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

Blue and White said to agree to back Shin Bet phone tracking law

The Blue and White Party has agreed to back controversial legislation allowing the Shin Bet to track civilians’ phones in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus, according to several reports in Hebrew-language media.

The measure, which is opposed by Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, could be introduced to the Knesset as early as today, according to the reports.

Some ministers had opposed the measure, which is being championed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because of privacy concerns. However, ministers were reportedly swayed by rising infection numbers, which are on pace to overtake the height of the first wave of the virus in a matter of days.

Russia marks delayed Victory Day with Red Square parade

Russian President Vladimir Putin is hailing the defeat of Nazi Germany at the traditional massive Red Square military parade in Moscow, which was delayed by more than a month because of the invisible enemy of coronavirus.

The parade is usually held May 9 on Victory Day, Russia’s most important secular holiday, but was postponed until Wednesday due to the pandemic. But the timing allowed Russia to mark another significant war-era event — the 75th anniversary of the Red Square parade by troops returning home after the Nazis’ defeat.

“It is impossible to imagine what would have happened to the world if the Red Army did not stand up to its defense,” Putin says in an address to the parade.

Russian military vehicles move through Red Square during a military parade, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Moscow on June 24, 2020. (Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

Some 14,000 soldiers take part in the parade, including units from several former Soviet republics and from Mongolia and Serbia.

Attending the event is Yaakov Livneh, Israel’s top diplomatic official in Russia, who notes in a statement that his father was an officer in the Red Army during World War II. “1.5 million Jews fought in all of the allied armies and were party to the defeat of the Nazi monster and the liberation of the death camps,” he says.

 — with AP

Restrictions peeve locked-down Elad

Residents of Elad are annoyed that they have been placed under partial lockdown and think the move may be based on the city’s ultra-Orthodox character, the Ynet news site reports.

According to residents, the decision to name the city a restricted zone, which means that barring certain specific reasons, people cannot enter or exit, is only hurting people and not actually helping cut down on virus cases.

A police ocheckpoint at the entrance to Elad, June 24, 2020. (Flash90)

Most entrances to the city have been closed and a police checkpoint is stopping cars at the one remaining open. The report notes that only one bus station at the entrance to the city is allowed to operate, meaning that anyone who needs to leave to work has to crowd there.

“This is not a real lockdown, you can enter, you can do whatever, this lockdown just hurts businesses and people and nobody cares,” one resident says.

Jerusalem might not hang Pride flags this year — report

A day after a Jerusalem city council member forced the US Embassy to remove an LGBT pride banner, a new battle is shaping up over whether the city will hoist pride flags this month, Army Radio reports.

Arieh King, the far-right councilman, says because there is no approved Pride parade this year, and any such event would be a protest, the city should not show support by hanging flags.

Illustrative: Gay pride flags hang in the streets of Jerusalem, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Three other council members, Yosi Havilo, Laura Wharton and Fleur Hassan Nahoum, tell Mayor Moshe Lion that they will not agree to a lack of flags.

The largely traditional city has hung rainbow Pride flags on streets near the route of the parade every year since 2005.

Palestinian given four life sentences for deadly 2018 shooting attacks

A Palestinian man convicted of murder in a pair of December 2018 terror attacks is sentenced by the Ofer Military Court to four life sentences.

Asem Barghouti was convicted in November for his role in a shooting attack on a bus stop near the Givat Assaf outpost that left two soldiers dead and another attack near the Ofra settlement that led to the death of a yet-unborn baby. Several others were injured in both attacks.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Barghouti was arrested in January 2019 following a nearly month-long manhunt, while his brother Salih was killed by Israeli troops during an attempted arrest in December 2018.

— Alex Fulbright

Government speeds Shin Bet tracking law to Knesset for approval

The Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement that government ministers voted unanimously to immediately advance a law that would allow “digital means to locate an infection chain.”

The controversial law will allow the Shin Bet to use phone tracking technology to trace those found to be carrying the virus.

It says the law will be brought to the Knesset today.

Police release video showing driver in Tuesday attack swerve into cop

The police have released a video showing the moment a car driven by a Palestinian man plowed into a checkpoint near Jerusalem Tuesday, seeking to counter claims that Israeli forces shot and killed him for no reason.

In the video, the car slowly moves toward the checkpoint before suddenly speeding up and swerving into a booth. The driver, Ahmad Erekat, then exits the car and is immediately shot and killed.

“He waited for a good moment, turned from the center of the lane to get a better angle to hurt the officer and then accelerated, turning his car 90 degrees and lunged wildly at the troops,” a police statement says.

One Border Police officer was lightly injured in the incident.

It is not clear from the video if Erekat posed a threat after crashing his car. Police did not say any weapon was found on him.

Relatives, including senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, had said he was rushing to pick up his mom and sister ahead of a family wedding, and was himself set to get married in a month, rebuffing claims that the attack had been deliberate.

Earlier Wednesday, Saeb Erekat called for an international probe of the incident.

IMF says world economy will shrink by almost 5%

The International Monetary Fund has sharply lowered its forecast for global growth this year because it envisions far more severe economic damage from the coronavirus than it did just two months ago.

The IMF predicts that the global economy will shrink 4.9 percent this year, significantly worse than the 3% drop it had estimated in its previous report in April. It would be the worst annual contraction since immediately after World War II.

For the United States, the IMF predicts that the nation’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the United States — will plummet 8% this year, even more than its April estimate of a 5.9% drop. This, too, would be the worst such annual decline since the US economy demobilized in the aftermath of World War II.

In the Middle East, it predicts a contraction of 4.7% this year.

— AP

UN chief exhorts Israel to yield on annexation

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterates his opposition to Israel’s planned unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank.

“We are at a watershed moment,” he says at a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council. “If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law. I call on the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans.”

Opening a special session of the Security Council, during which Israeli and Palestinians envoys are set to speak as well, Guterres says that the world needs to cling to a two-state solution leading to a Palestinian state based on the pre-’67 lines and “Jerusalem as the capital of both states.”

— Raphael Ahren

Israeli firm says its drug effective against coronavirus after tiny trial

Israel-based Redhill BioPharma says a tiny study of its opaganib treatment showed “substantial benefit” to coronavirus patients.

The study looked at five seriously ill patients given the drug at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek, and found that none of them needed mechanical ventilation, while 33 percent of a control group of 18 did.

The independent study, which was posted online on Tuesday, has not been peer-reviewed.

“We are very encouraged by the analysis from severe COVID-19 patients treated with opaganib to date, demonstrating substantial benefit to patients in both clinical outcomes and inflammatory markers as compared to a matched case-control group,” said Redhill medical director Mark Levitt in a statement.

A larger study with 40 patients is underway in the US.

Security Council, Arab League speak out against annexation

The UN Security Council is speaking out with a near-unanimous voice against Israeli annexation plans.

Every country but the US voices opposition to the plan at a special meeting of the Security Council, which also features an Arab League representative.

“Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank will destroy hopes for peace and will constitute a threat to security in the region and the world,” says Arab League Secretary General Ahmad Abu al-Ghaith.

Abbas: Israel will need to take responsibility as occupier if it annexes 1 inch

If Israel annexes “even one centimeter” of the West Bank, it will be obligated to bear the responsibilities of an occupier over the civilian population, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tells the Arab League’s Parliament on Wednesday.

“Such an illegitimate step will obligate Israel to bear the responsibilities in occupied land as an occupying power according to the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Abbas says.

The Geneva Conventions lay out the responsibilities of an occupying power and are often used as the legal basis for declaring Israeli settlement building illegal.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 7, 2020. (Nasser Nasser/Pool/AFP)

Abbas’s statement corresponds to what other high-ranking PA officials have told journalists in recent weeks.

“Every day, I’ll be retreating from my responsibilities,” senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh told The New York Times in early June. “I am telling the Israelis, if this situation continues, you will have to take full responsibility as an occupying power. It could go back to like it was before Oslo.”

— Aaron Boxerman

PA prime minister at protest: Small-scale annexation just as bad

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh tells a PLO-led protest against Israeli annexation plans that it does not matter if Israel annexes one settlement or the whole West Bank.

“”They say that ‘if we just take a little land, that doesn’t matter.’ No, it matters! Annexation is annexation, no matter its size. Small or large, it is a setback for the Palestinian people,” Shtayyeh says at the protest in the Jordan Valley town of Faisal.

“The Jordan Valley is like Jerusalem,” Shtayyeh says, in terms of its inviolability.

State Department accuses Abbas of failing to support non-violence

An annual US State Department report on counter-terrorism singles out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as failing to consistently maintain a stance supporting non-violence.

“President Mahmoud Abbas has stated in the past a commitment to non-violence, a two-state solution and previous PLO commitments, but he has also made inconsistent statements that appear to contradict and undermine his prior commitments,” the report states.

It quotes once instance in August which he said, “So we say to them, ‘every stone you [used] to build on our land and every house you have built on our land is bound to be destroyed, Allah willing…Jerusalem is ours whether they like it or not… We shall enter Jerusalem – millions of fighters! We shall enter it! All of us, the entire Palestinian people, the entire Arab nation, the Islamic nation, and the Christian nation… They shall all enter Jerusalem…’”

The quote is based on a translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute, a US-based watchdog with strong links to Israel.

Last year, the same report noted only that “PA President Mahmoud Abbas maintained a public commitment to non-violence.”

The report also says the PA’s security forces, which recently cut ties with the US and Israel, cannot manage counter-terror operations on its own.

Appeals court orders case against Flynn be dropped

A federal appeals court has ordered the dismissal of the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said in a 2-1 ruling that the Justice Department’s decision to abandon the case against Flynn settles the matter, even though Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to prosecutors in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

In this file photo from February 1, 2017, then US national security adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

It is a big win for the Justice Department as Democrats question whether it has become too politicized and Attorney General William Barr too quick to side with the president.

The House is holding a hearing Wednesday on the topic.

The decision also avoids a protracted court fight that would have delved deeper into the reasoning for the department’s extraordinary dismissal request.

Trump tweets just moments after the ruling became public: “Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request to Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn.”

— AP

Pompeo says Israelis need to decide on annexation

Speaking to reporters, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says annexation of parts of the West Bank is a decision for Israel to make.

He also expresses disappointment with the Palestinians for refusing to engage with the US peace plan.

American officials are set to meet for a second day Wednesday to discuss the US stance on Israeli annexation plans. Israel is pushing ahead with the move on the condition of US coordination.

Envoy to UN: Israel has right to annex, world backing wrong horse

At the UN Security Council, Israeli ambassador Danny Danon defends Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, and accuses the international community of allowing the Palestinians to continually refuse to accept a Jewish state.

“Some in the international community choose to reward the Palestinians’ rejectionism and ignore reality,” he says.

“There is a strong and undeniable connection between the Jewish people and their historic homeland of Judea and Samaria,” Danon says. “Should Israel decide to extend its sovereignty, it would be doing so with respect to areas over which it has always maintained a legitimate historical and legal claim.”

“The discussion over the extension of Israeli sovereignty to certain areas in Judea and Samaria does not stand in the way of peace. What stands in the way of peace is Palestinian rejectionism and the encouragement that they get from some in the international community,” he concludes.

Tiberias lockdown shrunk after complaints

The government has decided to shrink the size of Tiberias’s coronavirus restricted zone to just three streets, the Ynet news site reports, citing the municipality.

Locals had complained the the original decision, which placed partial lockdowns on five neighborhoods in the upper part of the Sea of Galilee city, was too wide and done with little regard for where outbreaks in the city actually were.

According to the report, the closure will only apply to Shefa Haim, David Elazar and Zalman Shazar streets.

Tri-state area to require visitors to quarantine

New York, Connecticut and New Jersey will require visitors from other states with high infection rates to quarantine for 14 days.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces the “travel advisory” at a briefing joined via video feed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, all Democrats.

“We now have to make sure the rates continue to drop,” Cuomo says. “We also have to make sure the virus doesn’t come on a plane again.”

Customers in New York are served at outside tables on June 23, 2020. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images/AFP)

Murphy says the states’ health departments will provide details of how the rule will work.

Cuomo says visitors from states over a set infection rate will have to quarantine. As of Wednesday states over the threshold included Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas.

— AP

Archaeologists find Jordanian weapons stash near Western Wall

Archeologists announce the discovery of a hiding place near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City that was used by Jordanian soldiers to store weapons and ammunition during the 1967 Six Day War.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the stash spot was found during excavations under the entrance to the Western Wall tunnels.

Among the items found were magazines filled with bullets, rifle parts and a bayonet.

Israel captured the Old City, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan during the Six Day War.

Health Ministry reports 265 new virus cases over past day

The Health Ministry reports 265 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 21,732.

Of the 5,520 active cases, 46 people are in serious condition, 28 of whom are on ventilators. Another 41 Israelis are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or asymptomatic.

There are no further fatalities, with the death toll remaining at 308.

US State Department warns of growing Iranian support for terror groups

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is claiming significant victories against global terrorism but says Iran continues to increase its support for extremists and that white supremacist attacks are on the rise.

The State Department says in its annual report on terrorism that “dangerous terrorist threats persisted” throughout 2019 even as the Islamic State jihadist group suffered losses in Iraq and Syria, and the United States imposed sanctions and took other steps against Iran and its proxies in the Middle East.

The report cites a surge in extremist groups affiliating themselves with IS in Africa and Southeast Asia and says Iran continues to foment terrorism. In addition, it notes a rise deadly racially motivated attacks claimed by or attributed to white supremacists as well as the threat from the remnants of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.

Despite losing territory and its leader, IS “adapted to continue the fight from its affiliates across the globe and by inspiring followers to commit attacks,” the report says. “The Iranian regime and its proxies continued to plot and commit terrorist attacks on a global scale.”

The report says Iran, IS and al-Qaida endured serious setbacks in 2019. Those included the killings of several top leaders and the imposition of tough penalties against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and supporters and financiers of both.

Apart from extremist Islamic groups, the report says attacks committed by white nationalists are of particular concern.

— AP

Defense Ministry to convert additional hotels for coronavirus patients

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has issued instructions for the establishment of additional coronavirus hotels to house people sick with COVID-19 or can’t properly quarantine at home amid a nationwide rise in new infections, according to his office.

His office says in a statement that the facilities will be able to house patients 48 hours after the signing of a contract with the hotels’ operators. It adds that the Defense Ministry opened a hotel designated for families today in Kibbutz Snir.

There are currently six hotels being operated by the IDF’s Home Front Command.

Lapid said trying to shirk Shin Bet agents tasked to guard him

Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid has been trying to evade the Shin Bet security detail provided to him in his role as opposition leader, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, the Shin Bet has complained Lapid won’t provide the security service with his schedule or let it know where he intends to go and when, forcing bodyguards to wait outside his home and trail after him when he leaves.

Lapid reportedly asked the security service to stop providing him with guards, with his request sent to the ministerial committee for the Shin Bet, which is controlled by the Likud and Blue and White parties.

The report says while ministers were initially inclined to grant his request, they decided to turn it down, with ministers concerned it could provide Lapid with further ammunition to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz over their state-funded security details.

“Shin Bet officers are wonderful people who protect all our lives. The only troubling thing in this story is the mixing of petty politics with matters of this type,” Lapid’s office says in response.

FM Ashkenazi says Israel won’t annex Jordan Valley — report

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has told associates Israel will not annex the Jordan Valley, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

“I assume there won’t be annexation in the Jordan Valley. Everyone understands that,”Ashkenazi is quoted saying in the report.

Under the coalition deal between the Likud and Blue and White parties, Prime Minister Netanyahu can begin annexing areas of the West Bank slated for Israel under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan on July 1.

Ashkenazi tells the broadcaster in response he’ll only back a “responsible move” made in coordination with the US and neighboring countries.

Intelligence units rewarded for recent ‘successful covert operation’

The Israel Defense Forces grants awards to intelligence units for a recent “successful covert operation.”

A statement from the IDF hails the operation as “significant operational and impressive achievement,” but provides no details on it.

“This mission was a first and significant step on a long path,” Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, chief of Military Intelligence, is quoted saying in the statement.

A Channel 13 report on the awards notes a recent cyberattack on Iran’s largest port, which US reports attributed to Israel. The attack came shortly after an alleged Iranian attempt to hack into Israel’s water infrastructure system.

‘He looked me in the eye… and rammed me,’ recalls border cop injured in suspected ramming

A Border Police officer injured in a suspected car-ramming attack yesterday at a West Bank checkpoint recalls being struck by the vehicle in an interview with Channel 13 news.

“I signalled to him to halt… He looked me in the eye, turned the steering wheel and rammed me, and I flew to the other side” of the median, Shani Orr Hama Kadosh says.

Border Police released video footage of the incident earlier today, after family members of Ahmad Moustafa Erekat denied he intentionally rammed police and said Israeli security forces shot him in cold blood.

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