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Ending election threat, for now, Knesset passes law extending budget deadline

Netanyahu and Gantz cast votes alongside one other in Knesset plenum after their parties agree to support 120 day postponement preventing government from dissolving at midnight

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

Pompeo: We’ll honor Israel’s military edge, but are reviewing arms sales to UAE

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he hopes other Arab countries will also establish diplomatic relations with Israel as he kicks off a Mideast tour on Monday to press the momentum of the Trump administration’s Arab-Israeli peace push.

Pompeo speaks at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, the first stop on a multi-country tour of the region following the August 13 announcement of the historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, brokered by Washington, to establish diplomatic ties.

“I am hopeful that we will see other Arab nations join in this,” Pompeo says. “The opportunity for them to work alongside, to recognize the State of Israel and to work alongside them will not only increase Middle East stability, but it will improve the lives for the people of their own countries as well.”

On the UAE normalization deal, Pompeo says: “This is a really good step.”

He also addresses concerns in Israel that the UAE could receive advanced weaponry from Washington, including F-35, which could compromise Israel’s military advantage in the Middle East.

“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to [Israel’s] qualitative military edge we will continue to honor. But we have a 20-plus year security relationship with the United Arab Emirates as well,” Pompeo says.

He says the US will “review that process” to see that “we’re delivering them with the equipment that they need to secure and defend their own people from this same threat [Iran].”

“I’m confident that both of these objectives can be achieved,” he says of Israel’s edge and military sales to the UAE.

Netanyahu says he has “no doubt” the US will uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

“There are two great things that have happened since our last meeting,” Netanyahu says, referring to the snapback sanctions against Iran and the UAE normalization deal.

“The Iran deal failed, just as we predicted,” says Netanyahu.

With AP

AG orders police minister to enforce new prostitution law

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is ordering Public Security Minister Amir Ohana to sign an order to enforce a new law criminalizing the procuring of prostitution services, Channel 12 reports.

The law officially went into effect in July, but Ohana — whose office oversees police — has refused to sign an enforcement order, citing the lack of rehabilitation and welfare services for prostitutes.

The Justice Ministry warns him, however, of “significant legal difficulties” in his refusal.

Canada demands answers from Iran after Ukraine jet downing report

Canada says it is demanding answers from Iran over the mistaken downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet after Tehran’s “limited” initial report failed to explain why it fired missiles at the plane.

Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s main airport on January 8.

Iran admitted days later that its forces had accidentally shot down the Kiev-bound Boeing 737-800, killing all 176 people on board, including 55 Canadians.

The Canadian government said Sunday it had received a copy of the Iranian report on the cockpit voice recorders.

“This preliminary report only provides limited and selected information regarding this tragic event,” Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Transport Minister Marc Garneau say in a statement.

“The report only mentions what transpired after the first missile strike but not the second and only confirms information that we already know.”

“We expect the Islamic Republic of Iran to provide an answer on important questions of why the missiles were launched in the first place and why the air space was open,” they add.

“These are the questions that Canada, Canadians and most importantly, the families of the innocent victims need answered.”

Iranian officials on Sunday said the cockpit voice recorder showed the pilots were still alive after the first of two missiles hit the plane. Iran, which has no means of decoding the black boxes, sent them to France for analysis in mid-July, nearly six months after the disaster.

AFP

Austria to expel Russian diplomat accused of spying

Vienna will expel a Russian diplomat, Austria’s foreign ministry says, amid media reports that the unnamed official had been involved in economic espionage for years.

“We can confirm that a Russian diplomat will be expelled,” the ministry says in a statement to AFP, adding his behavior had violated diplomatic relations.

The ministry declines to give further details.

The Kronen Zeitung tabloid said the diplomat had been given until September 1 to leave the country, adding he had spied with the help of an Austrian citizen at a high-tech enterprise for years.

The Russian Embassy in Vienna slams the expulsion order.

“We are outraged by the authorities’ unfounded decision, which is detrimental to constructive relations. We are sure that a corresponding response from Moscow will not be long in coming,” it says in a tweet.

AFP

Britain’s top diplomat heads to Israel to push talks with Palestinians

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will visit Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday for meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian officials in a trip meant to express London’s opposition to any future Israeli annexation in the West Bank.

He will “press for renewed dialogue” between the sides, according to a statement by the British embassy in Israel.

He is slated to meet in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Liberman: Netanyahu ‘caved,’ Gantz ‘will disappear’ in next election

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman attacks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz after the coalition leaders agree to postpone the passage of a state budget by 100 days, in a move that averted elections.

“The only thing that preoccupies Netanyahu is the appointment of the police commissioner, state attorney and attorney general,” fumes opposition figure Liberman, referring to demands by Netanyahu to Gantz on judicial appointments.

“Netanyahu didn’t want a budget but he was forced to cave to an ultimatum and agreed to delay the budget, while creating a separate fund of NIS 11 billion [$3.23 billion] of which most will be wasted, based on electoral interests and coalition pressures,” he says.

On Gantz, Liberman says he clung to “his chair because he understands that when elections are held, he’ll disappear.”

Virus czar, health and education ministers: Schools will open on September 1

Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu have agreed that schools will open on September 1, a statement from the Education Ministry says.

But officials are looking into the possibility of delaying the openings of high schools in so-called “red” cities with high infection rates until October, after the Jewish holidays, it adds. That decision would affect 10th-12th graders, it says.

Likud official: Elections still a possibility, it could all ‘blow up’

A Likud official tells Channel 12 news the coalition crisis is not yet over.

“The elections are not yet averted. Everything could still blow up,” the unnamed official says.

The comments come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday agreed to postpone the deadline of the state budget, which was set to expire tonight, likely lifting the threat of a new national vote — the fourth since April 2019.

 

Global coronavirus death toll hits 809,255

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 809,255 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Monday.

At least 23,463,870 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 14,867,200 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only those who display symptoms, or the most serious cases.

On Sunday 4,001 new deaths and 213,866 new cases were recorded worldwide. Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were India with 836 fatalities, followed by Brazil with 494 and the United States at 433.

The United States is the worst-hit country with 176,809 deaths from 5,704,447 cases. At least 1,997,761 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 114,744 deaths from 3,605,789 cases, Mexico with 60,480 deaths from 560,164 cases, India with 57,542 deaths from 3,106,348 cases, and the United Kingdom with 41,429 deaths from 325,642 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 86 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Peru with 84, Spain with 62, the United Kingdom with 61, and Italy with 59.

China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 84,967 cases (16 new since Sunday), including 4,634 deaths (0 new) and 79,925 recoveries.

Latin America and the Caribbean overall have 259,130 deaths from 6,727,909 cases, Europe 212,958 from 3,721,813 infections, the United States and Canada 185,917 from 5,829,268 cases, Asia 88,419 from 4,555,848 cases, the Middle East 34,497 from 1,411,544 cases, Africa 27,781 from 1,189,999 cases, and Oceania 553 dead from 27,495 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.

AFP

US doctor who said she’d give Jews the wrong medicines loses medical certificate

The State Medical Board of Ohio permanently revokes the medical training certificate of a doctor who was fired from two residency programs after old anti-Semitic tweets surfaced — including one in which she threatened to give Jews the wrong medications.

Lara Kollab is permanently prohibited from practicing osteopathic medicine or surgery in Ohio, Cleveland.com reports. She surrendered her certificate prior to its revocation August 12, according to the report, and cannot participate in another medical training program in the state.

Kollab wrote scores of anti-Semitic social media posts between 2011 to 2013 but deleted them after being accepted by the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York, which calls itself “the largest private university in the US with Jewish roots.” In an apology after her tweets drew public attention, Kollab said she had written them because she had “difficulty constructively expressing my intense feelings about what I witnessed in my ancestral land,” following visits to Israel and the West Bank.

She was fired from a residency at the Cleveland Clinic after three months there in 2018, and was expelled from a second residency program at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California, several months later.

JTA

At least 10 fires sparked in south by airborne incendiary devices from Gaza

At least 10 fires were sparked in southern Israel by airborne arson attacks from the Gaza Strip, the fire department says.

According to Fire and Rescue Services, the 10 fires have all been brought under control by firefighters, soldiers, volunteers, teams from the Jewish National Fund, security coordinators for local communities and — in some cases — firefighting aircraft from the Israeli Air Force.

“Most of the fires were small and did not present a threat [to nearby communities],” the fire department says.

Fire inspectors investigated the 10 blazes that occurred in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions adjacent to the Gaza Strip and determined that they were caused by balloon-borne incendiary devices, according to Fire and Rescue Services.

Judah Ari Gross

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards says it killed 3 ‘US-linked infiltrators’

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards says that its forces killed three gunmen with links to the United States who tried to infiltrate its territory in the country’s far northwest.

“Last night, a counter-revolutionary terrorist group… got caught up in an intelligence web of (Guards) fighters in the Maku public area,” the Guards’ Sepahnews website reports.

The Guards says the armed group was “affiliated with the global arrogance,” a term the Islamic Republic uses for its arch enemy the United States.

They say the group had “intended to penetrate deep into our country” but adds that all three were killed during clashes.

“Significant quantities of weapons, equipment, ammunition and communication systems were seized,” the website says.

The Maku area is a sliver of land in West Azerbaijan province located less than 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Iran’s far northwestern border with Turkey. Iran’s west and northwest areas have seen sporadic clashes between its forces and Kurdish rebels in past years. On May 29, three Iranian border guards were killed in one such clash with “armed insurgents” in West Azerbaijan province.

AFP

Gantz, Ashkenazi meet with Pompeo on Iran and UAE deal

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the threat from Iran and its nuclear program, as well as the recently announced plan to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“We will continue to lead, in tandem with the United States, an uncompromising line toward Iran, which is continuing to develop nuclear weapons and arm militias across the Middle East,” Gantz says following the meeting.

The defense minister also refers to plans by the US to sell the F-35 fighter jet and other advanced weaponry to the UAE, which is widely seen as a potential threat to Israel’s military advantage in the region.

“We will work alongside the United States to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, which is a critical precondition both for regional stability and Israel’s security in the face of the challenges inherent to the Middle East,” Gantz says.

Judah Ari Gross

After ministers speak, Israel and UAE agree on health cooperation

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks to his UAE counterpart, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Owais and agree on “initial and immediate cooperation between Israel and the UAE regarding health,” the two say in an official joint statement.

The statement says: “The conversation was held in good spirits with the goal of advancing cooperation between the countries.

“The ministers agreed that the conversation was ‘excellent for both countries,’ and agreed to appoint a representative responsible for relations between the two countries, specifically regarding the fight against COVID-19. In addition, the countries will set up delegations of businesspeople from both countries in order to begin joint business ventures,” says the statement.

“With the decline of COVID-19, the countries will also work to create a student exchange program,” it adds.

Edelstein, in the statement, says: “Peace with the United Arab Emirates gives an excellent opportunity to the citizens of Israel and the UAE for close relations that will be fruitful for both sides. The Emirati Health Minister is a true partner of Israel. Israel has a friend in the Emirates!”

Palestinians record another 553 virus cases; 20% of tests returning positive

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry announces 553 new cases of the novel coronavirus among Palestinians today.

Around 9,220 Palestinians are currently infected with the virus, according to the PA. But the numbers indicate that the actual community spread could be much higher.

According to publicly available data provided by the PA, around 20% of coronavirus tests in the past week have come back positive. By comparison, Israel has seen a national average of around 7%. It was not clear whether or not the PA Health Ministry was including East Jerusalem in that count, as most testing in East Jerusalem goes through Israeli health providers. If not, the percentage of positive tests could be much higher.

Gaza has seen a slight increase in cases since the return of over 1,800 Gazans through the Rafah crossing with Egypt in early August. The coastal enclave has so far managed to avoid a mass outbreak, as all new arrivals are obligated to remain in quarantine centers for at least 21 days to prevent community spread of the virus. Of those in quarantine, around 33 were found to have been infected with the novel coronavirus, raising the total number of cases in Gaza to 36.

According to the PA, 25,577 Palestinians have been infected with the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic; 147 have died.

Aaron Boxerman

Germany: ‘Fairly likely’ Russia opposition leader was poisoned

The German government says it is “fairly likely” that leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is being treated in a Berlin hospital, was poisoned.

The 44-year-old was brought to the German capital on Saturday from Siberia, where he went into a coma after falling ill on a flight with what Russian doctors have blamed on a metabolic disorder.

“We are dealing with a patient who it is fairly likely was poisoned,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert tells reporters.

The Kremlin critic and anti-corruption campaigner, Russia’s best-known opposition figure, was rushed into intensive care on Thursday after his plane made an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk.

His supporters have said they believe Navalny was poisoned with something in his cup of tea at the airport, pointing the finger of blame at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

AFP

Likud: Blue and White piling on demands, dragging Israel to elections

Likud continues to lash out at coalition partner Blue and White, accusing Benny Gantz’s party of seeking elections.

“Blue and White is running away from [Derech Eretz MK] Hauser’s compromise, which they agreed to, and are dragging the country to elections, with false claims and by creating difficulties at the last minute,” an official from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party says, according to a Likud statement.

The compromise is a reference to a delay in the passage of the state budget, whose deadline expires tonight. If the approval of the delay passes its two Knesset readings, as expected, it will push off Monday night’s budget deadline by 120 days, postponing the possibility that Israelis will go to the polls for the fourth time since April 2019.

Among the various grievances listed in the statement, the Likud official says Blue and White is refusing to create a panel on political appointments with an equal number of lawmakers from both parties. The official also claims Gantz’s party is trying to “define the budget as a two-year budget” rather than a one-year plan, which Netanyahu has sought.

“While Gantz’s Blue and White agreed to the compromise, [Foreign Minister] Gabi Ashkenazi’s Blue and White is dragging the country to elections,” the official adds.

Sudan report: Pompeo visit will focus on Israel ties, terror blacklist

The Sudan News Agency reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s upcoming visit will focus on normalization with Israel and the removal of Sudan from Washington’s terror blacklist.

Pompeo will meet Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and Sudanese Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Hamdok, the report by the official government news agency says.

“The Sudan News Agency learned that the parties will discuss American support for Sudan’s democratic transition as well as the matter of relations with Israel,” it reports. “The talks are expected to discuss speeding up Sudan’s removal from the list of states which sponsor terrorism, along with American support for peace in Sudan.”

Pompeo’s visit is the first by a US secretary of state since 2004.

In tit-for-tat move, Russia expels Austrian diplomat

Moscow says it is expelling an Austrian diplomat in response to Vienna’s expulsion of a Russian reported to be involved in economic espionage.

“Based on the principle of reciprocity, a diplomat with the Austrian embassy in Russia has been declared persona non grata,” the foreign ministry says in a statement after summoning the Austrian ambassador in Moscow.

“The ambassador was presented with a firm protest in connection with the unfounded decision of the Austrian side,” the statement says.

Vienna earlier confirmed it was expelling a Russian diplomat after media reported he had spied with the help of an Austrian citizen at a high-tech enterprise for years.

AFP

Bank of Israel keeps interest rate steady at 0.1%

The Bank of Israel has decided to keep the interest rate unchanged from 0.1%, despite the financial crisis brought on by the pandemic.

In the decision, the Bank of Israel also lays out two scenarios for the recovery of the economy after GDP in the second quarter of 2020 contracted by 11% compared to forecasts.

“The Research Department’s staff forecast describes 2 possible scenarios. In the relatively optimistic scenario, in which control of the spread of the virus is maintained, GDP is expected to contract by 4.5 percent in 2020 and to grow by 6 percent in 2021. In the more severe scenario, in which there is only partial control of the pandemic, accompanied by a further deterioration in the global situation, negative growth of 7 percent is expected in 2020 and growth of only 3 percent in 2021.

“The debt to GDP ratio in 2021 is expected to be 78 percent in the optimistic scenario and 87 percent under the pessimistic scenario,” it says.

Blue and White challenges Netanyahu: Make good on vow, delay budget

Hitting back at Likud, Blue and White is challenging Netanyahu to keep true to his promise and delay the budget by 100 days, averting national elections.

The back and forth comes as the clock ticks on passing the postponement in the Knesset before midnight — when the original deadline expires and the government automatically dissolves. Netanyahu on Sunday says he backs the delay.

“Netanyahu has a few hours to make good on his promise to the nation from last night and prevent elections in Israel,” the party says. “He has a few hours to show whether he keeps his promise to the public to uphold a unity government that will deal with the coronavirus and security, or whether he’ll throw it all away for the benefit of his personal and legal considerations.”

“Blue and White has clarified more than once: All the issues are resolvable so long as the agreements are kept as promised, which will prevent unnecessary elections for Israel,” it continues. “Any Likud attempts at the last minute regarding the appointment of a state prosecutor or attorney general will be met with a solid wall [of opposition].”

Likud is seeking changes to the appointments process and has been using the budget as leverage for this aim.

TV: Government’s draft of virus plan for High Holidays keeps synagogues open

Channel 12 reports that emerging government health regulations for the High Holidays will see synagogues kept open for worship, with restrictions.

The restrictions will be based on the size of the synagogue, the number of doors it has, and the rate of infection in the city. They mandate 4 square meters (43 square feet) of space for each worshiper, and cap the prayer gathering at a maximum of 1,000 attendees.

Both coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu and the ultra-Orthodox ministers — who have pushed to keep the synagogues open over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — are inclined to back the proposal, the report says.

COVID-19 treatment hope sparks US stocks rally

US stocks open the week like they closed last week: on a high note, amid news the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had authorized the use of a COVID-19 treatment.

About 30 minutes into the Monday trading session, the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.5 percent to 28,081.45.

The broad-based S&P 500 jumped 0.7% to 3,419.92, and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index increased 0.8% to 11,400.51, remaining buoyant after more than 30 record closes in 2020.

The quiet days of late August often produce big swings in share prices, but Wall Street got a boost after the FDA on Sunday issued an “emergency use authorization” allowing doctors to administer plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat new patients.

“Based on scientific evidence available, the FDA concluded this product may be effective in treating COVID-19 and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” the agency said in a statement.

AFP

German hospital: Testing indicates Russian dissident Navalny was poisoned

The German hospital treating Russian dissident Alexei Navalny says tests indicate that he was poisoned.

The Charité hospital says in a statement that the team of doctors who have been examining Navalny since he was admitted Saturday have found the presence of “cholinesterase inhibitors” in his system.

They say at the moment the specific substance is not yet known.

The hospital says “the patient is in an intensive care unit and is still in an induced coma. His health is serious but there is currently no acute danger to his life.”

AP

New York museums and gyms prepare to reopen

Museums across New York and gyms in some parts of the state outside of New York City can reopen starting Monday as coronavirus restrictions are cautiously eased.

Under guidelines announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, museums will face restrictions including timed ticketing and 25% occupancy. New York City museums that will open over the next few weeks include the Metropolitan Museum of Art on August 29 and the American Museum of Natural History on September 9.

Cuomo said gyms and fitness centers could open at 33% capacity starting Monday, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s gyms would stay closed until at least September 2.

Cultural institutions and gyms across the state have been closed since March when nonessential businesses were forced to shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. New York was the epicenter of the US’s outbreak during the spring but has so far succeeded in staving off a second wave of infections.

State health officials have reported an infection rate below 1% every day for more than two weeks.

AP

Gaza terror groups threaten clash with Israeli forces over fishing ban

A coalition of Gaza-based terror groups is threatening to clash with Israeli forces attempting to enforce a ban on fishing off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

The Joint Operations Room, a coalition of Gaza factions which includes many groups involved in launching hundreds of explosive devices into Israel in recent weeks, says that “we will not allow the enemy to behave horribly towards our people’s fishermen and aggress upon their livelihoods and rob them. We will defend them and work to protect them.”

Around 3,700 fishermen were registered in the Gaza Strip as of 2017, according to the human rights group B’Tselem.

Israel banned fishing off the coast of the Gaza Strip last week in an attempt to force the Hamas terror group to crack down on the explosive devices being launched into Israel from the coastal enclave.

At least one fisherman who attempted to break the ban was fired upon by Israeli forces, a security source confirmed to The Times of Israel. So far no injuries have been reported.

Aaron Boxerman

Defense minister threatens Hamas over balloon-borne attacks

Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatens to step up Israeli retaliations to ongoing balloon-based attacks from the Gaza Strip during a visit to an Iron Dome battery in southern Israel earlier today, his office says.

“The heads of Hamas need to know: When balloons explode on our side, the explosions on their side will be much more painful,” Gantz says.

The defense minister visited the Iron Dome battery with the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Air Defense Division, Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav.

“I am here at one of the air defense sites deployed in the south. Everyone is doing a great job protecting the southern communities and Israel’s air space. We are unwilling to accept any rockets, any explosive balloons or any defense violation. As long as it lasts – we will continue to act and continue to respond,” he says.

Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu’s lawyers to deputy AG: PM won’t intervene in judicial appointments

A Likud spokesperson, in a statement, doubles down on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that he won’t intervene in the appointment of a state prosecutor and attorney general.

Netanyahu told his lawyers, who met with Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, to convey this commitment, the statement says.

Blue and White has said Netanyahu — who is on trial for corruption — is seeking to intervene in the appointments.

Knesset begins debate on budget delay as coalition tensions simmer

The Knesset begins a debate in the plenum ahead of the final votes on a bill to delay the state budget’s passage by 100 days, a move that would avert elections.

The plenum debate starts hours before a midnight deadline to pass the budget extension, after which the government will automatically dissolve and new elections — the fourth since April 2019 — will be called.

Hebrew media reports say the government is seeking to vote on the bill before 11 p.m.

The debate opens on the backdrop of continued sniping between Likud and Blue and White and amid warnings by both coalition parties that the crisis could yet spiral.

Syria constitutional talks at UN called on account of COVID

Syrian constitutional talks at the United Nations were put on hold just hours after they began on Monday after three delegates tested positive for COVID-19, the UN says.

The office of UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen says it received confirmation that “three members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body tested positive for COVID-19” and the session in Geneva “is currently on hold.

AFP

Belarus cracks down on opposition leaders with detentions

Police in Belarus arrest protest and strike organizers as authorities crack down on opposition leaders after the latest unprecedented demonstration against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.

The detentions come as a top US diplomat meets with opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Lithuania and after tens of thousands took part in some of the largest protests in the country’s recent history for a second Sunday in a row.

Tikhanovskaya fled to neighboring Lithuania after August 9 polls that she claims to have won against Lukashenko. His insistence on his own landslide victory and police violence against demonstrators have sparked huge protests against his rule.

The opposition said two members of its Coordination Council were detained on Monday: Sergei Dylevsky, a tractor plant worker who has come to prominence as a strike leader and Olga Kovalkova, a member of Tikhanovskaya’s staff.

Allies of Tikhanovskaya formed the Coordination Council this month to oversee efforts for a peaceful transition of power.

AFP

TikTok confirms it’s suing over ban ordered by Trump

Video app TikTok says it has filed a lawsuit challenging the US government’s crackdown on the popular Chinese-owned platform, which Washington accuses of being a national security threat.

As tensions soar between the world’s two biggest economies, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on August 6 giving Americans 45 days to stop doing business with TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively setting a deadline for a sale of the app to a US company.

“Today we are filing a complaint in federal court challenging the Administration’s efforts to ban TikTok in the US,” the company says in a blog post.

TikTok argues in the lawsuit that Trump’s order was a misuse of International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform — on which users share often playful video snippets — is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”

The executive order “has the potential to strip the rights of that community without any evidence to justify such an extreme action,” the suit contends.

“We believe the Administration ignored our extensive efforts to address its concerns, which we conducted fully and in good faith even as we disagreed with the concerns themselves,” TikTok says.

AFP

Police officer grilled over alleged assault of protester at anti-Netanyahu rally

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department questions a female officer who was filmed slapping a protester at a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Saturday night in Jerusalem.

She is suspected of assault.

Airborne arson attacks from Gaza spark 3 dozen fires in south

Balloon-borne incendiary devices caused at least three dozen fires in southern Israel throughout the day, the fire department says.

According to Fire and Rescue Services, the 36 fires have all been brought under control by firefighters, soldiers, volunteers, teams from the Jewish National Fund, security coordinators for local communities and — in some cases — firefighting aircraft from the Israeli Air Force.

“Most of the fires were small and did not present a threat [to nearby communities],” the fire department says.

Fire inspectors investigated the 36 blazes that occurred in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions adjacent to the Gaza Strip and determined that they were caused by balloon-borne incendiary devices, according to Fire and Rescue Services.

Judah Ari Gross

Republican Party formally nominates Trump for second term

The Republican Party formally nominates President Donald Trump to seek a second term on Monday, the first day of a scaled-back convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Overwhelming support from delegates around the country quickly got Trump to the needed 1,276 minimum of votes. He is due to speak at the convention shortly, after flying down from Washington, DC.

AFP

Report: UAE canceled NY meeting with Israel envoy over Netanyahu’s F-35 remarks

The United Arab Emirates canceled a trilateral meeting with Israel and the US, over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to a Washington sale of F-35 advanced jets to the Gulf country, according to the Walla news site.

The New York meeting of the three countries’ UN envoys on Friday was meant to celebrate the normalization of Israel-UAE ties, the report says.

But then Netanyahu spoke out against a US sale of advanced weaponry to UAE, which Israel fears will compromise its military edge in the region.

The UAE officials decided to send a message to Netanyahu and convey their “disappointment” by canceling their participation, the report says.

The Gulf state will also hold off on other high-level meetings with Israel until Netanyahu’s position is clarified, it adds.

The prime minister has denied a prospective F-35 sale was part of the normalization agreement, but top US officials have conceded that they are in talks with Abu Dhabi on the arms deal.

The Walla report cites three sources familiar with the incident.

 

Tel Aviv mayor says he’ll run for Knesset if early elections held

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai says he will launch a Knesset bid if another election is held soon.

“What is happening in Israel terrifies me, I can’t stand by,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster.

Huldai, 75, has been the mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa since 1998.

 

Health Ministry records 10 more coronavirus deaths in 24 hours

The Health Ministry records 10 coronavirus deaths since last night, and five since the morning, bringing the national death toll to 844.

It says another 1,774 virus cases have been diagnosed in the past 24 hours.

Of the 21,682 active cases, 417 people are in serious condition, 116 of them on ventilators. Another 180 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

The ministry says 13,259 tests were conducted yesterday, marking a decline.

Hamas official: Violence against Israel will end only when Gaza blockade lifted

Hamas will accept nothing less than the lifting of the Gaza blockade for calm to be restored to southern Israel, a senior Hamas official tells the pro-Hamas channel Palestine Today.

“It is our right to break this siege,” Ismail Radwan says.

Radwan insists that a second prisoner deal — which Hamas officials had previously indicated was a priority — is not related to the current rise in tensions on the border with Israel.

Aaron Boxman

Gantz expected to throw support behind budget delay as standoff deepens

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is expected to announce in the next hour that he will back the delay of the state budget, averting elections, Hebrew media reports say.

But Gantz will not budge on the issue of judicial appointments. Netanyahu’s Likud is seeking to wrest greater control over the appointment of a state prosecutor and attorney general.

It is still unclear how Likud will vote on the budget delay, despite Netanyahu’s explicit backing for the measure in a Sunday press conference. If no vote is taken by midnight, the government automatically dissolves and Israel heads to its fourth election in under two years.

Likud MK Miki Zohar tells Channel 12 that he will recommend that Netanyahu back the postponement — but indicates the prime minister might yet change his mind and opt for elections.

“If the prime minister decides to go to elections, it will be a logical decision,” he says.

Netanyahu orders Likud MKs to vote in favor of budget delay

Netanyahu, in a video, says he instructed Likud lawmakers to vote in favor of the budget postponement, apparently lifting the threat of elections.

“I will continue to do the right thing, to avoid unnecessary elections,” he says.

Blue and White is also expected to back the 100-day delay.

The crisis seems to be over, unless coalition lawmakers skip the vote and compromise the government’s majority. The vote must still be held before midnight or the government automatically dissolves on account of its failure to pass a state budget by the August 25 deadline.

The fight on Monday pivoted from the budget to Netanyahu’s hold over judicial appointments. In the video, the prime minister admits he did not get his way on the issue of appointments, but denies he’d personally intervene in the appointments of the next state prosecutor or attorney general.

In the backdrop of the complicated political drama is Netanyahu’s believed desire to dissolve the government before he must hand over the premiership to Gantz next winter under their rotation agreement. The prime minister’s “exit ramp” to do so is largely based on the budget, since a failure to pass it triggers elections.

The budget delay means the government must pass it by December 23. Analysts predict Netanyahu could again try to topple the government at that time.

Blue and White to back budget delay; Gantz: If we go to elections, blood will spill in the streets

In a fiery speech, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says that he will vote to postpone the budget, shortly after Netanyahu reaffirms Likud’s support for the delay, as the threat of elections appears to be lifted for the next 100 days.

“If we go to elections, blood will spill in the streets,” Gantz warns.

“I will never allow anyone to erode our democracy,” he says, or appoint “puppets” to public service.

That’s a jab at Netanyahu’s effort to control judicial appointments.

“Netanyahu, if you seek cooperation for the benefit of Israel’s citizens, my hand remains extended,” he says, adding that if the prime minister seeks to weaken law enforcement, he will oppose it.

Gantz says his party members, out “of national responsibility,” will back the budget delay and avert elections.

Derech Eretz party gives itself pat on back for preventing elections

The Derech Eretz party is cheering its efforts to prevent a fourth round of elections. Party member Zvi Hauser had proposed the budget extension that was eventually accepted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz as a compromise to their political standoff. The so-called “Hauser compromise” is expected to be approved later tonight, in an eleventh-hour legislative blitz.

“We prevented elections. Again,” the two-man party tweets.

Netanyahu skips budget delay votes; Gantz leaves halfway through

The Knesset begins to vote on the budget delay.

Netanyahu does not attend the vote, and Gantz leaves halfway through, Hebrew reports say.

Gantz walks away before the second and third reading of the bill.

Ending political logjam, for now, Knesset passes law extending budget deadline

Ending the political crisis, for now, the Knesset passes legislation extending the deadline to pass the state budget until December, averting the threat of imminent elections.

Lawmakers pass the bill into law in its second and third readings, with 67 in favor and 37 opposed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are both present for the vote, each having left the plenum briefly while amendments were being read out.

The vote comes mere hours before the budget deadline was set to expire, which would have automatically triggered elections if the coalition had not intervened with the extension.

PM: I don’t remember disparaging Gantz since unity gov’t was formed

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Knesset’s vote to push off the deadline for passing the budget by 120 days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells reporters that he “does not remember” making personal attacks against Defense Minister Benny Gantz “since the formation of the government.”

Netanyahu, whose associates have made regular attacks against their coalition partners in the Blue and White party along with its chairman, says the centrist alliance has “created a government within the government” that publicly criticizes Likud policies.

The premier says it is time to “join hands” and work together to address the challengers facing Israeli society.

J Street blasts Pompeo for making RNC address from Jerusalem

The president of the progressive lobby J Street issues a statement lambasting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his decision to address to the Republican National Convention in a pre-recorded statement from Jerusalem.

“The Trump administration continues to break new ground in their shameless efforts to use the State of Israel as a political prop and a partisan football. For a sitting secretary of state to make a partisan speech to a nominating convention is already unprecedented; to do so from one of the most diplomatically sensitive cities in the world, while on an official visit, is breathtakingly wrong,” Jeremy Ben-Ami says.

“It’s clear that US policy towards Israel under Pompeo is now — like virtually the entire administration — just a tool to promote President Trump’s political interests and to sycophantically celebrate him personally. It has nothing to do with advancing the genuine interests of the United States and Israel, or with acknowledging the actual realities facing the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Instead, it dangerously seeks to use Israel as the backdrop for extreme ideological symbolism and religious pageantry — with the goal of pandering to the president’s base of Evangelical Christian supporters,” he adds.

Blasts reported in northern Gaza Strip; cause not immediately clear

Palestinian media is reporting that the Israeli Air Force is currently striking targets in Shejaiya in the northern Gaza Strip and that several Palestinians have been injured.

But several Israeli reporters are attributing the explosions to an internal Palestinian conflict, asserting that the IAF is not currently striking Gaza.

The reported blasts come at the conclusion of another day during which fighters in the Hamas-run coastal enclave lofted incendiary balloons into Israel, causing at least 36 fires in Gaza border communities.

Hauser: ‘We prevented elections!’

“We stopped the madness and again prevented elections!” says Derech Eretz MK Tzvi Hauser in a statement following the Knesset’s passing of his legislation pushing off the deadline to pass the budget by 120 days.

“It is possible to resolve disputes in the coming months, and trust can be restored in the face of security, economy and health challenges Israel faces,” he says.

Pompeo lands in Sudan to talk peace with Israel

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived in Khartoum after flying on the first ever official direct flight from Tel Aviv.

Pompeo emerged from the plane after landing at the Khartoum International Airport wearing a face mask, as a protective measure against the coronavirus.

His motorcade then left the airport, heading to meetings with Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling sovereign council, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The State Department said ahead of the tour that Pompeo would discuss “continued US support for the civilian-led transitional government and express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship.”

In a tweet, Pompeo calls Israel “America’s most reliable partner in the Middle East,” and thanks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though not Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi.

— With AP

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