Netanyahu reverses firing of defense minister amid tension

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reversed his decision to fire his defense minister over criticism of the government’s contentious plan to overhaul the judiciary.

In a live press conference, Netanyahu said that Yoav Gallant is staying at his post.

“I decided to put the differences we had behind us,” he said. “Gallant remains in his position and we will continue to work together for the security of the citizens of Israel.”

In a tweet showing himself sitting next to Netanyahu, Gallant wrote: “We continue together with full strength, for Israel’s security.”

Netanyahu announced late last month that Gallant was fired. The decision set off a wave of spontaneous mass protests and a general strike that threatened to paralyze the country, forcing the Israeli leader to suspend his divisive plan to overhaul the judicial system.

Netanyahu never sent Gallant a formal termination letter. As of Monday, Gallant – whose criticism of Netanyahu’s planned judicial changes led to his dismissal – was still on the job. Gallant’s aides said it was business-as-usual at the Defense Ministry.

In recent days, Gallant was seen taking part in Israeli government meetings discussing tensions in Jerusalem that escalated last week and the wider violence they sparked in the region.

“Even in the last few days we worked together and stood together around the clock on all fronts in the face of the security challenges,” Netanyahu said.

Days after Netanyahu announced Gallant’s firing, an Israeli police raid at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site triggered rocket fire at Israel on multiple fronts. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire at rocket launch sites and accused Hamas and Palestinian militant groups of being behind the attacks.

The judiciary crisis and other issues including his indictment on corruption charges in 2019 have distracted Netanyahu from his traditional focus on security and diplomacy, and many Israelis were concerned about the prospects of a vacant defense minister post.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Israelis took part in the 14th straight week of protests against the planned judicial overhaul. Organizers say the plan would diminish Israel’s national security by roiling the military and weakening the country in the eyes of its enemies. They also say that Netanyahu has a conflict of interest at a time when he is on trial. Netanyahu’s supporters say the plan is needed to rein in the powers of unelected judges.

After Wednesday’s police raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – the third holiest shrine in Islam that is also the most sacred to Jews – rockets were fired on northern Israel from Lebanon, Syria and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The escalation came at a time of rare convergence of Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays.

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