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Netanyahu said demanding to alter deal with Gantz to keep coalition intact

Amid political crisis that could lead to new elections, TV report says standoff over budget is secondary to PM’s conditions for continuing the Likud-Blue and White partnership

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-L) and his coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C-R) arrive for a graduation ceremony for new pilots at the Hatzerim air force base in southern Israel on June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-L) and his coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C-R) arrive for a graduation ceremony for new pilots at the Hatzerim air force base in southern Israel on June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/Pool/AFP)

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

Interministerial committee on future of heavy industry in Haifa to be set up

An interministerial committee of directors-general is to be set up to discuss the future of the Haifa Bay and its heavy, polluting industry, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree, pending government approval.

The committee, to be headed by Prime Minister’s Office chief Ronen Peretz, will be instructed to submit its conclusions within 90 days. Its focus will be on the petrochemical factories.

“The disaster in Lebanon proves that there is no place for heavy industry in the heart of a metropolitan area,” Gamliel says.

Avi Simhon, head of the National Economic Council, which advises the prime minister, said in June that the Bazan oil refineries that have long polluted the coastal city of Haifa, and largely defined its skyline, must be shut down within five years and replaced with a modern, green high-tech and residential hub.

— Sue Surkes

Netanyahu warns Gaza terror groups will pay ‘heavy price’ for arson balloons

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a warning to Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip amid a rise in incendiary balloon launches toward Israel and suggests Iran is linked to the arson attacks.

“I want to tell all the satellites of Iran, especially in Gaza, there will be a heavy price for the balloon terror. We won’t stand for this,” he says during a visit to the Hatzor air force base.

Energy Ministry seeks to scrap building of some new gas-fired power stations

The Energy Ministry asks the National Planning Council to slash its plans for new gas-fired power stations by more than half.

The stations the ministry is asking to strike from the planners’ list are Mevo’ot Gilboa (Gilboa Foothills) south of the northern city of Afula, Sagi 2000, west of Afula, Zvaim near Beit She’an in the northern Jordan Valley, and Hartuv in the Beit Shemesh area, northwest of Jerusalem.

The combined capacity of those four stations is 4,860 MW.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz says these can be taken off the agenda because Israel is now in a position to increase its targets for renewable energy, mainly with solar power.

With updated plans to add more than 12,000 MW of capacity from renewables to the energy system — plus 2,200 MW of storage — by 2030, the planners need to ensure that 4,000 MW can potentially be made available, with the aim that only 1,400 MW will actually need to be used.

In June, Steinitz increased targets for the percentage of electricity from renewable sources from 17 percent to 30% by the end of the decade, with the remaining 70% to come from natural gas.

— Sue Surkes

Gantz to undergo operation on his back later Tuesday

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will undergo orthopedic back surgery this evening at Sheba Medical Center, his office says.

“This is an injury the defense minister has been dragging around for many years since the time of his military service as a paratrooper commander, and in recent months the situation has worsened,” a statement from his office says.

Rivlin says new elections would be an ‘unforgivable blow’ to Israel

President Reuven Rivlin comes out strongly against the possibility of new elections amid a standoff over the state budget that could send Israelis to the polls for the fourth time since April 2019.

“I won’t restate the warnings which you know well. I will just say this, as a citizen of this country – it is not possible. It cannot be that we continue to deal with this as if it were a logical possibility while we are counting our dead,” a statement from Rivlin’s office quotes him as saying at a meeting with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, apparently referring to those who have died from COVID-19.

The president adds: “If you take us there, you the elected officials of whatever party, if you take us to that dreadful nadir, you will bring down on this country a hard, painful and unforgivable blow. Guard against it, guard well against it.”

Rivlin makes the remarks at a meeting with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, during which they announce a new charter to protect freedom of press and the safety of journalists.

“As part of the pointed public debate, we also see a discourse that is defamatory and violent, a poisonous atmosphere that has reached cases, severe cases, of attacks on journalists,” Rivlin says. “This is not an issue of right or left, of one political camp or another. The silencing, defamation, score-settling or, on the other hand, the exploitation of the power of the media to create an environment that does not allow discussion, and giving space to one-sided and views that lack diversity – these are grave acts.”

Blue and White to sit out vote on bill barring Netanyahu from forming government

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party says it won’t take part in a plenum vote tomorrow on an opposition bill that would prevent a Knesset member under indictment from forming a government, which would bar Prime Minister Netanyahu from assembling a coalition.

“Our principled stance on the matter hasn’t changed and won’t change, but at this time, this is only an effort to undermine the stability of the entire political system,” Blue and White says in a statement.

Blue and White voiced support for the legislative proposal before agreeing to form a government with Netanyahu after inconclusive elections in March, the third in over a year. Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud party are now at odds over the passage of a state budget and face an August 25 deadline to pass one or new elections will be called.

“In the middle of one of the gravest crises in the country’s history, we’re choosing to do everything to prevent elections that will bring an economic disaster on the economy and rip Israeli society to shreds,” Gantz’s party says.

It also reiterates its call for the government to pass a budget through 2021, as agreed with Likud as part of the coalition deal between the parties.

Netanyahu on the other hand again called for a budget that only covers the rest of the year, which he says is needed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A failure to pass a budget or the approval of a short-term one could allow Netanyahu to go to new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz as part of their power-sharing agreement, leading to speculation he was forcing the budget crisis as a political stratagem.

Egypt opens border crossing with Gaza for first time in months

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Egypt reopens Gaza’s main passenger crossing point for the first time in months for thousands of Palestinians who have been stranded on both sides of the border due to the coronavirus crisis.

Gaza residents holding Egyptian passports, foreign passports and patients seeking treatment abroad were to leave through the Rafah crossing point during its three-day opening, the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza says. Some 500 people are scheduled to exit today, the first time the crossing has allowed departures since March.

Palestinians stranded in Egypt and abroad will be allowed to return home, the ministry adds. Traffic for arrivals had been shut since May.

Gaza appears to have managed to keep the pandemic in check — in part because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that severely restricts movement in and out of the territory. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Islamic terror group Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Gaza has reported 81 cases of the coronavirus, but all of the cases were people who were in mandatory quarantine centers set up by Hamas for anyone returning to the territory. There have been no reported cases of community transmission inside Gaza.

To prepare for thousands of Palestinians expected to return via Rafah, Hamas has opened more isolation facilities across the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since 2007. Earlier today, Israel closed its only commercial crossing point with Gaza in response to explosives-laden balloons being launched by Palestinians into Israel. The balloons started dozens of fires in Israeli farmland near Gaza.

Israel said the Kerem Shalom crossing will be closed until further notice, but the passage of fuel, food and humanitarian goods is not affected.

— Agencies

Hamas security officers check the list of the passengers while waiting at the gate to cross the border to the Egyptian side of Rafah crossing, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, August 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Edelstein says Israel to hold talks with Russia on its vaccine

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says Israel has scheduled talks with Russia on the coronavirus vaccine that Moscow approved for use earlier today, despite concerns about its safety.

“If we’re convinced that this is a serious product then we’ll also try to enter negotiations,” Edelstein says while touring a factory that makes N95 masks in Sderot.

Edelstein notes Israel has inked supply deals with US-based Moderna and Arcturus Therapeutics for the vaccines they’re working on and is closely monitoring reports on the development of an inoculation.

Israel announced last week that it would begin human trials in mid-October on a vaccine developed by the Defense Ministry’s secretive Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona.

WHO wants to review Russian vaccine safety data

GENEVA — The World Health Organization says any WHO stamp of approval on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate would require a rigorous safety data review, after Russia announced it had approved a vaccine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia had become the first country to approve a vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the new coronavirus.

“We are in close contact with the Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO pre-qualification of the vaccine,” the United Nations health agency’s spokesman Tarik Jasarevic tells reporters in Geneva at an online press briefing.

“Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data,” Jasarevic says.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has been developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with the country’s defense ministry.

A total of 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, according to the latest WHO overview produced on July 31.

Of those, 139 are still in pre-clinical evaluation, while the other 26 are in the various phases of being tested on humans, of which six are the furthest ahead, having reached Phase 3 of clinical evaluation.

The Gamaleya candidate being produced in Russia, which is among the 26 being tested on humans, is listed as being in Phase 1.


PM’s economic adviser calls for gas royalties to be invested in domestic infrastructure

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s economic advisor, Prof. Avi Simhon, tells a Knesset committee that funds from Israel’s natural gas bonanza that are supposed to be invested overseas via an interest-bearing sovereign wealth fund should instead be ploughed into infrastructure development in Israel — a move that would require a change in the law.

Rebutting claims from MKs that this would tempt the Knesset to misuse the funds, Simhon, head of the National Economic Council, says he trusts MKs to direct the money to the right place.

Simhon says he has always disagreed with his NEC predecessor, Prof. Eugene Kandel, about investing the funds abroad so as not to flood the Israeli economy with dollars. Now, with gas prices down, and predictions that only NIS 40 billion ($11.76 billion) will be in the wealth fund by 2030, the time is right to change direction and amend the law, Simhon says.

In late July, the Israel Tax Authority told the committee — set up to supervise the establishment of the sovereign wealth fund — that it expected payments from all the companies producing gas, oil and a range of other natural resources to reach NIS 200 billion ($59 billion) only by 2064, with between just $12 and $13.4 billion to be collected by 2030.

— Sue Surkes

Virus czar: Businesses that violate limits on gatherings will be shuttered

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu warns that businesses will be shuttered if they don’t enforce restrictions on gatherings meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“A business that exceeds the limit on gatherings is a business that will be closed,” he says during a briefing.

Gamzu also warns continued violations of the caps on gatherings could lead to a renewed lockdown. He stresses, however, that he is trying to avoid such a measure.

“A lockdown is another half a million unemployed,” Gamzu says.

He also expresses concern over declining testing levels and implores the public to get tested, warning of a “hidden morbidity.”

Gaza fire balloons have sparked at least 20 blazes on Tuesday

Balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip have sparked at least 20 fires in southern Israel today, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israel overtakes China in reported coronavirus cases

Israel now has more reported coronavirus cases than China, where the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a Worldometer tally.

There have been 85,354 cases in Israel since the start of the pandemic, versus 84,712 in China.

Though it has reported more infections, Israel lags well behind China in deaths, with 619 compared to the 4,634 that Beijing has confirmed.

US casts doubt on safety of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine

TAIPAI, Taiwan — US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says it’s more important to have a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus than to be the first to produce a vaccine.

Azar, on a visit to Taiwan, is asked by ABC what he thinks of Russia’s announcement that it had become the first country to register a vaccine against the virus.

He says, “The point is not to be first with a vaccine. The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective for the American people and the people of the world.”

He says it’s important to have transparent data on the vaccine to prove its safety and efficacy. He also notes that the US has six vaccines in development under the Operation Warp Speed initiative.

The US has the highest death and case count in the world, with more than 163,000 deaths and over 5 million cases.

Meanwhile, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway expresses skepticism about the testing backing up Russia’s claim that it has developed a COVID-19 vaccine.

“The US standards are so much more stringent,” Conway says on Fox “Fox & Friends.”

“Our FDA in our country sets the standards and what I understand from the Russia announcement is this is nowhere near where we are.”

— AP

Public pool in Jerusalem hangs sign saying lifeguard on duty isn’t Jewish

A public swimming pool run by the Jerusalem Municipality hung a sign last week saying the lifeguard on duty that day wasn’t Jewish, the Haaretz daily reports.

The sign at the Zipori pool replaced an earlier one that said “today there is a lifeguard (goy) not a [female] lifeguard,” according to the newspaper.

The pool responds that there are a lot of religious and ultra-Orthodox Jewish women who swim there for whom the religion of the lifeguard is important.

Sami Amsalem, manager of the pool, says he was unaware of the sign and ordered its removal when he learned about it.

Israeli troops said to fire toward Palestinians in Gaza; IDF denies reports

The Israel Defense Forces denies Palestinian media reports that Israeli soldiers fired toward a group of young Palestinian men in al-Bureij camp in the central Gaza Strip.

The alleged incident, originally reported by Hamas-linked Safa News, comes amid a rise in tensions between Israel and Gaza in recent days. Dozens of balloons have launched from Gaza and Israel has responded by striking Hamas positions and closing the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing.

— Aaron Boxerman

Hamas warns Israel of ‘consequences and repercussions’ over border crossing closure

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoun calls the closure of Gaza’s only commercial crossing with Israel an aggressive action and a crime for which the Jewish state “bears all consequences and repercussions.”

Barhoum appears to threaten consequences for the closure of Kerem Shalom, which Israel closed after waves of balloons were launched toward Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip in recent days.

“It is the right of our people in Gaza to express a state of anger and to make their voice heard again to the world that has not moved a finger about the continuation of this suffering,” Barhoum says.

Barhoum says the “use of tools and forms of struggle to express a state of anger” is a natural result of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

— Aaron Boxerman

Netanyahu claims AG not taking alleged threats against him seriously

Prime Minister Netanyahu says he has sent a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit accusing him of ignoring alleged threats against the premier and his family.

“Your futility in light of the calls to murder me and my family and the rape threats against my wife is nothing less than scandalously allowing the spilling of our blood,” Netanyahu writes in the letter, according to a statement.

He also claims: “We’ve seen the lighting speed in which you deal with every complaint of supposed harm, even the most minimal, to your associates or people in your office.”

Netanyahu has recently inveighed against an alleged rise in threats against him on social media, some of which later turned out to have been posted by fake Facebook accounts. His complaints have coincided with ongoing protests against him due to his indictment on corruption charges and handling of the coronavirus pandemic. There have also been threats and even violence against anti-Netanyahu protesters, only some of which the premier has condemned.

Netanyahu and his allies have also frequently lashed out at Mandelblit, who was the prime minster’s choice for attorney general, for having indicted him in a series of graft cases.

US says blast hit Iraq convoy, calls claim of border attack false

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An explosion targeted a US-led coalition convoy in Iraq today and caused no casualties, just hours after a newly formed Shiite militant group falsely claimed bombing a similar convoy at the Iraq-Kuwait border, the American military says.

The little-known Ashab al-Kahf group claimed in an overnight statement it destroyed “equipment and vehicles belonging to the American enemy” in a bombing targeting a border crossing south of the Iraqi city of Basra.

The group later published an 11-second video it claimed showed the blast, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant groups. The out-of-focus video shows what appeared to be an explosion and lights in the distance but The Associated Press could not verify the video.

The Iraqi and Kuwait militaries both denied any attack occurred. US Army Col. Myles B. Caggins III similarly dismisses the claim.

“It’s absolutely false,” Caggins tells the AP. “It was a complete fabrication.”

— AP

Lebanese blogger calls Israel a ‘cancer’ after ToI article on her criticism of Nasrallah

A Lebanese blogger calls Israel a “cancer” after The Times of Israel published an article on a video she made criticizing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah as worse for Lebanon than Israel following the deadly blast at the Beirut port.

“When we criticize nassrallah it is an interior Lebanese debate.But one thing is obvious we lebanese will be united around the resistant against any Israeli attack!” Dima Sadek writes on Twitter.

She adds: “Israel is a cancer and the Israeli apartheid system is a shame!”

Sadek’s criticism of Hezbollah in the wake of the August 4 blast at the Beirut port went viral amid demands by Lebanese for political change in the country.

Sadek, until last year an anchor on a popular political talk show before being let go for criticizing Hezbollah, on Friday took to Twitter, where she has over 621,000 followers, with the video lashing Hezbollah as worse than the enemy across the border.

The Friday video addressed the organization’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, after his speech denying claims that Hezbollah was responsible for the port explosion.

“I want to tell you one thing: if you can answer this question for the Lebanese people, then I swear, we will all bow down to you — I will bow down to you if you can answer this question,” she said in the clip. “What has Israel done against us that’s worse than you? Answer me.”

Sadek’s video had been viewed more than 715,000 times by Monday.

The video led to media interviews. One interview, published Monday in the Italian daily La Repubblica, was headlined, “Israel is an enemy, but Hezbollah has done worse.”

Netanyahu discusses Lebanon with Macron after deadly Beirut blast

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke today with French President Emmanuel Macron concerning last week’s massive blast at the Beirut port, his office says.

“The prime minister praised President Macron for his display of leadership on the matter of Lebanon and expressed Israel’s willingness to give humanitarian aid,” the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement.

During the call, Netanyahu called for the removal of Hezbollah missiles and explosive materials from populated areas to “prevent disasters of the type at the Beirut port,” according to the statement.

“The prime minister clarified that if Hezbollah thinks they can solve the crisis in Lebanon by creating a crisis with Israel, this is a big mistake,” the statement says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 5, 2018. (AFP/Ludovic Marin)

Ya’alon accuses Netanyahu of ‘incitement’ against AG

Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon accuses Prime Minister Netanyahu of “incitement” against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, after the premier sent a fiery letter to the AG accusing him of not taking threats against him and his family seriously.

“Your trick is transparent: You know the Shin Bet is responsible for your security and [if there’s] any slight suspicion that you’re threatened, all the necessary steps are taken. There is no one more protected than you in Israel,” Ya’alon tweets.

Ya’alon, a former Likud defense minister, tells Netanyahu to “leave the attorney general alone [and] stop playing the victim,” while calling on him to resign due to the prime minister’s indictment on graft charges.

Gaza balloons spark some 60 blazes in south since the morning

Balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip have sparked some 60 fires in southern Israel, according to Hebrew media estimates.

The Kan public broadcaster airs footage of a laser system to intercept the balloons that was deployed near the Gaza border.

Death toll in Beirut blast rises to 171

BEIRUT — The death toll from Beirut’s massive August 4 explosion has climbed to 171, a Lebanon health ministry spokesman tells AFP.

The new figure, up from 160, comes exactly one week since the mega-blast ravaged swathes of the Lebanese capital, wounding more than 6,000 and temporarily displacing 300,000 people from their homes.


Police grill suspect for social media post against Sara Netanyahu

Police question a person behind a social media post against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, that “could amount to sexual harassment against the prime minister’s wife.”

A police statement says an investigation was opened several days ago after officers became aware of the post. The suspect was questioned today by investigators from the Lahav 433 national crime unit’s cyber division and released under restrictive conditions.

Police say their initial probe indicated the post was from 2019.

It’s not clear if the post in question was the same one highlighted by Prime Minister Netanyahu in a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit earlier today. The timestamp on a screenshot Netanyahu shared of the tweet said it was from 10 hours ago, but it’s not clear when the screen capture was taken.

AG to Netanyahu: ‘No basis for your claims’ that I don’t take threats against you seriously

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit responds to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim that he’s not taking threats against the premier and his family seriously.

Mandelblit writes in a letter to Netanyahu that 29 investigations have been opened in recent months for alleged threats and incitement to violence against the premier and his family. He says all law enforcement and legal officials take any threats against Netanyahu and his family seriously.

“Therefore, there is no basis for your claims as if someone is belittling the complaints in relation to you or any of your family members,” Mandelblit says.

“Public leaders also have a central role and responsibility in calming the winds,” he adds in apparent criticism on Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said demanding coalition deal be changed for government not to dissolve

With a standoff over the state budget threatening to send Israel to new elections, Channel 12 news reports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding Defense Minister Benny Gantz agree to changes to the coalition deal as a condition for not dissolving the government.

According to the report, Netanyahu is demanding that elections automatically be called if the High Court of Justice strikes down parts of the coalition deal after he hands over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. He is also reportedly demanding that a committee for appointing senior legal officials be cancelled.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White are holding negotiations on the matter, the report says.

The network’s Daphna Liel describes the disagreement over whether to pass a budget through 2021, as the coalition deal stipulates, or one that only covers the rest of 2020, as Netanyahu is demanding, as secondary to the premier’s efforts to change his agreement with Gantz in the current political crisis.

1,766 new coronavirus cases recorded over past 24 hours

New Health Ministry figures show 1,766 new coronavirus cases were recorded over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 86,147.

The ministry reports three more deaths since this morning, raising the national toll to 622.

Of the 25,468 active cases, 375 people are in serious condition, with 110 on ventilators. Another 170 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

The Health Ministry says 23,982 tests were performed yesterday.

NY Holocaust museum plans to reopen in September

NEW YORK — New York’s Holocaust museum is planning to reopen in September.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust says that pending approval from the city and state, it would open with limited capacity. The museum will be open three rather than five days a week, with only a quarter of its previous visitor capacity and additional cleaning protocols.

New York’s museums have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic and have still not been given the green light to reopen by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The museum also says it would be extending its popular exhibit about Auschwitz through May 2021. The world’s largest-ever traveling exhibition about the Nazi death camp has more than 700 original items from Auschwitz and 400 photographs.

“First and foremost is the safety of our visitors and our employees,” the museum’s president and CEO, Jack Kliger, says in a statement. “As people venture out again seeking educational experiences in safe public places, museums such as ours are uniquely qualified to welcome them back.”


Blue and White’s Michael Biton to fill in as defense minister when Gantz has surgery

Blue and White Minister Michael Biton will fill in for Defense Minister Benny Gantz when he undergoes back surgery later this evening, the latter’s office says.

Mossad chief said to ask Qataris to keep sending money to Gaza

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen has spoken with officials in Qatar to ensure the Gulf emirate continues to send funds to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The report comes amid a sharp rise in the launching of balloon-borne incendiary devices from Gaza toward Israel, which some have linked to delays in the transfer of the Qatari aid.

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