Armed Israeli troops to help enforce coronavirus lockdown

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TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel will deploy armed troops to support police on street patrols in enforcing a lockdown against the coronavirus epidemic, the military said on Friday.

About 500 troops will join police squads 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.

The troops will be armed and 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.

The government has eased requirements for collecting unemployment but has not said how much the relief package would cost.

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

Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan