Israel to use military to help enforce coronavirus lockdown

FILE PHOTO: A general view of a usually busy street is seen as Israel tightened a national stay-at-home policy following the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jerusalem

Israel will deploy its army to assist police on street patrols to enforce a lockdown against the coronavirus epidemic, the military said on Friday.

About 500 troops will join police squadrons from Sunday to help “in patrolling, isolating and securing certain areas, blocking routes and additional similar assignments”, the military said in a statement.

Israel has reported more than 3,000 infections and 10 deaths from the illness. This week, authorities tightened a partial lockdown, requiring citizens to stay within 100 meters (110 yards) of home and setting sanctions for defying rules.

Israelis have been told to stay home where possible, schools have been shut and many businesses have closed, prompting more than 500,000 lay-offs.

Police have set up roadblocks to enforce curbs on movement and break up gatherings.

Military troops will not be armed and “would be in a support or auxiliary position, supporting the Israeli police” under the new measures, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said in a briefing this week before the announcement.

One battalion of soldiers will be deployed to each of Israel’s eight police districts, the military said.

The virus curbs have rattled Israel’s economy. The central bank this week projected an economic contraction of 2.5% in 2020, but only if the partial lockdown eases by the end of April.

Opposition leader Benny Gantz cited the pandemic on Thursday in moving towards a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a surprise move that could end a year of political deadlock.

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