Two Lebanese demonstrators were wounded by Israeli fire Friday when dozens rallied on the Lebanon-Israel border to protest the Jewish state’s strikes on the Palestinian Gaza Strip, state media reported.
They were wounded “by two Israeli shells that fell near them after a number of youths tried to enter the town of Metula” in northern Israel, the National News Agency said.
In the aftermath, “the Lebanese army and security forces were deployed… to stop the youths from advancing” again, the NNA added.
The wounded were taken to hospital in Marjayoun in southern Lebanon.
The protesters, some carrying Palestinian flags and that of the group Hezbollah — arch-enemy of Israel — gathered in the Khiam plain, opposite Metula, a few dozen metres (yards) from the border, an AFP photographer said.
They later set fire to the area, with the flames spreading “all the way to the border”, he added.
The Israeli army confirmed on Twitter its tanks had “fired warning shots at a number of rioters… who had crossed into Israeli territory”.
They “sabotaged the fence and set fire to it… before returning to Lebanese territory”, it added, without mentioning any wounded.
On Thursday, three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh toward Israel, a Lebanese military source said.
Israel’s army said the rockets landed in the sea.
A source close to Hezbollah said the Lebanese Shiite group had no link to the incident.
More than 300 people were wounded Monday in renewed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem, Palestinian medics said, as an Israeli celebration of its 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions.
Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas on the esplanade of the revered Al-Aqsa mosque, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, following a night of sporadic clashes.
Loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls of the compound, revered by both Jews and Muslims, where tear gas filled the air and the ground was littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris.
The violence was the latest in days of the worst such disturbances in Jerusalem since 2017, fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to take over nearby Palestinian homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supported the Israeli police force’s “just struggle” amid the Jerusalem clashes.
“We insist on guaranteeing the (religious) rights of all, and this from time to time requires the stability and steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying,” he said.
Police said Jewish “prayers continue as usual” at the Wailing Wall, which adjoins the esplanade, adding that “we will not let extremists threaten the safety of the public”.
The UN Security Council was to meet at Tunisia’s request later Monday on the unrest that has escalated since the last Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
A key court hearing scheduled for Monday on Sheikh Jarrah, the flashpoint east Jerusalem neighbourhood at the centre of the property dispute, has meanwhile been postponed.
There were fears of further violence ahead of a planned march Monday by Israelis to commemorate the takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, an anniversary known as “Jerusalem Day” in the Jewish state.
Israeli police had, as of Sunday, approved the march, which was re-scheduled to start around 5:00 pm (1400 GMT).
The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll at 305 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition.
Three people lost one eye each, said surgeon Firas Abu Akari at east Jerusalem’s Maqassed hospital.
Near the Old City, a car carrying Israelis was pelted with stones, lost control and rammed into Palestinians, according to police and footage from a journalist on the scene.
Once stopped, the vehicle was attacked by around a dozen people who continued to hurl projectiles at the passengers before an Israeli policeman dispersed the crowd by firing into the air.
The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.
US ‘serious concern’
The United States expressed “serious concerns” about the situation.
In a White House statement, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations”.
The Israeli role in the hostilities — especially Friday’s clashes at Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site — has met widespread criticism.
All six Arab nations that have diplomatic ties with Israel — Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have condemned the Jewish state.
In Jordan, the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy Islamic and Christian sites, King Abdullah II condemned “Israeli violations and escalatory practices at the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque”.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, urged “the UN Security Council to take measures on the repeated violations carried out by Israel”.
The Middle East quartet of envoys from the EU, Russia, the US and the UN — and Pope Francis — have all called for calm.
Court case delayed
Much of the recent violence stems from a long-running legal effort by Jewish settler groups to evict several Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
A lower court ruling this year backing the settlers’ decades-old claim to the plots infuriated Palestinians.
A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal had been set for Monday, but the justice ministry said Sunday that in light of “all the circumstances” it would delay the hearing.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 takeover, a move not recognised by most of the international community.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has expressed “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”.
Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip have also voiced support for the Palestinian protesters and warned Israel of retribution if evictions proceed in Sheikh Jarrah.
Israel’s prime minister on Monday directed authorities to approve construction of 800 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank days before President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel administration leaves office.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed that plans be advanced for the construction of about 800 units in Judea and Samaria,” a statement from the premier’s office said, using biblical terms for the West Bank.
President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in next week, has indicated that his administration will restore US policy opposing settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
Trump’s administration gave unprecedented US support to settler groups, highlighted by a declaration from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 that Washington no longer viewed settlements as being in violation of international law.
Pompeo in November also became the first top US diplomat to visit a settlement in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Netanyahu is facing re-election on March 23, Israel’s fourth vote in just under two years.
A series of recent of polls indicate the veteran prime minister is facing a strong right-wing challenge from pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar, who defected from Netanyahu’s Likud party last month to run against the premier.
Netanyahu is widely expected to make a series of plays for right-wing votes, including by bolstering his pro-settlement credentials, before the vote, according to Israeli political analysts.
The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that 100 of the new units were to be built in the Tal Menashe settlement, where French-Israeli Esther Horgen was murdered last month.
Israel’s security services have said the settler was murdered by Palestinian Mohammed Cabha, claiming he had political motives for her killing related to the occupation.
Netanyahu’s order to advance settlement construction is not final, with the process having to clear several bureaucratic phases and possible legal challenges from anti-occupation groups before any construction begins.
There are currently some 450,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, living amid an estimated 2.8 million Palestinians.
All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by much of the international community.
Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday that there was “no way” the country’s second nationwide coronavirus lockdown would be lifted after three weeks as originally planned.
“There’s no way that in 10 days we’ll be lifting all the restrictions and saying it’s all over, everything is fine,” he told public broadcaster Kan.
Israel imposed its second lockdown on September 18 after the coronavirus infection rate soared. It was originally scheduled to end on October 10.
On Friday, the measures were tightened after the initial eight days failed to bring down the world’s highest infection rate per capita.
Beyond shuttering schools and cultural events, the lockdown has closed the vast majority of workplaces, markets and places of worship.
Parliament was meanwhile due to debate a regulation limiting demonstrations, which could curb weekly protests that have been held against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership for months.
Convoys of vehicles were meanwhile heading to Jerusalem to protest the possible restrictions on demonstrations.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu acknowledged “mistakes” in the reopening of Israel’s educational system and economy following the first lockdown earlier this year.
“There might be some changes for the better, but this time, as part of the learning process from what happened in April, we’ll exit (the lockdown) gradually, responsibly,” Edelstein said.
“The opening of the economy and our lives will be gradual and slow.”
Israel has recorded more than 233,000 infections and 1,507 deaths in a population of nine million.
According to military intelligence, not only does Israel have the world’s highest weekly infection rate per capita, its daily death rate per capita has passed that of the world’s hardest-hit country, the United States.
An ultra-Orthodox minister in Israel’s government resigned Sunday over nationwide lockdown plans to tackle one of the world’s highest coronavirus rates that would affect religious practices over Jewish holidays.
Yaakov Litzman stood down as housing minister, protesting at measures that he said will prevent Jews from attending synagogues over the upcoming festivals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“It is an injustice and disregard for hundreds of thousands of citizens, ultra-Orthodox, religious and traditional,” to impose the lockdown over the holidays, said Litzman, a former health minister.
According to an AFP tally, Israel is second only to Bahrain for the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate by population.
The surge in cases prompted Israel’s coronavirus cabinet to announce last week plans for a nationwide lockdown that will go into force ahead of the Jewish holidays, which start on September 18.
The broader coalition government met on Sunday to vote on the plans, which are expected to see all non-essential shops shut and schools closed across the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he regretted Litzman’s resignation, but vowed to forge ahead with the new measures.
“We must move forward and make the decisions that are necessary for the state of Israel during the corona period,” he said at the start of the cabinet meeting.
The government is due to close or seriously limit presence in synagogues and other places of worship during the lockdown, expected to be imposed for an initial 14 days.
Israel had initially been widely praised for curbing the spread of coronavirus by imposing a strict lockdown in March.
Children returned to school in May and businesses including bars and restaurants were reopened, along with venues hosting weddings.
While foreign visitors are still banned and masks are obligatory, Israel has seen a spike in coronavirus cases in past weeks.
More than 153,000 cases have been registered with 1,108 deaths, out of a population of nine million.
The government has been blamed for the rapid reopening of businesses, with some arguing insufficient financial measures forced people back to work prematurely.
Others have blamed the reopening of schools but also the country’s increased testing capacity for pushing up the number of positive Covid-19 cases.
As part of efforts to manage the public health crisis, the government has divided cities and towns into four colour-coded categories — green, yellow, orange and red — based on infection rates.
Earlier this month, 40 “red” areas were put under curfew, with gatherings limited and schools shut.
Firms from the United Arab Emirates and Israel have signed an agreement to jointly develop research and studies on the novel coronavirus, the UAE’s state WAM agency reported.
The business deal comes days after a surprise political agreement between the UAE and Israel to normalise relations, a historic shift which will make the Gulf state only the third Arab country to establish full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
The UAE’s APEX National Investment and Israel’s TeraGroup signed the “strategic commercial agreement” late Saturday in Abu Dhabi, WAM said in a statement.
“We are delighted with this cooperation with TeraGroup, which is considered the first business to inaugurate trade, economy and effective partnerships between the Emirati and Israeli business sectors,” APEX chairman Khalifa Yousef Khouri said.
APEX is an investment company with a particular focus on the healthcare sector.
The deal would be “serving humanity by strengthening research and studies on the novel coronavirus,” Khouri added.
The two companies hope to develop a rapid test for coronavirus.
“We are thrilled with our agreement with APEX National Investment, and hope that we will achieve the objectives outlined in this agreement, which in turn will benefit everyone economically,” TeraGroup chairman Oren Sadiv said, according to WAM.
Last Thursday the UAE and Israel agreed the US-brokered deal to establish full diplomatic ties.
Under that agreement, Israel pledged to suspend its planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, a concession welcomed by European and some pro-Western Arab governments as a boost for hopes of peace.
However, before the political deal, two Israeli defence companies last month signed an agreement with an Emirati company to collaborate on the development of a non-invasive coronavirus screening test.
State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the country’s largest aerospace and defence firm, as well as the government’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, signed a memorandum of understanding with Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42 in July.
Israel’s army launched new airstrikes Sunday against Hamas positions in Gaza and closed the fishing zone around the Palestinian enclave in response to rockets and firebombs sent into Israeli territory.
The measures came after a week of heightened tensions, including clashes on Saturday evening along the Gaza-Israeli border, the army said.
Dozens of Palestinian “rioters burned tyres, hurled explosive devices and grenades towards the security fence and attempted to approach it,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement.
Long simmering Palestinian anger has flared further since Israel and the UAE on Thursday agreed to normalise relations, a move Palestinians saw as a betrayal of their cause by the Gulf country.
Over the past week, Israeli forces have carried out repeated night-time strikes on targets linked to the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
The army says they were carried out in response to makeshift firebombs attached to balloons and kites which have been sent into southern Israel, causing thousands of fires on Israeli farms and communities.
There were 19 such Palestinian attacks on Saturday alone, according to Israeli rescue services.
In response, “IDF fighter jets and aircraft struck a number of Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip,” the army said, adding that among the targets hit were a Hamas “military compound and underground infrastructure”.
Early Sunday the IDF said two nore rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza and intercepted by its Iron Dome defence system.
“In response, our Air Force just struck Hamas terror targets in Gaza, including a military compound used to store rocket ammunition,” it said.
– Total fishing ban –
Following rocket and incendiary balloon attacks earlier this week, Israel on Wednesday slashed Gaza’s permitted coastal fishing zone from 15 nautical miles to eight, a punitive move often used by the Jewish state in response to Gaza unrest.
Following Saturday’s clashes and rocket-fire, Israel’s military decided “to entirely shut down the fishing zone of the Gaza Strip, immediately and until further notice, starting this morning (Sunday),” a military statement said.
Israel has also closed its Kerem Shalom goods crossing with the Gaza Strip.
Despite a truce last year backed by the UN, Egypt and Qatar, the two sides clash sporadically with rockets, mortar fire or incendiary balloons.
The Gaza Strip has a population of two million, more than half of whom live in poverty, according to the World Bank.
The IDF said Hamas “is responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it, and will bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hezbollah was “playing with fire” after border clashes on Monday, in which the Lebanese Shiite group denied all involvement.
Netanyahu insisted that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government “carry responsibility” for the attempt by gunmen to infiltrate Israeli territory, which resulted in an exchange of gunfire but no reported casualties.
“Hezbollah is playing with fire and our response will be very strong,” the Israeli premier said.
Israel said it had repelled an attempt by Hezbollah fighters to penetrate its northern border on Monday, but the Lebanese group denied any involvement in the incident.
The border clash, which Israel said included an exchange of fire between its troops and gunmen, followed days of reported heightened tensions between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.
Israel’s army said a group of three to five men armed with assault rifles crossed the Blue Line that divides Israel and Lebanon in the disputed Mount Dov area, claimed by Lebanon, Syria and Israel as their own.
Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said that despite the area being forested, spotters had tracked the group as they approached the Blue Line.
“Once they crossed the border, we engaged,” he said.
There was an exchange of fire between the gunmen and Israeli forces, which did not result in any Israeli casualties, Conricus said.
“We confirmed visually that the terrorists fled back to Lebanon,” he added.
Details on any casualties from the Lebanese side were not immediately available.
Hezbollah, which has a large presence in the area where the incidents occurred, said in a statement that “it did not take part in any clash and did not open fire in today’s events.
“All that the enemy’s media is claiming about thwarting an infiltration operation from Lebanon into occupied Palestine… is completely false,” it added.
Conricus said Israeli forces had fired artillery into Lebanon “for defensive purposes”.
An AFP correspondent reported Israeli artillery bombardment on the hills of Kfarchouba in the Shebaa Farms area near the Israeli position of Roueysaat al-Alam, and said there were plumes of smoke rising above the area.
Israel’s army had initially ordered civilians on its side of the Blue Line to stay indoors, but later lifted those restrictions.
The United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL, which patrols the Blue Line, called for “maximum restraint”.
The UN considers the Mount Dov area as being in the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six Day War.
– Missile strike –
The border clash came a week after an alleged Israeli missile attack hit positions of Syrian regime forces and their allies south of Damascus on July 20, killing five. Hezbollah said one of its own died in the raid.
Hezbollah number two Naim Qasim said in a televised interview on Sunday that “if the Israelis decide to launch a war, we will confront it and we will respond”.
Lebanon-based and Iran-backed Hezbollah has a substantial presence in Syria, where it is fighting in support of the Damascus government in the country’s civil war.
Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011.
It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from Hezbollah, saying its goal is to end Tehran’s military presence in Syria.
The Jewish state hit Syrian army targets late Friday after munitions were fired across the Syrian border into Israel.
There has been no confirmation that Hezbollah was involved in Friday’s cross-border fire.
An Israeli court will start hearing evidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial in January, the judge presiding over the case ruled Sunday.
Netanyahu has denied charges against him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The first hearing in the case was on May 24 and a second session was held Sunday, without Netanyahu in attendance.
In a transcript of the session obtained by AFP, Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman set out a timetable for the next stages of the trial, including the stipulation that Netanyahu must enter a plea in writing by October 18.
“The sides should prepare for the hearing of testimony starting from the month of January 2021, (with sessions) three times a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” she wrote, without giving precise dates.
The trial is being held in the Jerusalem district court. Media restrictions are in place due to coronavirus precautions.
At the opening of the trial in May, Netanyahu asked for proceedings to be carried live on television, but cameras were banned from Sunday’s session.
The longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, Netanyahu claims the charges against him — filed by an attorney general that he appointed – are part of a witch-hunt to drive him from office.
The prosecution has assembled over 300 witnesses to back its charges.
The trial had been due to open in March but was postponed to May 24 due to lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The charges allege that Netanyahu, the first prime minister in Israeli history to be indicted while in office, accepted improper gifts and sought to illegally trade favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.
Israeli law professor Gad Barzilai has predicted that the proceedings will be “long and tedious.”
Netanyahu’s lawyers, he told reporters last week, were likely to seek further delays, asking for more prosecution documents and for a ruling that he is eligible for state aid toward his legal costs.
“The prosecution would like to end procedures in about two or three years,” Barzilai said.
One of Netanyahu’s top defence lawyers dropped his client last week, sources said, after the premier was denied permission to receive private funding for his legal team.
Here are key dates in the Israeli governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009.
– Return to power –
The right-wing Likud party chief Netanyahu becomes prime minister for a second time in March 2009, after a first stint between 1996 and 1999.
He forms a coalition firmly anchored to the right, with the post of foreign minister going to ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman.
In March 2013, Netanyahu’s new governing coalition takes office after snap January polls, with a strong showing of hardliners in favour of Israeli construction on Palestinian land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War.
– Gaza wars –
In July 2014, Israel launches a military operation against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip with the aim of ending rocket fire and destroying smuggling tunnels used by militant groups in the blockaded territory.
The war leaves 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.
– Most right-wing government –
In May 2015, Netanyahu wins a confidence vote in parliament for his fourth government.
A year later, he signs a coalition agreement with Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, naming him defence minister.
The government is the most right-wing in Israeli history.
In June 2017, Israel starts building its first new government-sanctioned settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1991 in defiance of international concern.
Settlement building takes on momentum under Netanyahu, with the support of his staunch US ally President Donald Trump.
– Deadly Gaza flare-up –
A mass protest is launched in Gaza in March 2018 to demand the right for Palestinians to return to homes in Israel that they fled or were expelled from after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.
It sees a surge in violence on the border where Palestinians gather every Friday.
From March 2018 to December 2019 at least 352 Palestinians are killed by Israeli fire, mostly during protests along the border. Eight Israelis also perish.
A ceasefire is currently in force between Hamas and Israel.
– Political crisis –
On April 9, 2019, Likud wins 35 of the 120 seats in parliament, the same number as Netanyahu’s centrist challenger Benny Gantz at a general election.
On April 17, President Reuven Rivlin formally tasks Netanyahu with forming a government, but the prime minister is unable to secure a majority coalition.
On May 29, parliament votes to dissolve itself and holds a new election.
In the September 17 polls, Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White alliance are again almost neck-and-neck.
Neither man can manage to form a coalition government, propelling the country into a third poll.
– Trump support –
On January 28, 2020, Trump, who has been an unfailing backer of Netanyahu’s Israel since taking power in January 2017, unveils a Middle East peace plan, which includes many concessions to Israel.
– Third stalemate –
On March 2, Israelis go to the polls for the third time in less than a year, resulting in another stalemate between Netanyahu and Gantz.
On March 15, an Israeli court postpones Netanyahu’s graft trial amid fears of the spread of the new coronavirus.
In late March Gantz decides to seek a deal with Netanyahu for an interim emergency alliance to lead Israel during the coronavirus pandemic.
– Unity government –
On April 20 Netanyahu and Gantz announce a deal to form an emergency unity government.
The three-year agreement will allow Netanyahu to stay in office for 18 months while Gantz, a former army chief, heads the defence ministry.
Gantz will then take over as premier for another 18 months before a new round of elections.
On May 7 Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming a new government, which has earlier been backed by parliament.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Tuesday to build 3,500 new settler homes in a super-sensitive area of the occupied West Bank, just a week before a tight general election.
Netanyahu’s controversial statement is the latest in a string of election promises on settlement construction as the premier faces not only a general election but the beginning of a corruption trial.
“I gave immediate instructions for a permit to deposit (plans) for the construction of 3,500 units in E1,” Netanyahu said.
The international community has warned repeatedly that Jewish settlement construction in the E1 corridor, which passes from Jerusalem to Jericho, would slice the West Bank in two and compromise the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
“We are building Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s outskirts,” Netanyahu said at a conference in remarks relayed by a spokesman.
In 2013, Netanyahu vetoed construction in the E1 corridor in the face of pressure from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
The move to advance new homes, which would constitute a new neighbourhood of Maale Adumim, a nearby settlement town, were praised by the Yesha Council, a settler lobby group, which noted that plans for homes there have existed since 2004.
“Advancing the issue will enable broad and strategic construction between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem,” Yesha Council head David Elhayani said in a statement.
But Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, co-director of Jahalin Solidarity, an NGO working to prevent the displacement of Palestinian Bedouin living in the E1 area, said the construction could mean their forced expulsion and constitute a “war crime”.
“If allowed to go ahead, this move will end the potential for a viable, sustainable Palestinian state, and is yet another example of how desperate Bibi (Netanyahu) is to buy votes so as to stay out of prison at the expense of our future,” she said.
On Thursday, Netanyahu announced plans for thousands of new homes for Israelis in annexed east Jerusalem, with critics calling the move a last-minute incentive to nationalist voters ahead of next week’s election.
On Monday, Israeli authorities moved ahead with those plans, inviting tenders for 1,077 housing units for Givat Hamatos, which would be a new settlement neighbourhood.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said the Givat Hamatos area was “the last point enabling territorial continuity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem,” saying that the plan to build there was proof Netanyahu was “doing everything to prevent peace”.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are considered illegal by the United Nations and most foreign governments.
Netanyahu, 70, will stand trial next month after being indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
He denies wrongdoing but the indictment has complicated his bid to extend his tenure as Israel’s longest serving prime minister.
Two elections in April and September last year failed to produce a clear winner.
Recent polls are forecasting another tight race between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and the centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz.