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Israel Restricts Movement Amid Coronavirus Spread

A man takes a selfie in front of the closed Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built in the location where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried, in Jerusalem, March 25, 2020, as Israel tightens measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Israel has announced new, stricter limits on movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The move comes Israel remains locked in a political impasse that has led to the parliament speaker’s resignation.

Israel has reported more than 2,000 coronavirus cases and five deaths in recent days. Also, the first Palestinian died of the virus Wednesday, a 60-year-old woman from Ramallah.

Given the spread of the virus, the government Wednesday put into place a seven-day restriction on movement. With the exception of trips to the doctor or supermarket, residents will only be allowed to travel 100 meters from their homes. Anyone caught breaking the rule faces a fine of several hundred dollars.

Supermarkets are open for now, but there has been more panic buying as residents fear the shops may close indefinitely. Some businesses remain open for the time being although many have closed. Synagogues are also closed to prevent the spread of the infection among congregants.

The developments come as Israel grapples with a political impasse. Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein Wednesday announced he is leaving his post.

He said he was resigning because he feels Israel’s Supreme Court is interfering in legislative affairs.

The court had ordered Edelstein to open the 120-member Knesset or legislature so members could vote on his replacement. Edelstein is from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. An alliance of 61 members opposes Netanyahu and wants a speaker from the Blue and White party, led by former Army chief Benny Gantz. That would give Blue and White control over the legislative agenda.

Edelstein resigned in an effort to stall the process. Israel held a third round of elections earlier in March but the outcome was inconclusive. Netanyahu also faces corruption allegations.

Yonatan Freeman, a political science professor at Hebrew University, says Israel is in uncharted territory.

“A lot of records are being broken now in Israeli political history. We’ve had three elections now and this is the first time in Israeli history that we’ve had a speaker of the Knesset who’s announcing his resignation,” Freeman said.

At the same time, he said that Israel's democracy is strong and will survive this political crisis.

Separately, public law professor Amon Reichman says Israelis are more concerned about regulations that could mean an invasion of privacy given the coronavirus pandemic.

“They (the government) authorized the general security service for the first time ever to use measures of surveillance against Israeli citizens, for Israeli citizens, for their health but nonetheless using measures that will track down, survey Israeli citizens,” Reichman said.

The information gleaned is supposed to be used only to inform people that they may have been close to someone infected with the coronavirus. But some worry that using these tools, which are usually used to fight terrorism, may be used for political purposes.