Foreign Ministry said fearing diplomatic ‘revenge’ by East Asian countries
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Foreign Ministry said fearing diplomatic ‘revenge’ by East Asian countries

After taking far-reaching steps to contain virus relating to travelers from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, officials say Cathay Pacific set to suspend flights to Israel

Medical staff strike over coronavirus concerns outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, February 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Medical staff strike over coronavirus concerns outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, February 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

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

Labor-Gesher-Meretz leader okay with government propped up by Arab party

Labor leader Amir Peretz, who also heads the Labor-Gesher-Meretz left-wing alliance, says his party will not rule out a center-left government supported from outside by the majority-Arab Joint List.

“We don’t rule out anyone — not ultra-Orthodox and not Arabs,” Peretz says at a faction meeting. “Our party will be part of the next government even if it is supported by the Arab parties. We have no reason to rule out populations in Israel.”

But he adds that the key question will be the policies adopted by the new government, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “created so many societal problems, so there is room for everyone [in the attempt] to rectify them.”

Palestinian found dead next to rifle, pistol in West Bank

The body of a Palestinian man is found in the central West Bank, next to an M-16 rifle and a pistol, according to Hebrew-language media.

The Israel Defense Forces have opened a probe into the matter.

Further details are not immediately available.

El Al said considering suspending all its flights to Thailand over virus fears

Israel’s national airline El Al is weighing temporarily suspending all its flights to Thailand due to the coronavirus fears, Hebrew-language media reports.

El Al could instead opt to merely decrease the frequency of the flights to Bangkok, the reports say.

The development comes a day after the Health Ministry said Israelis returning from Thailand and three other destinations in East Asia — Singapore and the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau — will now be required to self-quarantine for two weeks amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Body of suspected Palestinian gunman found in West Bank — IDF

Israeli soldiers find the lifeless body of a man the military believes is the gunman who opened fire at troops earlier this month, injuring one of them, in the central West Bank.

The Israel Defense Forces says the body was found among some bushes in a valley in the Binyamin region of the central West Bank, with an M-16 assault rifle and a pistol nearby.

The circumstances of the man’s death are not immediately known. The military says it will provide more information about the matter in the future.

In the attack, a gunman opened fire at Kfir Brigade soldiers stationed along a highway near the Dolev settlement. A bullet grazed one soldier’s head, lightly injuring him.

Following the shooting, the IDF launched a manhunt for the assailant.

— Judah Ari Gross

Knesset grants immunity from prosecution to former minister Haim Katz

Knesset members vote in favor of granting Likud MK Haim Katz parliamentary immunity from a criminal probe into charges of fraud and breach of trust, preventing Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit from filing an indictment against the former minister.

MKs vote by 62 to 43 in favor of one request by Katz arguing that he carried out the alleged actions in “good faith” and as part of his work as an MK; and 63 to 42 in favor a second arguing that he has already faced censure by the Knesset Ethics Committee.

— Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu accused of breaking vote-offsetting agreement with MK who gave birth

The Labor-Gesher-Meretz party accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of breaking a vote-offsetting agreement with its MK Tamar Zandberg, who gave birth two days ago, by voting in favor of Likud MKs Haim Katz’s request for parliamentary immunity.

According to Labor-Gesher-Meretz, Netanyahu had agreed to be absent from the vote as part of a deal with Zandberg, who was set to vote against the request.

“His vote is a clear violation of the vote-offsetting,” the party says of the practice often used by MKs from across the aisle unable to attend votes.

Likud denies the claim, saying that Netanyahu did not sign an agreement with Zandberg — and that the possibility was merely discussed.

— with Raoul Wootliff

Suicide bomber in Pakistan kills 8 at Islamist rally

A powerful suicide bombing has killed eight people and wounded 16 others in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, local police say, when it struck an Islamist rally in the regional capital.

Police say the blast went off near Quetta’s press club, where dozens of supporters for a Sunni militant group had gathered outside. They add that police officers are among those killed.

Hospital officials say some of the wounded people are listed in critical condition.

No one immediately claims responsibility for the bombing. Baluch separatist groups, as well as rival Shiite and Sunni militants, operate in the province and have staged similar attacks before.

City police chief Abur Razza Cheema says dozens of followers of the radical Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat party were rallying to pay tribute to Islam’s first caliph when the bomber blew himself up there.

Footage on social media appears to show the explosion ripping through the local bazaar, sending people running for shelter.

The bombing destroyed some nearby shops and vehicles, police say.

The impoverished province of Baluchistan has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency by armed groups demanding more autonomy for the region and a greater share in gas and mineral resources there. The government claims it has quelled the insurgency but violence has continued.

— AP

Authorities promote plan to extend Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast train to Western Wall

Authorities have given approval to a controversial plan to place a train station in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City and whisk tourists from Ben-Gurion Airport to the Western Wall, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s office says.

In a statement, Smotrich’s office says the plan, initiated by his predecessor Israel Katz, had been hindered over the past year.

The plan involves extending the high-speed Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line to the Old City. The plan would involve constructing two underground stations and excavating over two miles (three kilometers) of tunnel beneath downtown Jerusalem and under the politically and historically sensitive Old City — a project likely to raise fierce opposition by archaeologists, religious authorities and Palestinians. The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.

Smotrich praises the development as “historic,” adding that the new train line “is huge news for Israeli residents and the millions of tourists who come to Jerusalem.”

“We are also succeeding in promoting the Zionist and Jewish agenda,” he says.

Syria military hails advance against rebels in ‘record time’

Syria’s military announces that its troops have regained control of territories in northwestern Syria “in record time,” vowing to continue to chase armed groups “wherever they are.”

The announcement comes hours after troops consolidated the government’s hold over the key Aleppo province, capturing over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in a single day and securing the provincial capital that had for years remained within range of opposition fire.

Since December, Syrian troops have been on the offensive, biting bit by bit at the crowded rebel enclave, home to over 3 million people. The offensive displaced more than 800,000 people, sparking one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the nine-year war.

— AP

Iran says citizen held in Germany at US request freed

An Iranian man arrested in Germany on suspicion of violating US sanctions has returned home after being released, the country’s foreign ministry says.

Ahmad Khalili had been detained “on the pretext of violating the illegal and cruel sanctions of the United States,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi says.

He does not specify when Khalili was arrested or give details on his identity.

Khalili was freed last night after “intensive diplomatic consultations” and cooperation involving the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence service, Mousavi says in a statement.

He returned to Iran together with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who last week attended a security conference in the German city of Munich, the spokesman says.

— AP

Special voting booths to be set up for Israelis under quarantine in March 2 vote

The Central Elections Committee confirms to The Times of Israel that it is planning on setting up a number of special voting booths on the March 2 election day for Israelis who are suspected of having contracted the coronavirus and are under self-quarantine in their houses.

Illustrative: Workers pack ballot boxes ahead of the Knesset elections on February 25, 2015. (Flash90)

There is no possibility of setting up portable voting booths that will visit those stuck in their houses, a spokesperson for the committee says.

According to Army Radio, the Health Ministry is therefore set to announce new guidelines for those under self-quarantine, allowing them to venture out in order to vote.

The report says the employees at the special voting stations will be wear protective gear to prevent them from contracting the virus.

The ministry said yesterday that Israelis returning from four destinations in East Asia will now be required to self-quarantine for two weeks amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus. Travelers to Thailand, Singapore and the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau must remain in isolation, the ministry said. Previously, only travelers coming from China were subject to such a self-quarantine.

— Raoul Wootliff

Israelis on coronavirus cruise ship to return to Israel on Thursday

The 12 remaining Israelis on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan will return home Thursday, according to Hebrew-language media.

The plane that will bring them back will go from Thailand to Japan on Wednesday, and will depart Tokyo for Israel the following day.

The Israelis will undergo medical examinations and will be quarantined at their homes for two weeks after their return.

Condition of soldier critically injured in car-ramming attack improves

The Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem announces an improvement in the condition of a soldier who was injured earlier this month in a car-ramming terror attack near the First Station compound in the capital.

The Golani Brigade soldier was critically injured in the attack, and 11 others suffered milder injuries. They were all new recruits hours before their swearing-in ceremony.

The soldier has been released from the intensive care unit and transferred to the neurosurgery department, the hospital says.

900,000 people displaced by fighting in northwest Syria since December – UN

The United Nations says that 900,000 people, most of them women and children, have been displaced since the start of December due to a Russian-backed regime offensive in northwest Syria.

That figure is 100,000 more than the United Nations previously recorded.

“The crisis in northwest Syria has reached a horrifying new level,” says Mark Lowcock, the UN head of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief.

He says the displaced are overwhelmingly women and children who are “traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full. Mothers burn plastic to keep children warm. Babies and small children are dying because of the cold.”

The Idlib region, including parts of neighboring Aleppo province, is home to some three million people, half of them already displaced from other parts of the country.


After gains in northern Syria, Assad predicts total victory

Syrian President Bashar Assad congratulates his forces for consolidating control over the entire province of Aleppo in northern Syria, pledging to press ahead with a military campaign to achieve complete victory “sooner or later.”

Assad, who rarely appears in public, pledges in a televised address that the onetime economic hub of Aleppo, the provincial capital, will “return stronger than it was before.”

“This liberation does not mean the end of the war, and does not mean the end of the schemes nor the end of terrorism or the surrender of enemies,” Assad says. “But it means that we rubbed their noses in the dirt as a prelude for complete victory and ahead of their defeat, sooner or later.”

The address comes amid an ongoing military advance in northwestern Syria that has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe and after government troops consolidated their hold over the key province, capturing over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in a single day. The advance secured the provincial capital that had for years remained within range of opposition fire.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive since December in the area and nearby Idlib province, biting bit by bit at the crowded rebel enclave, home to over 3 million people. The offensive displaced more than 900,000 people, sparking one of the largest humanitarian crises in the nine-year war.

— AP

Satellite images show damage to Syrian sites after alleged Israeli strike

New satellite images show significant damage to warehouses and office buildings at Damascus International Airport, following airstrikes last Thursday that were attributed to Israel.

The photographs, released by the private satellite imagery analysis firm ImageSat, show that several warehouses, apparently used to store weapons that were flown into Syria from Iran, were destroyed in the strikes along with multiple buildings used as headquarters for the operations at the site.

In addition, a hangar was damaged in the attack, which Syria said Israel carried out. ImageSat says the shelter was “probably used for storing ammunition or [surface-to-air missiles].”

At approximately 11:45 p.m. last Thursday, incoming missiles struck five weapons depots near Damascus International Airport, including an attack on a military position south of the Syrian capital, the Al-Arabiya news channel reported, citing unidentified sources.

The attack came hours after a shipment — reportedly of munitions — arrived at the airport from Tehran, according to flight data.

Four members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and three Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes, according to a Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Both Syria and the Observatory said Israel was behind the strike. The Israeli military did not comment on the matter, in accordance with its long-standing policy of neither confirming nor denying such operations abroad.

— Judah Ari Gross

Opinion polls predict continued deadlock in upcoming elections

A poll shows the centrist Blue and White party increasing its edge over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, while another survey shows the gap closing. Both polls predict a continued deadlock, which has resulted in two failures to yield a government and three elections within a year.

The Channel 13 poll, commissioned by Prof. Camil Fuchs and published two weeks before the March 2 vote, shows Blue and White getting 36 seats, while Likud gets 33. The predominantly Arab Joint List is shown to get 14, the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz has 8, the right-wing Yamina gets 7 and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties get 7 each.

The bloc of religious and right-wing parties supporting Netanyahu is predicted to get 54 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has 58 — including the Joint List, which is not likely to support a Gantz government.

Kingmaker Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party gets 8 seats, and could push either side above the necessary 61 seats.

The extreme right Otzma Yehudit party is predicted to get just 1.9 percent of the votes, well short of the 3.25% electoral threshold.

Asked who is more suited to be prime minister, 45% answer Netanyahu while 33% say Gantz — the biggest difference the channel has recorded in recent months.

A separate poll published today by the Walla news site similarly predicts a continued deadlock, with the right-wing religious block at 56 seats — 33 for Likud, 8 each for Shas and UTJ, and 7 for Yamina — and the center-left bloc at 44 — Blue and White with 34 and Labor-Gesher-Meretz with 10 — with Yisrael Beytenu at 7 and the Joint List at 13.

In that survey, conducted by the Midgam institute and including 502 respondents, Otzma Yehudit similarly does not make it into the Knesset and gets 2.5%.

Foreign Ministry said fearing ‘revenge’ moves by East Asian countries

The Foreign Ministry is reportedly concerned about diplomatic fallout from the measures Israel has taken to prevent the arrival of the novel coronavirus.

The Kan public broadcaster, as well as Channel 12, quote unnamed officials as fearing “revenge” steps by East Asian countries, given the extreme measures — more than those announced by any other country — that Israel has taken to protect against the virus entering the country with Israelis returning from Thailand, Singapore, and the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau.

Yesterday, the Health Ministry said Israelis returning from those countries and cities will now be required to self-quarantine for two weeks, amid concerns over the spread of the disease. Previously, only travelers coming from China were subject to such a self-quarantine.

Earlier today, reports said that Israel’s national airline, El Al, was considering temporarily suspending all its flights to Thailand.

The Foreign Ministry officials are said to fear that those countries would now issue more frequent travel warnings to Israel after terror attacks, lower the level of economic cooperation, and even that Hong Kong’s national airline Cathay Pacific would suspend all its flights to the Jewish state.

Israel bars entry of foreigners coming from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announces further measures against several East Asian countries and territories, banning the entrance to the country of any non-Israelis who were in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Macau in the last 14 days.

Until now, people coming from those countries had to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

The new measures are approved by the Health Ministry.

Hong Kong’s airline Cathay Pacific is set to announce that it is suspending all its flights to Israel, multiple reports say, quoting officials in the company saying its employees will not be able to enter the Jewish state under the new rules.

Former MK Glick released by police after interrogation following arrest on Temple Mount

Former Likud MK Yehudah Glick is released by police following after a lengthy interrogation following his arrest on the Temple Mount this morning.

Glick claimed he had been removed from the compound for “walking too slowly.” A Israel Police spokesperson, however, said that Glick had been arrested after violating visiting rules at the compound. According to police, following a visit to the Temple Mount with two United States congressmen and their families, Glick returned to the compound via the Mughrabi Gate on an uncoordinated visit and began provoking officers there.

MK Yehudah Glick, right, and his son Shlomo visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, October 25, 2017. (Twitter screen capture)

The New York-born Glick is a veteran activist for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount. He is a former director general of the Temple Institute and founded the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation. In October 2014, he was shot and seriously wounded by a Palestinian assailant as he left an event at the Begin Center in Jerusalem promoting Jewish visiting and prayer rights to the Mount.

He served as a Knesset member for the Likud party in 2016-2019.

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