discuss the proposal in a responsible fashion. He tweeted that any such government should be “broad” and represent all sides of Israeli society.

Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz command a clear majority in parliament after the latest election, on March 2.

Netanyahu has faced calls to step aside ahead of the start of his corruption trial that begins on March 17. He refuses to resign, and is under no legal obligation to go. He denies any wrongdoing.

Earlier this week Netanyahu ordered all visitors to Israel to self-isolate for two weeks, and the Allenby Bridge crossing between Jordan and the West Bank was closed in what Israeli officials said was a joint Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian effort to stop the virus from spreading.

Israel‘s flag carrier El Al said on Thursday it would start suspending most of its flights on Sunday but would maintain regular flight routes to the United States, Canada, England, France and South Africa.

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