İrem UZUN -TDO- Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to appear at a court hearing on 17 March for the start of a corruption trial against him, the Israeli judiciary has announced. The first day of the case is scheduled just two weeks after a national election on 2 March in which the prime minister is fighting to remain in power, despite the damning charges levelled against him. He is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of pounds in luxury gifts from billionaire associates, including litres of champagne, and for trading favours with Israeli media and telecoms moguls for positive news coverage.

In a brief statement on Tuesday, the court said Netanyahu is expected to attend the initial hearing. Under Israeli law, a sitting prime minister is only required to step down once convicted of an offence and after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. Israel will hold parliamentary elections on March 2, its third vote in less than a year, after two elections failed to yield a conclusive result. Netanyahu's campaign has sought to divert attention away from the corruption charges while his main challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz, has sought to highlight it. He argues that Netanyahu is unfit to serve as prime minister while fighting the legal charges.

The previous elections ended in deadlock, with both Netanyahu's Likud Party and the rival Blue and White, led by former military chief Benny Gantz, unable to secure parliamentary majorities. Opinion polls have predicted a similar outcome in the third.

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