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Biden will host Rivlin at the White House on June 28

Outgoing president to make final Washington visit before leaving office on July 7

President Reuven Rivlin, left, with then-US Vice President Joe Biden at the President's residence in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin, left, with then-US Vice President Joe Biden at the President's residence in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Meretz MK: Compromise being worked on for extending ban on family reunification

Meretz MK Mossi Raz says he does not yet know how he will vote on an extension to a law banning Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from getting citizenship.

He predicts “another law” will ultimately come up for a vote, but says he doesn’t know what it will be.

“They are working on a compromise,” he tells Channel 12 news.

His comments came after Meretz Minister Issawi Frej said that he wouldn’t back the ban, further complicating the new government’s efforts to reapprove the 2003 law.

Oman’s sultan, UAE leader congratulate Raisi on win in Iranian election

Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said has congratulated Iran’s Ebrahaim Raisi on his presidential election win, according to the Gulf kingdom’s official news agency.

Oman has acted as an interlocutor between Iran and the West and also hosted then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a visit in 2018.

Also congratulating Raisi are UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Gulf country’s de facto ruler.

EU threatens Lebanese politicians with sanctions over political crisis

BEIRUT — The European Union’s foreign policy chief berates Lebanese politicians for delays in forming a new cabinet, warning the union could impose sanctions on those behind the political stalemate in the crisis-hit country.

Josep Borrell makes his comments at the presidential palace near the capital Beirut after meeting today with Lebanese President Michel Aoun. It is the first meeting in a two-day visit to Lebanon.

Borrell’s comments come amid reports in Lebanese media that France and the EU are putting together proposals for possible travel bans and freezes on assets of some politicians.

Borrell says Lebanese politicians should quickly form a new government, implement reforms and reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund to start getting the tiny country out of its paralyzing economic and financial crisis.

Lebanon’s economic crisis — triggered by decades of corruption and mismanagement — began in late 2019 and has intensified in recent months. The World Bank said earlier this month the crisis is likely to rank as one of the worst the world has seen in more than 150 years, adding that the economy contracted 20.3% in 2020 and is expected to shrink 9.5% this year.

A power struggle has emerged between premier-designate Saad Hariri on one side, and Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who heads the largest bloc in parliament, on the other. It has worsened the crisis despite warnings from world leaders and economic experts of the dire economic conditions tiny Lebanon is facing.

Hariri was named to form a new government in October and has not succeeded so far. The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after a massive blast in Beirut on Aug. 4, that killed 211 people and injured more than 6,000.

In this photo released by the Lebanese government, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, June. 19, 2021. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)

Saudis report intercepting 10 drones launched by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed 10 drones fired at the kingdom by Houthi rebels in Yemen, state media reports, quoting the Saudi-led military coalition battling the insurgents.

The official Saudi Press Agency reports that seven of the drones targeted regions in southern Saudi Arabia. Three targeted the Khamis Mushait region, also in the south and home to military installations, it said.

“The interception operations were successful,” the coalition says in a statement, adding that the drones were packed with explosives and seven were knocked out in Yemeni air space.

Earlier today the Iran-backed Houthi rebels tweeted that one drone was launched in the morning towards the King Khaled air base in Khamis Mushait.

The developments come as a diplomatic push by the United Nations, the United States and regional countries to secure a ceasefire in Yemen after more than six years of devastating conflict have failed.

Ex-FM Ashkenazi: I spoke with my counterparts in most Middle East countries

Days after leaving office, former foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi tells Channel 12 news that he spoke with his counterparts in most countries in the Middle East — including those Israel doesn’t have ties with — during his year-long tenure as the Jewish state’s top diplomat.

He refuses to detail which countries these were.

He also says the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco “aren’t an alternative to the strategic agreements with Egypt and Jordan.”

Ashkenazi, who did not run again with the Blue and White party in the March elections, also comments on politics and the formation of a new government this week that saw Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu replaced as premier by Naftali Bennett after 12 consecutive years as prime minister.

“I think that Netanyahu is sorry he didn’t fulfill the [rotation] deal,” he says, referring to the agreement to switch off the premiership with Gantz.

Outgoing foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks at a ceremony welcoming his replacement, Yair Lapid, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Flash90)

After Raisi election, Israeli officials said to warn ‘no choice’ but to prepare attack plans

Israeli television reports that security officials believe Iranian President-elect Ebrahaim Raisi will adopt what it describes as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hardline views on foreign and nuclear policy.

Channel 12 says Raisi backs a return to the 2015 deal limiting its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and the estimate in Israel is that an agreement with the US to restore the accord won’t be signed until August, when he takes office.

In the meantime, Iran is expected to build up its stockpile of enriched uranium, the report says.

“There will be no choice [in light of Raisi’s election] but to go back and prepare attack plans for Iran’s nuclear [program]. This will need budgets, and the reallocation of resources,” unnamed senior Israeli sources are quoted saying by the network.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi is flying to Washington tonight for talks with the Biden Administration, with Iran at the top of the agenda.

Health Ministry says Delta variant suspected in COVID outbreak at school

The Health Ministry issues a statement on a coronavirus outbreak at a school in northern Israel that local authorities said appeared to have been caused by people who recently returned from abroad.

“The source of the outbreak is still being examined, but there is a connection to a family that returned from overseas,” the statement says, adding that there is a concern the infections were caused by the Delta variant first identified in Israel.

The ministry also says 45 people at the school were infected, up one from the figure reported earlier by the town of Binyamina-Giv’at Ada’s local council.

It adds: “The Health Ministry calls on all residents of Binyamina to get tested to protect public health and to prevent the further spread of the virus in the community.”

The statement comes as Channel 12 news reports that the Health Ministry is seeking to reintroduce the use of electronic bracelets to monitor arriving travelers to ensure they don’t break quarantine.

The network says the Health Ministry wants quarantine restrictions on any traveler older than 14 who isn’t vaccinated, and on anyone — include those vaccinated or who recovered from COVID-19 — coming from a “high risk” country.

The Health Ministry is also predicting 30 percent of people expected to visit in Israel in July and August won’t be vaccinated, the report adds.

“The Health Ministry calls on those required to quarantine to adhere to quarantine [rules]… in particular among those returning from abroad,” the ministry statement says.

Gantz: Only a state commission ‘can lead to the truth’ of the Meron disaster

Defense Minister Benny Gantz comments on tomorrow’s scheduled cabinet vote to establish a state commission of inquiry into the deadly crush during this year’s Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron, in which 45 people were killed in the worst peacetime disaster in Israel’s history.

“No committee will bring back the 45 people killed, and we can’t ignore the physical and mental scars of the hundreds of those who were there. But we can prevent the next people from being killed, the next disaster, prevent the pain of many families,” Gantz writes on Twitter.

He also insists that only an official state commission “that is not dependent on any political element, can lead to the truth, and I personally, and all members of the government, are committed to that.”

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Lapid urges ‘renewed determination’ to halt Iran’s nuke program after Raisi win

As Shabbat ends, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issues a statement on the election of Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi.

“Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians,” Lapid, who became Israel’s top diplomat on Sunday, writes on Twitter. “He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror.”

He adds: “His election should prompt renewed determination to immediately halt Iran’s nuclear program and put an end to its destructive regional ambitions.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat also issues a statement on Raisi’s election, calling him “an extremist figure” who is “committed to Iran’s rapidly advancing military nuclear program.” He also says his election “makes clear Iran’s true malign intentions.”

“More than ever, Iran’s nuclear program must be halted immediately, rolled back entirely and stopped indefinitely. Iran’s ballistic missile program must be dismantled and its global terror campaign vigorously countered by a broad international coalition,” Haiat says.

EU: Talks on restoring Iran nuclear deal to resume Sunday

Hours after the election of Iran’s new hardline president, Ebraiham Raisi, the European Union says talks on restoring the 2015 deal limiting the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief will resume tomorrow in Vienna.

A statement from the EU mission in Vienna says the meeting will be chaired by one of bloc’s senior diplomats, Enriqure Mora, and will be attended by the deals remaining signatories — China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran. The US has been attending the talks indirectly, as the Biden administration looks to rejoin the accord after former president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement.

Participants will continue their discussions in view of a possible return of the United States to the JCPOA and on how to ensure the full and effective implementation of the JCPOA,” the statement says, using the initials of the deal’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The EU has not yet commented on the election of Raisi, a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Gantz says he’ll seek cabinet approval of state c’tee into submarine affair

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he’ll soon seek cabinet approval to form a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair, a major corruption scandal involving the purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from a German shipbuilder.

Known formally as Case 3000, the investigation ensnared a number of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates, but not the ex-premier himself.

“I expect that this time, all government ministers will support the formation of the committee. The question remarks cannot remain and broad conclusions must be learned,” Gantz says in a statement.

He adds: “The criminal proceedings are not sufficient in the face of the most severe security affair in the State of Israel’s history.

The statement says Gantz will soon present the proposal to the cabinet secretary “after the staff work in the Defense Ministry and in accordance with the attorney general.”

Modiin mayor restores indoor mask rule at schools after COVID outbreak

Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas says he has decided to reinstate an indoor mask mandate at schools in the central Israeli city, where 11 students at a school were infected earlier this week.

“I appeal to school principles and educational staff to be strict about the order and for parents to avoid entering the grounds of educational institutions as much as possible. We must do everything we can to prevent a renewed rise in morbidity,” tweets Bibas, who heads the federation of local government leaders.

Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud bashes Gantz for ‘continuing his blind pursuit of Netanyahu’

Ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party lashes out at Defense Minister Benny Gantz after the latter said he will seek to establish a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair.

“Gantz is continuing his blind pursuit of Netanyahu and Likud,” the party says in a statement.

Several associates of Netanyahu were suspected of wrongdoing in the case, but not the former prime minister himself.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz face away from each other during the swearing in of the 24th Knesset (Knesset spokesperson’s office)

Brazil’s COVID death toll passes 500,000

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil says that more than 500,000 people in the country are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The nation of 210 million people has been reporting an average of more than 2,000 daily deaths in recent days. Brazil’s reported death toll is second only to that of the US, where the number of lives lost has topped 600,000.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga confirms that the official death toll had passed 500,000.

“I am working tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians in the shortest time possible and change this scenario that has plagued us for over a year,” Queiroga tweets.

Brazil is registering more than 70,000 confirmed coronavirus infections every day. Just 11.4% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to the government.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the coronavirus while trying to keep the economy humming. He dismissed the scourge early on as “a little flu” and has scorned masks.

Internal sniping in coalition after Gantz urges cabinet to back state probe on subs

A senior coalition official snips at Defense Minister Benny Gantz, after he announced he would seek a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair.

“He’s behaving childishly with trolling and statements to the press. He’s taking out his frustrations that he’s not prime minister on all of us,” the unnamed source tells Channel 12 news.

A source in Gantz’s Blue and White party hits back: “Unlike others, Gantz already has operative plans and important moves to advance and this is only the beginning. If the committees on the Meron disaster and the submarines are trolling, we’ll keep trolling.”

Citing unnamed coalition sources, the Ynet news says Gantz didn’t coordinate his statement on his call for the cabinet to back the formation of a commission into the submarine scandal, which involves allegations of massive corruption in the purchase of naval vessels.

Blue and White fires back at Likud: Netanyahu prevented c’tee on subs, ‘now the time has come’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party returns fire at former premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, after the latter bashed the defense chief for vowing to seek cabinet approval to set up an official state commission on allegedly corrupt purchases of naval vessels that several associates of the ex-prime minister were implicated in, but not Netanyahu himself.

In its earlier statement, Likud claimed Gantz recently said “dozens of times” that there was no reason to further investigate the matter.

“It appears that Likud needs to be updated about what Gantz said in recent months. The former prime minister and Likud prevented the formation of a state commission of inquiry over the last year and now the time has come to bring the matter for a thorough examination, so that Israel’s security will never be harmed,” Blue and White writes on Twitter.

Netanyahu agrees with Bennett that he’ll leave PM’s residence by July 10

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu release a joint statement saying they have agreed that the latter and his family will officially leave the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem by July 10, just under three weeks from today.

“Until then, no official meetings will be held in the residence,” the statement says. “On July 11… the residence will be transferred to Prime Minister Bennett for use.”

The Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street (Yaakov Saar / GPO)

Biden will host Rivlin at the White House on June 28

US President Joe Biden will host President Reuven Rivlin at the White House on June 28, his press secretary announces.

“President Rivlin’s visit will highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel and the deep ties between our governments and our people. It will be an opportunity to consult about the many challenges and opportunities facing the region,” Jen Psaki says in a statement.

Rivlin’s seven-year term as president is due to end on July 7, and the White House says the visit “will honor the dedication he has shown to strengthening the friendship between the two countries over the course of many years.”

Then-US vice president Joe Biden, right, poses for a photo with President Reuven Rivlin, left, during a meeting at the president’s official residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Health Ministry reports 75 new COVID cases over the weekend

Health Ministry figures show 75 new coronavirus cases have been recorded over the weekend, including 42 since midnight, following an outbreak at a school in northern Israel where several dozen students were infected.

The number of active cases rises to 286, while the number of patients in serious condition stands at 22.

The death toll remains at 6,427, with new COVID fatalities recorded since Sunday.

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