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Ministers vote to end cap limiting airport entry to 3,000 Israelis per day

But government also okays limiting the flights permitted each day to airport’s ‘effective capacity,’ without specifying number; tourism minister says crossing with Egypt to reopen

Passengers walk in the arrivals hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
Passengers walk in the arrivals hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.

Activist behind ‘leftists are traitors’ campaign employed by Likud — report

The right-wing activist behind the campaign “leftists are traitors” is being employed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, the Haaretz daily reports.

Likud tells the paper Moshe Miron is a junior staffer and that it was unaware of the campaign, which he ran on his own. Miron appeared Thursday in a photo with Netanyahu at a campaign event, but the party says the premier doesn’t know him.

The “leftists are traitors” signs and stickers have been seen at anti-Netanyahu protests.

ה-ו-א ג-ד-ו-ל!!!

Posted by ‎משה מירון‎ on Thursday, March 18, 2021

German cops clash with protesters opposed to COVID restrictions

KASSEL, Germany — Police use pepper spray to disperse people protesting against coronavirus curbs in the German city of Kassel on Saturday, in one of the country’s largest such rallies so far this year.

Several thousand people have gathered at the main protest site on a square in the city center, packed closely together without wearing face masks, an AFP reporter sees.

Scuffles erupt when a group of demonstrators try to break through a police cordon to join up with other protesters, resulting in shoving and prompting officers to use pepper spray.

“This is not what a peaceful protest looks like,” North Hesse police tweet.

Officers had used “pepper spray and batons” against protesters, police say, adding that there had been “repeated attacks” against emergency service workers.

“We don’t tolerate such attacks,” they write, saying they had water cannon on stand by.

The protest was called by the “Querdenker” or Lateral Thinkers movement, an umbrella group that has organized some of Germany’s largest “anti-corona” demonstrations since the start of the pandemic.

The movement has drawn in people from the far-left, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and right-wing extremists.

Some of them don’t believe the pandemic is real, while others claim the curbs imposed to rein in the coronavirus infringe on their civil rights.

Some demonstrators in Kassel hold up signs that read “End the lockdown” and “Corona rebels,” or carried heart-shaped balloons.

Many also wave “Querdenker” flags from different parts of the country, suggesting people had travelled to join the rally.

The founder of the Querdenker movement, Michael Ballweg, in late December urged supporters to halt their protests until the spring.

Several other German cities saw similar rallies last weekend, but on a smaller scale.

The protests come as Germany is battling a sharp rise in infection rates in the third wave of the pandemic despite months of shutdowns.

On Persian New Year, Iranian leaders promise better times amid pain of sanctions, COVID

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian leaders promise their people hit by economic hardship due to US sanctions and COVID-19 better times ahead on the first day of the Persian New Year.

The Islamic Republic’s economy is reeling under the sanctions reimposed in 2018 after former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of COVID-19, Iranians are to elect a successor to President Hassan Rouhani, who is barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term, in a June 18 election.

“Our enemies, and at their head the US, sought to bring the nation of Iran to its knees through ‘maximum pressure,'” supreme leader Ali Khamenei says in a televised address for Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

“We knew the nation of Iran would stand firm. But today, they are acknowledging it,” he adds.

Khamenei labels the new year as one of “production, support and the elimination of obstacles,” while the election also made it “important and sensitive.”

Sanctions have left Iran’s economy grappling with rising inflation and a sharply devalued currency, a decline aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Rouhani, in a separate address, says the past year was “the worst in 60 years in terms of oil revenues,” but he promises improvements, saying the economy is bouncing back.

“In the 42 years since the victory of the (Islamic) revolution, I cannot recall a year as hard and difficult as 1399 regarding economic constraints,” he says.

But the new year would see “wide access to (COVID) vaccines and coronavirus being brought under control, and the end of sanctions following three years of resistance”, he pledges.

Likud minister won’t rule out backing bill to halt Netanyahu’s graft trial

A Likud party ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu says he won’t rule out supporting far-right candidate Itamar Ben Gvir’s proposal to halt the premier’s graft trial after the elections.

“If this comes up, we’ll deliberate it,” Public Security Minister Amir Ohana tells Channel 13 news.

Ben Gvir, who heads the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, has said he’ll condition joining a coalition on the passage of a law stopping Netanyahu’s trial. Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing in the three cases he has been indicted in, has dismissed Ben Gvir’s demand and said he won’t seek legislation granting him immunity.

Labor Party chief refuses to boycott coalition with Haredi parties

Labor chief Merav Michaeli says peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “first and foremost an Israeli interest” and that resolving the conflict is a top priority of the center-left party.

In a pre-election interview with Channel 12 news, Michaeli says she’ll “make every effort” to replace Netanyahu as prime minister. She also refuses to rule out sitting in a coalition with Haredi parties, after the head of the left-wing Meretz party asked why she was willing to be part of a government with the ultra-Orthodox.

“We don’t boycott any community,” she says.

Michaeli also won’t commit to recommending Yair Lapid as prime minister after the elections, saying Labor will back whoever is able to put together a majority coalition to replace Netanyahu.

Speaking after Michaeli, Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he’ll back his former ally Lapid if the opposition leader is able to form a government.

Gantz says ‘no way’ he’ll again join Netanyahu-led government

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says there’s “no way” he’ll again join a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu after Tuesday’s elections.

Liberman denies refusing to sit in same room with homosexuals

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman calls on the “entire secular public” to vote in the upcoming elections.

He repeats his call for a government without the Haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and refuses to walk back his recent comment saying he’ll put Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox factions “in a landfill.” Liberman says he only made the remark after a UTJ lawmaker said women who convert to Judaism through the military are “shiksas.”

He also says he supports “full rights” for the LGBT community and denies businesswoman Nicol Raidman’s recent claim that he refused to sit in the same room as her gay friends.

“There is no word of truth in what Nikole Raidman said,” Liberman says.

UTJ lawmaker: If Netanyahu lacks majority, ‘we’ll weigh’ options before going to 5th elections

MK Moshe Gafni says there is “no meaning” to the pledge his United Torah Judaism party signed vowing to only back Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a government after the elections.

Gafni, a key partner of Netanyahu’s, tells Channel 12 news that UTJ is allied with the premier’s Likud party because it includes “traditional” voters, not because it is right-wing.

He says if Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc falls short of a majority, “we’ll weigh [what to do] before going to fifth elections.”

Sa’ar says ‘running until the end’ to be PM despite New Hope’s slide in the polls

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar downplays his right-wing party’s continued slide in the polls and says his “mission” is to prevent Prime Minister Netanyahu from securing a majority in Tuesday’s elections.

He insists to Channel 12 news that he is “running until the end” to be prime minister despite recent polls showing New Hope hovering around 10 seats.

Sa’ar rules out a coalition with the Joint List, saying he opposes governments that rely on “extremist elements,” and calls on Yamina party head Naftali Bennett to declare he won’t join a Netanyahu-led coalition.

He also asserts that Opposition Leader Yair Lapid is “unable to form a government.”

“We’ll all need to comprise” to form a government without Netanyahu, adds Sa’ar, a former Likud minister.

Bennett to Sa’ar: ‘We’ll be together in a coalition’

Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett predicts he and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar we’ll sit together in a government after the elections.

“We’re here to bring change, we’ll be together in a coalition,” Bennett tells Sa’ar as the two are interviewed by Channel 12 news.

Sa’ar has ruled out joining a coalition led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, while Bennett, who has been sharply critical of the premier, has not done so.

Despite praising Sa’ar, Bennett goes on to call him, Netanyahu and Opposition Yair Leader a “band of cynics” who will cause a fifth round of elections.

Bennett says his guiding “principles” after the elections will be preventing a fifth round of elections and the formation of a left-wing government.

Netanyahu: Not ‘scared’ to debate Lapid, but he must declare he’s running for PM

Prime Minister Netanyahu denies he is “scared” to debate Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, as he is asked why he didn’t take up Lapid’s call to debate him this evening on TV.

Netanyahu again insists that Lapid must first declare he is running for prime minister before they debate.

“Our country is not a game for ambitious politicians,” the premier says.

He also predicts that together with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, his right-wing religious bloc will pick up at least 61 seats, enough for a majority in the Knesset.

Lapid is one of the few main party leaders who does not come to the Channel 12 studio for its stream of interviews with party leaders. Also absent are the Joint List’s Ayman Odeh and Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas. Odeh had to cancel for personal reasons, Channel 12 said; he did appear for an interview on Channel 13.

Netanyahu says he opposes proposal to halt his graft trial, won’t fire AG

Prime Minister Netanyahu insists in two television interviews that he flatly opposes a proposal to halt his trial on graft charges and again claims the charges against him are “fabricated” and will collapse.

“I rule it out. It will not happen,” he tells Channel 13. “Nobody stops a trial.”

In a Channel 12 interview, anchor Rina Mazliah notes that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana — a possible justice minister in a future Netanyahu government — has said he supports a proposal to call off Netanyahu’s trial.

“I’m against canceling my trial. First of all, you don’t stop a trial. Second, these fabricated charges are collapsing before our eyes,” Netanyahu says.

He adds: “I will stand trial. I will win at this trial. And the most interesting trial is the trial before the public [in these elections]. The public will now decide, not the prosecutors…”

The premier then lashes out at the network over a feature on the TV screen asking if viewers are persuaded by the various party leaders’ interviews.

“You should be embarrassed by this app on the screens,” he says. “You control it… Do you think people believe you? You have been recruited as a political party. This studio is working against me politically from start to finish…”

He then denies plans to fire Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted him in the corruption cases.

“I won’t fire Mandeblit. But I will ensure a balance between the [judiciary and the legislature and executive].

“The power of the judiciary is out of balance. Take the decision now to open the skies” — a reference to the High Court decision last week to reopen the airport to all Israelis who want to come home ahead of the elections.” This decision is wrong-headed since it risks bringing COVID-19 variants into Israel, but he is powerless to overrule it, he says.

Netanyahu says will only annex West Bank lands with US president’s backing

Prime Minister Netanyahu says he will only go through with annexing parts of the West Bank if the US president backs the move, a remote prospect under Democrat Joe Biden.

Netanyahu pledged last year to annex West Bank lands slated for Israel under then-president Donald Trump’s peace proposal, but agreed to drop the plan as part of the normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates.

Health Ministry reports 1,211 new infections, 11 more coronavirus deaths over the weekend

The Health Ministry reports 1,017 new coronavirus cases were recorded yesterday and 194 so far today, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 827,199.

The death toll stands at 6,082, with 10 fatalities yesterday and one since midnight.

The number of active cases further falls to 18,873, with 549 people in serious condition, including 199 on ventilators.

The ministry says 57,914 coronavirus tests were performed yesterday, with 1.8% coming back positive.

Thousands rally in Jerusalem for largest anti-Netanyahu protest in weeks

In the largest protest in weeks, thousands of Israelis flood Paris Square in Jerusalem to call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation.

Demonstrators fill the intersection outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, with flag-bearing protesters tightly packed on Keren HaYasod and Agron Streets.

Rami Peleg, who hails from a kibbutz in northern Israel, says Netanyahu’s indictment on graft charges has interfered with his ability to manage the country.

“Now of all times, it’s important for us to come here before the elections and demonstrate,” Peleg says.

TV: Netanyahu told Likud MKs to say he would debate Lapid without conditions, but got ‘cold feet’

Prime Minister Netanyahu told lawmakers in his Likud party over the weekend to say he was prepared to debate Opposition Leader Yair Lapid without conditions, but ultimately got “cold feet,” the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Lapid: Netanyahu won’t debate because he can only form coalition of ‘blackmailers and racists’

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tears into Prime Minister Netanyahu for not taking up his offer to debate before Tuesday’s elections.

“This evening I heard all of Netanyahu’s excuses for why he ran away from the debate I offered him. It’s all excuses. He’s scared,” Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, says in a video statement.

He notes Netanyahu has made him a focus of the Likud’s campaign and says his offer to debate still stands. Lapid also asserts Netanyahu doesn’t want to debate because doing so would draw attention to the premier’s prospective governing partners.

“A government of blackmailers and racists that will take the money of people who work and give it to people who don’t work,” Lapid says of a Likud-led coalition that includes the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and the far-right Religious Zionism faction.

He adds: “We have a real opportunity — perhaps a last opportunity — on Tuesday to replace the government, to bring a great change. If enough people leave their homes, we’ll bring [about] the 61st seat, [and] form a sane government.”

Russian-Israeli tennis player Aslan Karatsev secures first title with win at Dubai

Russian-Israeli Aslan Karatsev continues his remarkable season by winning his first ATP Tour title, beating Lloyd Harris in the Dubai final.

The 27-year-old, who became the first man to reach the semi-finals on their Grand Slam debut in the Open era at the Australian Open last month, cruises past South African Harris 6-3, 6-2.

“You never know when (success) is coming,” says Karatsev, who is the first wildcard to win the Dubai title since Thomas Muster in 1997.

“I did a good job with my team, with my coach and it has happened now.”

It is his first ATP singles final, having won an event for the first time on tour in last week’s doubles tournament in Doha, alongside Russian compatriot Andrey Rublev.

“I am super happy. It was a tight match. (I was) really nervous,” adds Karatsev. “I want to congratulate my opponent for the final (run). He did a great week… I am happy that I won.”

Karatsev plays for Russia but grew up and trained in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew. He left the country as a youth, and recent days have seen the leaders of the Israel Tennis Association shaking their heads at their failure to identify and nurture his talent.

Over 8,000 Israelis expected to arrive Sunday after entry restrictions expire

Over 8,000 Israelis on 60 flights are expected to land at Ben Gurion Airport tomorrow after restrictions on entry to Israel expire at midnight, according to Channel 12 news.

Health Ministry officials are holding talks this evening before the expiration of the cap limiting entry to 3,000 people per day, which was annulled this week by the High Court of Justice.

Anti-Netanyahu rally organizers estimate turnout at 50,000

Organizers of this evening’s anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Jerusalem estimate 50,000 protesters attended.

A Times of Israel reporter covering the rally puts turnout at well over 20,000.

Tel Aviv man arrested on suspicion of stealing Blue and White MK’s purse

Police have arrested a Tel Aviv man on suspicion of stealing Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich’s purse from a cafe in the coastal city, the Ynet news site reports.

The suspect, in his 60s, will appear before a court tomorrow for a remand hearing.

Haimovich’s purse had a credit card, keys and other documents in it at the time it was stolen.

Journalist apologizes for asking Likud minister ‘who is the politician you would aim a gun at’

A journalist at the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily apologizes for asking Likud Public Security Minister Amir Ohana “who is the politician you would aim a gun at” after video emerges of the exchange.

In the brief clip, Moria Kor can be heard asking the question, to which Ohana responds, “God forbid, no one.”

She then asks if he would do so “if this prevents fifth elections.”

“No. Really, no,” Ohana answers.

Kor laments on Twitter that “external elements” shared the video, which wasn’t included in the interview with Ohana that the newspaper published yesterday.

“I asked a question that didn’t need to be asked, a question that isn’t legitimate and therefore I chose to erase it and throw it in the trash can of the editing room,” Kor says.

She adds: “I’m sorry that materials not fit to be published were published and I apologize to anyone who has hurt.”

Kor’s apology comes a day after Ohana uploaded video of the interview in which he could be seen shooting at a target labeled “the center bloc,” a term used to refer to some of Netanyahu’s rivals.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas receives coronavirus vaccine

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been injected with a coronavirus vaccine, the PA’s official Wafa news agency confirms.

It is not clear what vaccine Abbas received nor when he received it, but Wafa says he got a first shot, implying it is a two-dose vaccine. Previous statements by the PA Health Ministry indicated many senior Palestinian officials have already been vaccinated after shipments of the Moderna and Russian Sputnik V vaccines arrived in Ramallah last month.

الرئيس يتلقى اللقاح المضاد لفيروس "كورونا"

الرئيس محمود عباس يتلقى اللقاح المضاد لفيروس "كورونا" ويدعو للالتزام بتعليمات وزارة الصحة في أخذ اللقاح وإجراءات السلامة العامة

Posted by ‎وكالة وفا – WAFA News Agency‎ on Saturday, March 20, 2021

Ministers vote to end cap limiting airport entry to 3,000 Israelis per day

Government ministers vote to end the cap limiting the number of Israelis permitted to enter the country to 3,000 a day.

The restriction was already set to expire at midnight, days before the March 23 elections, after the High Court of Justice ruled Wednesday it was unconstitutional.

Ministers, however, approve limiting the number of daily flights to the airport’s “effective capacity,” with a joint statement from the Health Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office says citing testing and social-distancing requirements. The statement doesn’t specify what the new limitation will be.

The ministers also vote to scrap the Exceptions Committee that approved who is allowed into Israel.

The new ordinances will be in effect until March 28.

Tourism minister says border crossing with Egypt to reopen

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen says the government has decided to reopen the Taba border crossing with Egypt, allowing Israelis to vacation in the Sinai Peninsula.

Farkash-Hacohen doesn’t specify when the crossing will reopen. She says the rules for passing through the crossing will be similar to the regulations at Ben Gurion Airport, without elaborating.

There is no immediate government confirmation of the decision to reopen the crossing.

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