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Thousands of protesters chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, on August 1.
Thousands of protesters chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, on August 1. Oded Balilty/AP

Thousands of anti-Netanyahu protesters in Israel staged their biggest demonstration yet on Saturday evening filling streets and a central square close to the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

One police commander at the rally told CNN he estimated 17,000 people were present at one stage. Police have yet to officially put a number on the crowd, but other estimates by Israeli media range from 15,000 to over 20,000. 

There were also smaller demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Caesarea, and Haifa, as well as at dozens of major road junctions and bridges across the country.

While previous rallies have been characterized in part by anger over Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on small business, the focus of the rally in Jerusalem was firmly on the corruption charges facing the Prime Minister.  

Black flags, the symbol of the anti-corruption movement, along with Israeli flags were much in evidence, while placards implored the Prime Minister to resign, or demanded he go to prison. At one point, people repeatedly chanted a list of the offenses for which he is on trial: bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies all charges against him.

One protester told CNN:

He is not capable of leading, he’s not capable of managing the country anymore because he’s so much much involved in what is going on with his trial … he’s not caring about the people, he’s not caring about the citizens.”

Israel has recorded 72,283 coronavirus cases and 527 deaths as of Sunday morning.

Protesters light torches during a protest against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, on August 1.
Protesters light torches during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, on August 1. Oded Balilty/AP

Despite the seriousness of the messages, the mood at the rally had a strong carnival-type feel. Many people banged makeshift drums and percussion instruments, while others blew horns and trumpets, providing a continuous noisy backdrop to proceedings. The vast majority of participants were young and almost everyone was wearing a mask, although CNN witnessed little if any sign of social distancing being observed. 

Police began telling people to leave the protest site after midnight local time. Around 1:30 a.m., officers moved in to forcibly disperse the few hundred still left.