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Right-wing party heads said pushing plan to hold direct election for premiership

Bennett convinces Netanyahu to back proposal and Likud leader hopes that with Yamina’s support, legislation to hold such a vote will pass Knesset

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021, before a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021, before a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.

High Court nixes petition against president’s tapping of Netanyahu to form gov’t

The High Court of Justice has rejected a petition seeking to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, from forming the next government.

The petition was submitted by the “Democratic Fortress,” a group of 70 academics, ex-security officials and other anti-Netanyahu activists. They had called on the court to disqualify President Reuven Rivlin’s decision to tap Netanyahu to form the next government, even though he received more recommendations for doing so than any other lawmaker, because he is under indictment.

In their decision, the three-judge panel explains that they did not identify any faults in Rivlin’s decision-making process. Moreover, they note that room for judicial review over the matter is limited, especially because the judges have already ruled in Netanyahu’s favor on similar petitions, deeming that so long as he has not been convicted existing law does not allow for the court to disqualify him.

 

Palestinians at Damascus gate clash with cops as police bar crowding in area on Ramadan

Clashes have broken out between police and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate.

Police have barred Palestinians from congregating at the steps outside the gate in what they say will allow for a smoother flow of pedestrian traffic during the holy month of Ramadan when large numbers of Muslim worshipers visit the area.

Local residents say police are showing a lack of respect during a particularly sensitive time of year.

PA’s top envoy heading abroad to urge European counterparts to push Israel to allow elections in East Jerusalem

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki will visit a number of European capitals in the coming days to discuss the scheduled Palestinian elections, his office says in a statement.

The Palestinians are scheduled to head to national legislative elections for the first time in 15 years on May 22, although it is still possible that Ramallah — fearing a loss to its key rival, Hamas — could delay or cancel the vote.

Al-Maliki is expected to urge his European counterparts to pressure Israel to allow the Palestinian vote to be conducted freely, including in East Jerusalem, according to the PA Foreign Ministry.

Palestinian officials have regularly said that no elections will be held without the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians. Israel is unlikely to grant such a request, leading to speculation that Ramallah may use the matter as an excuse to cancel the impending elections.

With Iran on the agenda, security cabinet to convene for first time in 2 months

The top-level security cabinet is scheduled to meet later today for the first time in over two months as tensions escalate with Iran.

At the top of the agenda was expected to be the confrontation with Iran amid claims that Israel was behind an explosion last week that knocked out power to a major Iranian nuclear site, reportedly damaging a large portion of uranium enrichment centrifuges inside.

Iran has blamed Israel for the incident at its Natanz nuclear facility and on Saturday published a picture of what it said was a key suspect who has fled the country.

Since the explosion, Iran announced that it was raising aboveground enrichment levels to 60%, a short technical step from the purity needed to make nuclear weapons, and a significant violation of its 2015 nuclear pact with world power. At the same time, Iran is engaged in indirect talks with the US, mediated by Europe in Vienna, aimed at reviving the nuclear pact.

The Biden administration is working to coax Tehran back into the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which aimed to curb the weapon’s capable aspects of Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Main Tel Aviv highway reopens to traffic as protest against treatment of veterans with PTSD ends

Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway has reopened to traffic as the hundreds of IDF veterans and supporters protesting against the government’s care for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder have wrapped up their demonstrations.

The protesters had blocked the Ayalon for several hours.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday said he was setting up a public committee to plan reform of the ministry’s Rehabilitation Department for disabled veterans, days after an IDF veteran suffering from PTSD set himself alight outside the department’s offices in Petah Tikva.

Gaza sees 23 COVID deaths in past 24 hours in deadliest day since start of pandemic

Gaza saw 23 deaths from coronavirus in the past 24 hours, making Saturday the deadliest day since the start of the pandemic, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry announces.

Around 41% of coronavirus tests came back positive on Saturday. The high number is likely due to limited testing, as Gaza has only one main laboratory for processing coronavirus tests.

The coastal enclave currently has 20,178 active coronavirus infections, having more than tripled since the beginning of April. Health officials blame the fast-spreading British coronavirus variant for the uptick, as well as poor monitoring by officials at the newly re-opened Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

As cases rose in Gaza, Hamas ordered tighter restrictions — including closing schools and imposing a nightly curfew — a week and a half ago.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 90,088 Gazans are known to have been infected with coronavirus and 761 have died. Gaza health officials, however, estimate that the true infection rate is much higher.

Likud lauds pro-Israel Dutch MP on day he sent ‘stop Islam’ tweet

The Likud party has sent a letter to far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders thanking him for his support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“Your many friends in Israel followed your courageous campaign. Being attacked so vehemently by your rivals and yet staying such a substantial force in your parliament is an astonishing achievement. May it also serve your party as a spring board for the future,” reads the letter sent last week by Likud Supreme Court President Michael Kleiner and Likud Foreign Affairs director Eli Hazan.

The letter was sent on the same day that Wilders published a tweet reading “Stop Islam,” and urging the Netherlands to outlaw the celebration of Ramandan.

Environmental Protection Ministry launches campaign to ready public for expansion of bottle deposit law

The Environmental Protection Ministry launches a publicity campaign via radio and digital platforms to prepare the public for the extension of the bottle deposit law to bigger bottles from December 1.

Environment Minister Gila Gamliel announced the extension of the deposits to bottles of between 1.5 and 5 liters (1.6 to 5.3 quarts) in October.

Since 2001, when the government passed the Deposit Law on Beverage Containers, a refundable sum — currently NIS 30 agorot ($0.09) — has been added to the cost of all cans of drinks, and glass and plastic bottles containing 100 milliliters (3.4 fluid ounces) to 1.5 liters (1.6 quarts) of beverage, to encourage people to return them after use.

But larger bottles have been exempt, mainly due to pressure from ultra-Orthodox groups and manufacturers.

Estimating that the move will save Israelis some NIS 56.3 ($16.7) million a year, collection companies NIS 45.6 ($13.5) million and local authorities NIS 4.4 ($1.3) million, Gamliel said in October that the deposit extension would ensure the economic viability of a plastic recycling plant in Israel and provide raw materials to local bottle producers that are currently having to import recycled plastic from overseas.

PM meets with head of IDF disabled vets group, vows reform for soldiers suffering from PTSD

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with IDF Disabled Veterans Organization chairman Idan Kliman, amid growing outcry of alleged government neglect of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a statement released after the meeting, Netanyahu says: “The plight of the disabled and wounded in the IDF is real. For many years we have not updated our policies, which require first aid treatment as well as comprehensive reform.”

The premier vows to pass governmental reform on the issue within two weeks.

Saudi, Iranian officials said to have held talks earlier this month; no breakthrough reached

Saudi and Iranian officials held direct talks earlier this month, seeking to ease tensions between the long-time bitter foes, Reuters reports.

However, no breakthrough was reached, according to Reuters, which cited several officials from both sides.

“This was a low-level meeting to explore whether there might be a way to ease ongoing tensions in the region,” an Iranian official tells Reuters, adding that the meeting was urged by Iraq.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in January 2016 following the storming of the former’s embassy in Tehran.

A Western diplomat in the region told Reuters that the United States and Britain were informed in advance of the Saudi-Iran meeting.

EU foreign ministers to discuss Navalny situation at Monday meeting

EU foreign ministers will discuss the case of Alexei Navalny when they hold talks Monday, Germany says, as fears grew of the hunger-striking Kremlin critic’s deteriorating health while he is being held in a Russian penal colony.

“At tomorrow’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, EU foreign ministers will also address Navalny’s situation,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tells Bild newspaper.

Meanwhile, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan tells CNN that Russia will face “consequences” if Navalny dies.

EU hints it might not order AstraZeneca vaccine again, due to delays

The EU’s internal markets commissioner Thierry Breton hints that the bloc might decide not to order AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shot again following delays in delivering the first batches of the vaccine.

“We’re pragmatic. My priority, as far as the vaccines are concerned, is to ensure that the firms we have contracts with deliver them punctually,” Breton tells BFMTV television.

Brussels had originally ordered 120 million doses of the Anglo-Swedish group’s jab for the 27 member states in the first quarter and 180 million in the second quarter.

But the drug maker “only delivered 30 million, thus creating the problems that everyone has seen,” Breton says.

And only another 70 million will be delivered in the second quarter, he continues, but adds: “Nothing is decided. Talks are still ongoing.”

The EU commissioner insists that any such decision would “not be for epidemiological or medical reasons.”

“When looking at the data, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the disease,” he says.

EU chides Israel for blocking Palestinian election activity in East Jerusalem

The European Union’s mission to the Palestinians chides Israel for shutting down a press conference yesterday in East Jerusalem and arresting three candidates in the upcoming Palestinian elections.

“We expect [Israel] to abide by its commitment under the Oslo Accord to allow PAL candidates and voters to participate in elections in East Jerusalem,” the mission tweets.

Palestinian officials have regularly said that there will be no Palestinian elections unless Israel permits them to be conducted in East Jerusalem — a request Israel is unlikely to grant.

Saturday’s arrests were the second time in less than a month that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian candidates seeking to hold PA election events in the capital. Israel bans Palestinian Authority activity in both West and East Jerusalem, viewing it as a violation of Israeli sovereignty.

Lapid said to reject Bennett demand that right-wing bloc enjoy majority in proposed coalition

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid has rejected a demand by Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett that the right-wing bloc have one more minister in the cabinet being currently being negotiated by the two party leaders.

Lapid has said he is prepared for Bennett to serve first as premier in a rotational agreement, but Bennett’s demand that the right-wing bloc of their proposed joint coalition have an advantage over the center-left was apparently a bridge too far.

Bennett won just seven seats in last month’s election, compared to Lapid’s 17.

Two Jaffa residents nabbed in photographed assault of rabbi

Police have arrested and are currently questioning two suspects who were photographed assaulting Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, who heads a yeshiva in Jaffa.

According to Channel 12, Mali and a colleague were looking at renting a building in the coastal city for their yeshiva when a group of Arab residents approached them and ordered them to leave the area.

When they refused and began filming the incident, the suspects began beating Mali and his colleague.

Mali did not require hospitalization for his injuries.

Navalny ‘won’t be allowed to die in prison’ — Russia envoy to UK

Hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny “will not be allowed to die in prison,” the Russian ambassador in London tells the BBC.

The 44-year-old, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, began a hunger strike on March 31 to demand proper medical treatment for back pain and numbness in his legs and hands.

“Of course, he will not be allowed to die in prison, but I can say that Mr Navalny, he behaves like a hooligan,” says ambassador Andrei Kelin.

“His public purpose, all of that, is to attract attention for him also — by saying that today his left hand is sick. Tomorrow his leg is sick.”

Navalny was arrested in January upon returning to Russia after recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack he says was orchestrated by Moscow.

On Saturday, Navalny’s doctors said his health had rapidly deteriorated and demanded that prison officials grant them immediate access.

“If he will behave normally, he will have a chance to be released earlier,” Kelin told the British broadcaster.

Ra’am MK goes after ‘racist’ Ben Gvir, Smotrich as Netanyahu’s hopes for right-wing coalition continue to dwindle

Ra’am parliamentarian Waleed Taha calls Religious Zionism party chief Bezalel Smotrich “the scum of the human race,” reducing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chance of forming a coalition with both parties.

“What would have happened, if dark and damned racist antisemites, the scum of the human race, the mirror image of [Religious Zionism MK Itamar] Ben Gvir and Smotrich, had been elected to parliament in a European country !!! A shame and disgrace to democracy!” Taha writes on Twitter.

Netanyahu likely needs the support of Ra’am and Religious Zionism in order to form a government, but the Islamists and far-right Jewish nationalists both ruled out joining a government supported by the other almost as soon as the dust settled from Israel’s latest election.

Religious Zionism released a video recently comparing Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas to former Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat. “Have you gone nuts?” the video says. “No to a government backed by terror supporters.”

Smotrich indicates in a recent statement that a fifth round of elections in two years would be preferable to a government with Ra’am’s support, Channel 12 says.

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect

Iran has asked Interpol to help arrest a suspect in a sabotage attack on its Natanz nuclear facility which it blames on Israel, a local newspaper reports.

National television has published a photo and identified the man as 43-year-old Reza Karimi, saying the intelligence ministry had established his role in last week’s “sabotage” at Natanz.

The broadcaster said the suspect had “fled the country before the incident” and that “legal procedures to arrest and return him to the country are currently underway.”

Neither state TV nor other media provided further details on the suspect. The intelligence ministry has not issued an official statement.

The ultraconservative Kayhan daily reports that “intelligence and judicial authorities” are engaged in the process.

It adds that “after his identity was established, necessary measures were taken through Interpol to arrest and return” the suspect.

Kayhan does not specify what form of Interpol assistance had been requested.

Spotted in Knesset office of new far-right MK: Book written by extremist rabbi Meir Kahane

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir was photographed at the desk of his new Knesset office with a cake for his birthday.

Haaretz reporter Netael Bandel spotted Meir Kahane’s “The Light of the Idea” among the stack of books behind him.

During the recent election campaign, Ben Gvir sought to downplay his ties to the late extremist rabbi whose Kach movement is blacklisted in both the US and Israel. Ben Gvir said that he is not as extreme as his mentor, adding that he only supports expelling “disloyal” Arabs from Israel as opposed to all of them.

Seeking to break logjam, Lapid calls for unity gov’t of ‘Zionists and patriots’

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid calls for the forming a unity government in order to break the ongoing political logjam.

“We have to form a government that will unite us. Not a right-wing government, not a left-wing government but an Israeli unity government,” he says in a press conference.

“I want to echo something that my friend Naftali Bennett said last week: Israel cannot afford fifth elections. Israel needs a government.”

“In this Israeli unity government, there will be three right-wing parties [Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu], two centrist parties [Yesh Atid and Blue and White] and two left-wing parties [Labor and Meretz]. That’s what unity looks like. When different people with different opinions decide to work together.”

“That’s our goal. To form a government whose strength will be drawn from its commitment to the good of the country. There will be different worldviews but we are all Zionists, we are all Israeli patriots,” he adds.

Fauci sees decision on US resuming J&J vaccine by Friday

A decision on whether to end a US pause in vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 shot is likely by Friday, top US pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci says.

A government-convened expert panel has been assessing the vaccine’s possible links to a clotting disorder seen in a half-dozen relatively young women, none with previously known clotting disorders.

Meantime, the European Medicines Agency said Friday it expected to rule on the safety of Johnson & Johnson’s shot on Tuesday after evaluating data on blood clotting.

Fauci, in an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” said that by Friday “we should have an answer as to where we’re going with it. I would think that we’re not going to go beyond Friday in the extension of this pause.”

While saying he did not want to get ahead of the expert panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Fauci notes that the clotting disorder was “an extraordinarily rare event.”

“I believe we’ll get back with it,” he says, though possibly with some restrictions or warnings on its use.

Joint List MK posts, deletes tweet expressing willingness to back Lapid-led gov’t without Bennett at helm

Minutes after Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid finished his press conference in which he urged for the formation of a unity government, Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman posts a tweet in which she urges Lapid not to agree to a rotational agreement with Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett.

“If Netanyahu is unable to form a coalition, Lapid should not cede the premiership to Bennett who has just seven seats. Lapid should demand that he be the sole leader of the government. This would be a government which is not right-wing. This kind of government would be one that the Joint List would be prepared to back,” she tweets, before deleting the comment moments later

Defense Ministry director says office looking to advance major reforms in treatment of wounded veterans

The director-general of the Defense Ministry says his office is looking to advance significant reforms in how it treats wounded veterans, after one such former soldier lit himself on fire last week after years of struggling to receive the care he requested.

Amir Eshel, who has been in his position for nearly a year, acknowledges that his ministry “failed” the veteran, Itzik Saidyan, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his service in the 2014 Gaza war. However, Eshel rebuffs criticism that his ministry ignored the problems with the long-maligned Rehabilitation Department, maintaining that a number of proposals to address these issues had been raised, but the most recent round of elections prevented them from being carried out.

“The elections are behind us, so we’re taking it forward,” Eshel tells reporters in a video conference.

Asked how the Defense Ministry intended to enact these sweeping and likely expensive reforms when the current interim government has failed to perform basic functions, such as purchasing vaccines and approving a new justice minister, Eshel says he believes that, unlike with those matters, there is a general understanding that something must be done and what should be done to “fix and improve” the Rehabilitation Department.

“There’s consensus. There is support for this change, for this significant change,” Eshel says.

Eshel says his ministry, which recently appointed an executive commission to carry out the reforms, was working to address four core issues with the Rehabilitation Department: the quality of the care that veterans receive; the accessibility of that care; ensuring veterans make full use of the benefits to which they are entitled; and improving the way in which former soldiers are recognized as wounded veterans.

Passenger train derails in Egypt; some 100 injured

A passenger train has derailed north of Cairo, injuring around 100 people, Egyptian authorities say. It was the latest of several rail accidents to hit the country in recent years.

Four train wagons ran off the railway at the city of Banha in Qalyubia province, just north of Cairo, the railway authority said in a statement. Videos on social media purportedly showed wagons overturned and passengers escaping to safety along the railway.

The train was traveling to the Nile Delta city of Mansoura from the Egyptian capital, the statement says.

The Health Ministry says in a statement that at least 97 people were injured. Around 60 ambulances were sent to the scene and the injured were taken to nearby hospitals, the ministry added.

Salvage teams could be seen searching for survivors and removing the derailed wagons. It was not immediately clear what caused the train to derail. Prosecutors said they were investigating the causes of the crash.

Last week, at least 15 people were injured when train carriages derailed in the Nile Delta province of Sharqia.

Sunday’s train accident came three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the province of Sohag, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200 others, including children.

Prosecutors said they found that gross negligence by railway employees was behind the deadly March 25 crash, which caused public outcry across the country.

Train wrecks and mishaps are common in Egypt, where the railway system has a history of badly maintained equipment and mismanagement. The government says it has launched a broad renovation and modernization initiative. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said in March 2018 that the government needs about 250 billion Egyptian pounds, or $14.1 billion, to overhaul the run-down rail system.

Hundreds of train accidents are reported every year. In February 2019, an unmanned locomotive slammed into a barrier inside Cairo’s main Ramses railway station, causing a huge explosion and a fire that killed at least 25 people. That crash prompted the then-transportation minister to resign.

In August 2017, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.

Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when over 300 people were killed after a fire broke out in an overnight train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.

Iran sees highest daily death toll in months as virus surges

Iran’s daily coronavirus death toll climbs over 400 for the first time in months, as the country, which has long had the region’s largest outbreak, battles a post-holiday infection surge.

Iranian health authorities recorded 405 fatalities from the virus, pushing the total death toll to 66,732. Officials increasingly have warned about the impact of trends seen nationwide during the Persian New Year, or Nowruz. The two-week holiday last month brought increased travel, relaxed restrictions and large gatherings without precautions.

After COVID-19 cases broke record after record earlier this month, the Health Ministry reported 21,644 infections on Sunday, bringing the total count over 2.2 million. Hospitals are rapidly filling across the country, particularly in the capital. Authorities reported 130 deaths in Tehran alone, according to Mohsen Hashemi, head of the Tehran municipal council. The single-day death toll nationwide reached a peak of over 480 last November.

The coronavirus pandemic has hammered Iran for months, but the government has signaled that it cannot sustain the punishing lockdowns seen in the US and Europe without risking economic catastrophe, especially for the nation’s poorest. Its ailing economy has struggled under harsh US sanctions, reimposed when former president Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 landmark nuclear deal that granted the country sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Still, Iran has restricted business operations in more than 250 cities for a period of 10 days, shuttering restaurants, beauty salons, malls and bookstores, confectionaries, and public parks.

The country’s inoculation rollout has gotten off to a slow start, with Iran producing and promoting a range of domestically made vaccines and warning against the import of American-made ones amid deep-rooted suspicion of the West.

However, President Hassan Rouhani stressed the importance of importing foreign-made vaccines in a speech last week.

“We cannot wait for the domestic vaccine to reach mass production,” he said. “We need to expand vaccination this spring by importing vaccines in appropriate ways.”

Complex surgery at Rambam hospital saves life of 7-year-old Gaza boy

Doctors at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa performed a complex surgery that managed to save the life of a 7-year-old boy from Gaza, the hospital says in a press statement.

The boy, Madchat Tapash was born with a defect in his renal system that caused life-threatening kidney failure and an improperly functioning bladder, requiring a multidisciplinary team of specialists to repair the damage. Madchat had already undergone 15 surgeries and dozens of procedures during his short life.

“The operation consisted of three different surgeries conducted almost simultaneously, the hospital says, “in which the boy’s bladder was reconstructed, a kidney donated by his mother was removed from her body and implanted in his body, and, finally, Madchat’s new kidney was successfully connected to his reconstructed bladder.”

The recent operation lasted 11 hours.

“An operation of this magnitude required the participation and coordination of dozens of people, and multiple hospital departments. Without intensive advance preparation and great motivation to succeed, it would have been extremely difficult to carry out this extraordinary undertaking,” says pediatric surgery department director Ran Steinberg.

Right-wing party leaders said advancing proposal to hold direct election for premiership

A new initiative is being advanced by right-wing party leaders aimed at breaking the political logjam, blocking Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid’s path to the premiership and preventing a fifth consecutive election.

The proposal was raised by Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and brought to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend by Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, Channel 12 reports, adding that the Likud leader was convinced to back the idea.

It would see a special election held for Israelis to pick the next prime minister. There would not be another election for the Knesset, which was held last month.

Netanyahu is hoping that with Bennett’s support for the initiative, it will have a majority to pass as a law in the Knesset.

Netanyahu consistently polls as the candidate most qualified for the position of premier, even though his numbers are well below 50 percent.

The last time a direct election was held in Israel for the premiership was in 2001.

Bahrain national airline to begin direct flights to and from Israel in June

Bahrain’s national airline, Gulf Air, will begin offering direct flights between Manama and Tel Aviv on June 3.

Economy class tickets are expected to cost $299 per seat.

Deputy head of Iran’s Quds Force dies of heart attack, Tehran says

The deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Mohammad Hejazi, has passed away after suffering a heart attack, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announces in a statement.

Far-right MKs said planning to visit Damascus Gate, as tensions spiking in East Jerusalem

Extremist MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir from the Religious Zionism party are planning to visit Damascus Gate this evening, as tensions in East Jerusalem appear to be reaching a boiling point.

Recent days have seen police set up barricades outside the Old City gate in what they say is aimed at preventing crowding during the month of Ramadan, but has been blasted by locals as an insensitive show of force during the holy religious month. The policy has led to consecutive nights of clashes between police and Palestinian residents.

In addition, uproar has grown among the Israeli right over what appears to be a trend on social media in which Arab Israelis film themselves assaulting religious Jews.

Five rockets target Iraq base hosting Americans — security source

Five rockets targeted an Iraqi airbase hosting US soldiers, and at least two projectiles hit the facilities of an American firm that provides maintenance to planes, a security source says.

The rockets targeted Balad airbase north of Balad, and two crashed into a dormitory and a canteen of US company Sallyport, the source tells AFP.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the United States routinely blames Iran-linked Iraqi factions for such attacks on its troops and diplomats.

It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

F-16 aircraft are stationed at the Balad airbase north of Baghdad, and several maintenance companies are present there, employing Iraqi and foreign staff.

There have been around 20 bomb or rocket attacks against American interests, including bases hosting US soldiers, since US President Joe Biden took office in January.

Israel Katz said to tell confidants he should lead Likud if Netanyahu fails to form gov’t

Finance Minister Israel Katz told confidants recently that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form a government, he should take over as chairman of the Likud party, Kan reports.

Turkey reports record daily number of COVID-19 deaths

Turkey reports its highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Health Ministry data.

The 318 deaths confirmed in 24 hours took the country’s total pandemic death toll to 35,926. The Health Ministry also reported 55,802 new confirmed cases, pushing Turkey’s total closer to 4.3 million.

Weekly data also released show the northwest province of Canakkale with Turkey’s highest infection rate at 962.98 cases per 100,000 people.

Turkey has seen rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths since the government eased virus-control restrictions at the beginning start of March, when daily confirmed cases averaged below 10,000. The government has blamed the rising numbers on coronavirus variants.

A partial closure was re-introduced on April 13, including an extended evening curfew on weekdays, a return to online education and a ban on unnecessary intercity travel.

Earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had re-imposed weekend lockdowns and ordered restaurants and cafes shut during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Erdogan said Saturday that Turkey, which has a population of nearly 84 million, had administered 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Three left-wing party leaders address J Street on first day of dovish lobby’s conference

Labor head Merav Michaeli, Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz, and Joint List head Ayman Odeh have just addressed the opening plenary session of J Street’s annual conference, which is being held virtually this year due to the pandemic.

Each of the party leaders expressed their support, to varying degrees, for Israel to return to negotiations with the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution. However, they all recognized that the current political dynamics will make such a reality very difficult to achieve.

 

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