Live updates

Police begin arresting Tel Aviv protesters amid clashes with cops

Thousands demonstrate in capital and in Tel Aviv in rallies against corruption, COVID-19 economic policies; in Jerusalem protesters officers use water cannons to clear streets

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

  • Anti-government protesters, clad in masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, gather with Israeli flags and signs during a demonstration in Charles Clore Park in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
    Anti-government protesters, clad in masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, gather with Israeli flags and signs during a demonstration in Charles Clore Park in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
  • Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 18, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 18, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • An anti-government protester dressed as a clown and wearing a mask due to the coronavirus pandemic raises a sign reading 'The emergency government is a sad joke' during a demonstration in Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
    An anti-government protester dressed as a clown and wearing a mask due to the coronavirus pandemic raises a sign reading 'The emergency government is a sad joke' during a demonstration in Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
  • An Israeli policeman speaks with protesters from atop a scooter during a demonstration in Charles Clore Park in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
    An Israeli policeman speaks with protesters from atop a scooter during a demonstration in Charles Clore Park in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
  • Israelis protest against the government's latest coronavirus restrictions in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Israelis protest against the government's latest coronavirus restrictions in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

Hundreds of police officers ready to secure Tel Aviv protest

Police say they have completed their preparations ahead of tonight’s protest at Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park at the same time as another demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.

Both rallies are against the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of police officers have been dispatched to secure the event in Tel Aviv and ensure that particapants abide by the government’s social distancing guidelines. The rally will be capped at 8,000 people, according to reports.

Amid right-wing pressure, Minister suspends aid for needy to prevent funds from reaching refugee groups

Finance Minister Israel Katz ordered the freezing of a government assistance program for charities that help the poor, homeless, Holocaust survivors, victims of sexual assault and other populations in need, following pressure from far-right activists who objected to the funds also being directed to organizations that aid refugees and asylum seekers, Haaretz reports.

The NIS 53 million aid package was intended for non-profit groups that have been significantly affected by the pandemic.

After a campaign of public pressure by far-right activists including Shefi Paz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair, Katz directed the freezing of the aid package, telling his office’s legal adviser that some of the groups earmarked to receive the funds “carry out activities contrary to the values and policies of the government.”

Katz requested that the criteria for receiving the aid be altered.

Government sources tell Haaretz that it is not yet clear whether Katz has the authority to can the financial aid package, as it has already been approved by all of the relevant ministries. Government officials are slated to convene a meeting tomorrow to discuss the issue, according to the report.


White House says civil rights icon Lewis leaves ‘enduring legacy’; Trump mum

The White House remembers John Lewis as a giant of the civil rights movement in America.

“Rep. John Lewis was an icon of the civil rights movement, and he leaves an enduring legacy that will never be forgotten,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweets after the Georgia congressman died Friday at the age of 80.

“We hold his family in our prayers, as we remember Rep. John Lewis’ incredible contributions to our country,” she writes.

US President Donald Trump has yet to comment on Lewis’ passing. In 2017 he attacked the Georgia congressman on Twitter.

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!” Trump wrote then

with AFP

Police hand out 2,960 fines over weekend to violators of gov’t COVID guidelines

Police say they handed out 2,960 fines so far this weekend to Israelis who violated the government’s guidelines aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the fines were for failure to wear a mask, which cost violators NIS 500.

Fines were distributed to seven restaurants and 21 other businesses operating in violation of the guidelines.

Twenty-nine Israelis received fines for violating their quarantine requirements. Seventy-seven Israelis living in cities that have been placed under lockdown received fines for violating the government order. Thirty-four businesses were handed fines for serving customers who weren’t wearing masks.

Finance Ministry director pushes back against PM’s criticism of office’s bureacrats

Finance Ministry director Karen Terner Eyal pushes back against criticism by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies over the conduct of bureaucrats in her office. The criticism came in regard to the bureaucrats’ handling of the government’s orders regarding the economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is very difficult for me to remain indifferent to the unprecedented criticism of my ministry’s staff, and in particular the head of the budget department Shaul Meridor, and in general to the very violent discourse that has been developing against us on social media,” she tweets.

She says the role of Meridor and the others is simply to implement the policy decisions of the government, and that they are not involved in making policy themselves.

Netanyahu on Friday lashed out at Finance Ministry officials who reportedly oppose his plan to disperse financial aid to all Israeli adults.

“It’s inconceivable that bureaucrats are briefing [the media] against decisions made by the government, and are working to thwart them. We won’t accept this,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.

The premier didn’t name any officials, but shared a post by Likud MK Shlomi Karai that included a large photo of Meridor.

New York COVID-19 hospitalizations down, 11 more deaths

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York state dropped to 743 and 11 more people died, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says.

Daily statewide statistics show New York with 754 newly confirmed cases, representing 1.08% of all tests performed. The number of people hospitalized Friday was down 22 from the previous day.

New York, once a pandemic hotspot, has so far avoided a surge in new cases like those plaguing other states in the South and West. But the Democratic governor has repeatedly warned New Yorkers could be at risk if they abandon social distancing and other practices adopted to check the spread of the virus.

“(W)e remain alarmed by spikes in much of the country and the risk of a lack of compliance at home, as the state pursues a phased, data-driven reopening,” Cuomo says in a prepared statement.

Cuomo announced Friday that New York City is set to begin a scaled-down version of the fourth phase of the statewide reopening process Monday, that will allow movie and TV crews to film, zoos to welcome reduced crowds and professional sports teams to play to empty seats.

More than 25,000 people have died statewide since the outbreak began.

— AP

Rebel Likud MK, head of Knesset COVID panel, slams gov’t shuttering of restaurants, beaches

The chairperson of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee speaks out against the cabinet’s recent decision to close beaches on weekends and shutter restaurants starting Tuesday, save for delivery and take-away.

Yifat Shasha-Biton tells Channel 12’s Meet the Press that the Health Ministry has provided no statistics to justify the sweeping measures.

She says her panel will discuss them tomorrow, despite claims by fellow Likud MK Miki Zohar that the committee would no longer be tasked with reviewing the government’s coronavirus measures, after Shasha-Biton and her fellow members voted to reverse the cabinet’s decision last week to shutter gyms and pools.

“Tomorrow we will discuss the new coronavirus restrictions… and demand to see the data and information on which the government’s decisions were based,” she says.

She says keeping beaches open is critical in order to boost the public’s morale.

“Regarding restaurants, we said that they needed to abide by the purple badge regulations. There is no reason for them to be closed entirely,” she adds, asserting that customers can be seated outside in the open air, limiting the risk of the virus spreading.

UN chief: World ‘at the breaking point’ due to inequalities

Saying “we are at the breaking point,” the UN secretary-general makes a sweeping call to end the global inequalities that sparked this year’s massive anti-racism protests and have been further exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built,” Antonio Guterres says as he delivered the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

“It is exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere: The lie that free markets can deliver health care for all, the fiction that unpaid care work is not work, the delusion that we live in a post-racist world, the myth that we are all in the same boat.”

He says developed countries are strongly invested in their own survival and have “failed to deliver the support needed to help the developing world through these dangerous times.”

The UN chief’s address marks what would have been the birthday of former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mandela.

South Africa, the world’s most unequal country a quarter-century after the end of the racist system of apartheid, is quickly becoming one of the world’s hardest-hit nations in the pandemic and now makes up roughly half of Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases. Already its public hospitals are nearly overwhelmed.

The speech by the UN chief took aim at the vast inequality of wealth — “The 26 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as half the global population,” Guterres says — and other inequalities involving race, gender, class and place of birth.

These, he says, are seen in the world’s fragmented response to the pandemic, as governments, businesses and even individuals are accused of hoarding badly needed testing, medical and other supplies for themselves.

The legacy of colonialism still reverberates, Guterres adds, and it shows in global power relations.

Developing countries, and especially African nations, are under-represented at the levels of power, including at financial institutions like the World Bank and political ones like the UN Security Council, whose five most powerful members — the US, Britain, France, Russia and China — date from the 1940s, when the world body was created.

“Inequality starts at the top: In global institutions. Addressing inequality must start by reforming them,” Guterres says, offering some solutions.

A new generation of social protection is needed, including universal health coverage and perhaps maybe even a universal basic income, he says, adding “individuals and corporations must pay their fair share.”

Education spending in low and middle-income countries should more than double by 2030 to $3 trillion a year, he said. And in the face of enormous shifts due to climate change, governments should tax carbon instead of people.

Answering questions after his speech, Guterres calls for “massive support” for the developing world, including debt write-offs. He said the suspension of debt payments until the end of this year, which was agreed upon by the G-20, the world’s 20 major economic powers, “is clearly not enough.”

And he notes, without naming names, that “leadership and power are not always aligned.”

“Let’s face facts,” Guterres says in his address. “The global political and economic system is not delivering on critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, peace.”

The UN chief calls for a new model of global governance with inclusive and equal participation.

“We see the beginnings of a new movement,” he says, adding it’s time to right the wrongs of the past.

— AP

Iran sends black boxes from downed Ukrainian airliner to France for analysis

Iran has sent black boxes from the Ukranian airliner that crashed in January to France for analysis, a Foreign Ministry official tells the Reuters news agency.

One hundred seventy-six people were killed when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down the plane, mistaking it for a hostile target amid a period of heightened tensions with the US.

“The black boxes were transported to Paris yesterday by officials of the Civil Aviation Authority and a judge,” Mohsen Baharvand, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for international and legal affairs tells the semi-official ILNA news agency.

He says France will begin analyzing the black boxes, and praises France for its cooperation in the effort.

Kansas dog makes 50-mile trek to her old home in Missouri

A dog named Cleo who disappeared from her home in Kansas earlier this month turned up a few days later at her old home in Missouri, about 50 miles away.

Colton Michael tells television station KMBC that the 4-year-old Labrador retriever-border collie mix showed up on the front porch of his family’s home in Lawson, which is about 30 miles northeast of Kansas City.

At first, she wouldn’t let anyone get near her, says Michael, who has lived in the home for nearly two years.

“She finds her way home, and there’s some strangers living in it. That would be scary for anybody,” he says.

Eventually, he was able to gain Cleo’s trust and to get her checked for a microchip, which showed that she belonged to the former owners of his house.

Cleo’s owners, who had moved to Olathe, Kansas, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Lawson, couldn’t believe it when Michael called and said the dog had turned up at their old home. They had posted on Facebook a week earlier about the missing dog. Neither family knows how Cleo made the trip, which would have required her to cross at least one river.

— AP

Two Palestinian cyclists hospitalized after attack by Israeli settlers — rights group

Fifteen Israeli settlers attacked a group of Palestinian cyclists who were riding near the village of Turmusayya in the central West Bank, according to the Yesh Din rights group.

The settlers arrived from the direction of the nearby Adei Ad flashpoint outpost and assaulted the cyclists with batons and stones before going on to steal their equipment, Yesh Din says.

Two of the bikers were injured and evacuated to a nearby hospital for further medical treatment.

Virus death count climbs by 6 to 398 as 1,099 new cases confirmed through Saturday afternoon

1,099 new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed thus far today, according to figures released from the National Security Council, according to which 1,599 were diagnosed yesterday.

Another six people succumbed to the virus, bringing the total death count to 398.

According to the figures, the infection rate among the 13,856 tested has climbed to 7.3%.

The number of seriously ill patients has climbed to 217, among whom 56 are on ventilators.

Dozens begin gathering outside PM’s residence for protest calling for his ouster

Dozens of anti-Netanyahu activists have gathered near the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence for a protest slated to kick off in a half hour.

A handful of supporters of the prime minister have also gathered across the street from the opponents.

Thus far, order is being maintained, Hebrew media reports.

Likud: PM will axe COVID panel head who questioned closing beaches, restaurants

A senior Likud official says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to replace the chairwoman of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee shortly after she spoke out against the government’s decision to close beaches on weekends and shutter restaurants starting Tuesday, save for delivery and take-away.

“It is not possible to continue working like this,” the senior official says in a quote leaked to various Hebrew media sites.

Earlier this evening, Yifat Shasha-Biton told Channel 12 that her panel will demand data justifying the closures in order to sign off on them.

She said her panel will discuss the issue tomorrow, despite claims by fellow Likud MK Miki Zohar that the committee would no longer be tasked with reviewing the government’s coronavirus measures, after Shasha-Biton and her fellow members voted to reverse the cabinet’s decision last week to shutter gyms and pools.

Zohar made the declaration after folding from an earlier threat to replace Shasha-Biton, amid opposition from the Blue and White party.

Dozens begin gathering for Tel Aviv rally of self-employed against gov’t COVID response

Dozens of Israelis have gathered at Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore park for the protest led by self-employed business owners along with owners of restaurants, bars and night-life spots against the government’s response to the pandemic.

Organizers have marked spots in the grass where protesters are to stand in order to ensure that social distancing guidelines are observed.

Finance Minister slams office director for coming to defense of beleaguered colleague

Finance Minister Israel Katz reprimands the director-general of his office for her public comments in defense of a senior official in the ministry who has come under fire from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Katz says in a statement that Keren Terner should have received his prior authorization before responding publicly.

Katz in a statement says it was not Terner’s job to wage public fights nor to defend the ministry’s bureaucrats. “Your job is to carry out the decisions of the political level,” he says, adding that it was up to him as minister to “resolutely defend the positive contribution of professional officials.”

Anti-PM protesters in Jerusalem filmed violating social distancing guidelines

While protesters at Tel Aviv’s rally against the government’s economic response to the pandemic appear to thus far be abiding by social distancing guidelines, anti-Netanyahu activists at the Jerusalem demonstration calling for the premier’s ouster are filmed violating them.


Cafe chain owner: Many restaurants plan to remain open after Tuesday closure deadline

The owner of the Cafe Cafe restaurant chain tells Channel 13 that he knows of many fellow restaurant owners who plan on remaining open after Tuesday 5:00 a.m., when the government has ordered that they shutter, save for takeout and delivery.

He says the industry cannot sustain another closure directive.

Tel Aviv residents file noise complaint against those partying in coronavirus hotel

Residents of northern Tel Aviv have filed a noise complaint against the nearby hotel that is hosting some 150 coronavirus carriers.

The residents say they have had to deal with non-stop parties, with the carriers not respecting the neighbors.

Police are looking into the matter, Channel 13 reports.

Prosecution will ask to call witnesses in PM’s trial in coming 3-4 months — report

The State Prosecutor’s Office will request that the Jerusalem District Court call witnesses to testify in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial in the coming three to four months, Channel 13 reports.

The trial officially started in May and will reconvene tomorrow in order for the court to pencil in dates for hearings during which witness testimony will be given.

Channel 13 says Netanyahu’s attorneys will push back against the prosecution’s request to begin calling witnesses by the end of the year, arguing that as a result of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to bar the premier from receiving millions in outside funding for his legal expenses, they need more time to prepare for the trial.

They are likely to ask for another year before reconvening, Channel 13 says, adding that the court is almost sure to reject the request and instead settle for calling witnesses in January or February.

The prosecution is likely to ask that hearings be held three or four times a week in order to finish as soon as possible, as was done during former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s criminal trial, Channel 13 reports. The defense is almost certain to oppose this request as well.

The prosecution is expected to request that the hearings start with Case 4000, in which the premier is accused of approving regulatory moves benefiting the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecom in exchange for positive news coverage from the company’s Walla news site. Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Liat Ben Ari is slated to arrive at the hearing with a security detail that was assigned to her following concerns regarding threats being made against her life.

Besieged Likud panel head: I’m willing to pay price for opposing gov’t closure orders

Likud MK and Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton appears to stand by her comments against the government’s decision to close beaches on weekends and shutter restaurants starting Tuesday, save for delivery and take-away.

“I am a member of the coalition and respect the decisions of the government. A key part of the Knesset’s work is to review the work of the government. When there are mistakes, they need to be corrected,” she tweets.

“My job is to examine the best ways to fight the virus, to maintain the mental and physical health of the citizens and to save the livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers.”

“I entered politics for one purpose: to serve the people of Israel. If I have to pay a personal price for it, I will accept it with love,” she adds.

The statement comes following a statement leaked by the Likud party in the name of a “senior party official” who said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to replace Shasha-Biton after she told Channel 12 that her committee would not sign off on the additional closures if the government does not provide data justifying the moves.

1,745 coronavirus cases confirmed since last night as death toll hits 400

The Health Ministry says 1,745 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in a 24-hour period since Friday evening.

The death count has hit 400, climbing by eight since last night.

The latest numbers bring the national case total to 49,204 since the start of the pandemic, of which 27,502 are active cases.

Of the patients, 217 were in serious condition, with 56 of them on ventilators, while 131 were in moderate condition and the rest suffered only mild or no symptoms.

The ministry says over 25,033 tests were conducted Friday and some 16,202 had been conducted thus far today.

Breaking silence, Trump says he’s ‘saddened’ to hear of civil-rights hero John Lewis’ passing

IDF: Troops arrest 3 Palestinians who had planned to carry out West Bank attack

The IDF says its troops arrested three Palestinians in the Jalazone refugee camp, north of Ramallah, whom it claims were planning on carrying out a terror attack.

The army says the suspects had planned an attack that would begin by them “hurling an explosive device from their vehicle toward the community of Beit-El, as well as an attempted drive-by shooting.”

The suspects were transferred to the Shin Bet for questioning.

Anti-PM protesters in Jerusalem break through road-block meant to contain them

The crowd at the protest outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence calling for Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster has swelled into the thousands, with little to no social distancing being observed between participants.

Demonstrators calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu march along Jerusalem’s Keren Hayesod street on July 18, 2020 (ToI staff)

The protesters have also stormed though a series of roadblocks meant to contain them in the general vicinity near Paris Square, and are now marching down Keren Hayesod Street chanting slogans against Netanyahu.

In Tel Aviv, thousands protest against PM for failing to prepare for second COVID wave

The crowd at the protest against the government’s economic response to the pandemic has swelled into the thousands at Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park.

Addressing the rally, self-employed business owner Nir Hirschman says, “Mr. Prime Minister, the second wave of the coronavirus did not surprise anyone. You knew it was coming. But you wasted your time on nonsense.”

“While you went to get tax exemptions, you should have been worrying about establishing an epidemiological contact-tracing system. Instead of planning a fight against the justice system, you should have been planning to fight against unemployment.”

Likud MK, former Netanyahu challenger stands by beleaguered colleague

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar stands by his fellow faction member Yifat Shasha-Biton amid threats by their party to replace her, after Shasha-Biton warned that her Knesset committee would not approve closure orders by the government that aren’t backed up by data.

“The threats against [her] are unnecessary. She is not the only one asking these questions; there is a principled and important debate as to whether the infection rate justifies exacerbating the damage to the economy and decisions will not be made based on threats,” Sa’ar says.

Hundreds of anti-PM protesters block roads as they march toward Jerusalem entrance

Hundreds of anti-Netanyahu protesters have streamed out of the confined area near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem and are blocking roads as they march toward the entrance to the city.

Berlin, Rome, Paris threaten sanctions on states interfering in Libya

France, Italy and Germany are “ready to consider” sanctions on foreign powers violating an arms embargo in Libya, a joint statement by their leaders says.

The statement does not directly name any foreign actors funneling arms to Libya, but multiple powers have been sending fighters and weapons, fueling a bloody proxy war that reflects wider geopolitical rifts and divisions in the Middle East and within NATO.

While forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar are backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, the UN-recognized unity government is fighting back with Turkey’s support.

“We … urge all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council,” the statement says.

“We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions should breaches to the embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte say they therefore “look forward to the proposals the EU High Representative/Vice President will make to this end.”

In Brussels for a crunch EU summit on hammering out a huge recovery plan for the bloc, the three European leaders had met on the sidelines of the meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation in Libya.


Florida adds 10,000 new virus cases, 90 deaths

Florida has reported more than 10,000 new confirmed daily cases of the coronavirus and 90 additional deaths.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces 30,000 vials of remdesivir were being shipped to the state after hospitals complained of shortages. He says he worked with Vice President Mike Pence last week to expedite the shipments.

DeSantis says the vials will be shipped directly to hospitals in the next 48 to 72 hours and should treat about 5,000 patients. He made the announcement at a St. Augustine hospital during a discussion with doctors.

The state reports Florida hospitals are treating more than 9,000 patients for coronavirus. Overall, there have been nearly 338,000 confirmed cases in the state, and 5,002 deaths.

— AP

Atlanta, White House lower flags to honor Rep. John Lewis

Atlanta will lower flags to half-staff indefinitely to honor Rep. John Lewis, who represented the city for more than 30 years in Congress before his death, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says.

“The people of Atlanta often called upon Congressman Lewis for counsel, guidance, and assistance with getting into good trouble. No matter how busy his schedule, or important his Washington duties were, he answered,” she says.

US President Donald Trump has ordered flags at half-staff at the White House and all federal public buildings and grounds, including embassies abroad and all military posts and naval stations, throughout the day.

— AP

One dead in Damascus blasts on eve of polls

One person was killed and another wounded as two blasts earlier today hit the Syrian capital, state news agency SANA says, on the eve of the country’s third war-time parliamentary elections.

It says “one person was killed and another wounded in the explosion of two devices near Anas bin Malik mosque” in the Nahr Aisha area of southern Damascus.

There were no immediate details on the blasts near the mosque, where President Bashar al-Assad has attended prayers in the past, or the casualties.

Syrians go to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament as the Damascus government grapples with international sanctions and a crumbling economy, after retaking large parts of the war-torn country.

Assad’s Baath party and its allies are expected to win most of parliament’s 250 seats, in the first elections since 2016.

For the first time this year, there will be polling stations in former opposition bastions, including in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus and in the south of Idlib province in the country’s northwest.


Spain tells millions stay home as EU meets on virus rescue plan

Four million residents of Barcelona have been urged to stay at home as virus cases rise, while EU leaders wrangled for a second in Brussels, seeking to rescue Europe’s economy from the ravages of the pandemic.

Spain’s COVID-19 death toll of 28,400 is one of Europe’s worst and the country has identified more than 150 new virus clusters across the country.

Barcelona, one of Europe’s most visited cities, warned of a potential return to lockdown as EU leaders met in Brussels.


Police open probe into alleged assault of Palestinian cyclists by masked settlers

Police say they have opened an investigation into the alleged assault of a pair of Palestinian cyclists near the central West Bank village of Turmusaya at the hands of a group of masked settlers earlier today.

The cyclists were hospitalized after being beaten with rocks and clubs, according to the Yesh Din rights group.

Eulogizing Lewis, Rubio tweets out photo of himself with Cummings

US Senator Marco Rubio tweets out a statement memorializing Rep. John Lewis that he mistakenly accompanies with a photo of himself with the late Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Rubio deletes the tweet after 30 minutes.

Using water cannons, police begin clearing area around PM’s residence of protesters

Police have begun clearing protesters from the area surrounding the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. Some of the officers are using water cannons to clear the area.

Hundreds of them have already left the area to march toward the entrance to the city, blocking roads in the process.

Police filmed violently removing anti-PM protesters calling them ‘Nazis’

Police are filmed violently removing anti-Netanyahu protesters blocking the road near Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. A number of the demonstrators are heard shouting “Nazis” at the officers, as is somewhat common at Haredi protests.

Police probe shooting in Bedouin village; one dead

Police have opened an investigation into an apparent murder in the northern Bedouin village of Ibtin where one person was shot dead and four others were injured, two of them seriously.

In scenes similar to those in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv demonstrators begin blocking roads

Hundreds of demonstrators in Tel Aviv have begun blocking roads near Charles Clore Park after their demonstration against the government’s economic response to the pandemic came to a close.

Coptic pope defrocks US-linked priest accused of pedophilia

Coptic Pope Tawadros II urges Washington to no longer recognize a priest accused of pedophilia who had reportedly worked in the US as a member of his church.

“We notify all the civic authorities in Egypt and in the United States… to revoke any recognition of Yousef Aziz Khalil as a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church,” the pope writes in a statement posted on Facebook, without specifying Khalil’s current location.

The rare move comes amid a resurgence of the #MeToo movement in Egypt after a sex scandal implicating a member of the country’s wealthy elite.

Social media in the country and in the Egyptian diaspora have been flooded with thousands of testimonies of sexual assault.

Among them are Coptic Egyptians living in the United States who have accused Khalil, whose priestly name is Reweiss Aziz Khalil, of paedophilia and denounced the church for being slow to act.

The church had defrocked Khalil in 2014 for “repeated infringements that are unacceptable to the priesthood and its ministry”, the Coptic pope said in his statement, without elaborating.

Khalil, “is hereby laicized and must return to his former pre-ordination name”, the statement says.

“He is hereby stripped of his priestly rank.”

The largest Christian minority in the Middle East, Copts make up between 10 and 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of over 100 million.


Police issue warning to dozens of Tel Aviv protesters blocking roads

Police issue a warning to dozens of protesters it says are currently blocking roads in Tel Aviv at the conclusion of the protest against the government’s economic response to the pandemic which concluded an hour ago at Charles Clore Park.

“This conduct violates the terms of the license of the protest, is therefore illegal, and violates public order. We call on the protesters to obey the instructions of the police and to avoid disturbances,” police say in a statement.

Blue and White vows to prevent removal of rebel Knesset panel head

The Blue and White party declares in a statement that it will work to prevent the removal of Yifat Shasha-Biton as the chairwoman of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee.

The Likud party said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to remove her from the post after she warned that her panel would not okay the government’s latest closure orders if data is not provided justifying them.

Blue and White acted to prevent Shasha-Biton’s ouster earlier this week after her panel voted to reverse the cabinet’s decision to shutter pools and gyms.

“I think the Corona Committee should approve the government’s decisions regarding the coronavirus, but at the same time, we must respect the role of the Knesset. I am working to prevent the dismissal of Shasha-Biton and I hope we will avoid this step,” Gantz says in a statement.

Gantz updates his faction that he plans, in cooperation with Netanyahu, to limit the number of ministers in the so-called “Corona Cabinet” tasked with leading the government’s response to the pandemic. The Blue and White leader says shrinking the number of participants will allow the body to operate more effectively.

Gantz also calls for the Defense Ministry that he heads to be given more authority to lead the government’s response to the pandemic.

Regarding Netanyahu’s plan to disperse financial aid to all Israeli adults, Gantz says, “we need to give more to those who have less. It is right and proper to transfer money to citizens, but there are a number of alternatives [to Netanyahu’s approach]. We will discuss them overnight in order to reach understandings.”

Those remaining at Tel Aviv protest site enjoy socially distanced trance party

While hundreds of Tel Aviv protesters have flooded out of Charles Clore Park and are now blocking roads, dozens have stayed behind and are currently enjoying a socially distanced trance party.

Police arrest pro-PM activist who sought to squabble with Netanyahu opponents in capital

Police have arrested a pro-Netanyahu activist who sought to squabble with anti-PM protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Police clash with Tel Aviv protesters who hurl objects at officers

Police are clashing with protesters who are blocking roads in Tel Aviv and throwing various objects at the officers.

Police arresting Tel Aviv protesters after officer pepper-sprayed

Police say they have begun arresting protesters in Tel Aviv after an officer was pepper-sprayed.

Protesters, police clash at Jerusalem protest

Video clips show police shoving demonstrators outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, as protesters press on with the rally against the premier’s corruption charges.

9 arrested at Tel Aviv rally; torch thrown at cops

Nine people have been arrested at a demonstration in Tel Aviv against the government’s coronavirus policies, Hebrew reports say.

During the protest, a torch is hurled at police officers, apparently causing no injuries.

Hundreds are still at the rally.

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