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Netanyahu Aborts Judicial Reforms in Israel

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he has decided to temporarily halt his government’s controversial judicial reform bill, after weeks of protests and amid fears of a civil war raging in the country.

“I have decided to suspend the second and third readings in this session,” Netanyahu said in Jerusalem on Monday. This means that the bill will not be put to a vote in Parliament until the end of April at the earliest.

“We are in the midst of a crisis that threatens our basic unity,” Netanyahu said. He warned of a civil war that should not happen. “Everyone must act responsibly,” he added.

His remarks came a day after he fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who had called for halting the legislative process citing national security concerns.

Earlier on Monday, President Isaac Herzog, playing a largely ceremonial role, made a similar request, and tens of thousands of protesters rallied near Parliament in Jerusalem after the strike was announced.

Flights have been disrupted, hospitals have halted non-emergency services, and even diplomats have left their jobs.

But immediately after Netanyahu announced the halt, Arnon Bar-David, head of the Histadrut trade union federation, called off the strike.

Israeli media estimated that some 80,000 demonstrators took part in the Jerusalem march against the reform package, the latest such protest to attract tens of thousands.

An AFP journalist said a nearby counter-demonstration drew thousands of right-wing supporters of reform, after Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir urged them to attend.

For months, protesters have denounced the reform plans as a threat to Israeli democracy.

The Israel Medical Association joined the call for the strike, which affected public hospitals, though it said life-saving treatments were continuing.

The raid also affected flights at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, where an AFP journalist saw numerous departure delays.

Diplomatic staff were among those exiting, with Washington embassy spokesman Elad Stromayer tweeting that the Israeli mission “will be closed…until further notice.”

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