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

Iran’s Khamenei warns economy will worsen if virus spreads further

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warns the country’s economic problems will worsen if the novel coronavirus spreads unchecked, as the government launches a mask-wearing campaign.

The Islamic Republic has struggled to curb the COVID-19 outbreak since it reported its first cases in the Shiite holy city of Qom in February.

It shut down non-essential businesses, closed schools and cancelled public events in March, but gradually lifted restrictions from April to try to reopen the country’s sanctions-hit economy.

“It is correct to say that something must be done to prevent economic problems caused by the coronavirus,” says Khamenei.

“But in the case of negligence and significant spread of the disease, economic problems will increase, too,” he says, according to his official website.

The Iranian rial has plunged to new lows against the US dollar in recent days due to the temporary economic shutdown, border closures and halt in non-oil exports, according to analysts.

Iran’s economic problems had already worsened since 2018, when US President Donald Trump withdrew the United Stattes from a landmark nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic, targeting vital oil sales and banking facilities.

Those woes have been exacerbated by the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says today there have been 2,456 new confirmed coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s caseload to 220,180.

Lari adds in televised remarks that 125 of those infected had died during the same period, with overall fatalities reaching 10,364.


Police dish out 2,752 fines over past day to non-mask wearers

Police say they handed out 2,752 fines over the past day to Israelis not wearing face masks in public areas.

The government has recently ordered police to increase enforcement of the public health order requiring people to wear masks in public, as part of measures to contain the recent jump in new coronavirus infections.

Ministers also approved earlier this week hiking the fine for not wearing a mask from NIS 200 ($58) to NIS 500 ($145).

Three fines were also given to Israelis who violated quarantine and to two people living in a “restricted zone” for leaving their place of residence.

Meretz leader: Police minister using cops ‘to suppress’ anti-Netanyahu protests

The head of the left-wing Meretz party is accusing Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of using police “as a tool to suppress” protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“But this won’t help him, because freedom of speech and freedom of protest are foundational principles in a democratic system and the police must protect them,” MK Nitzan Horowitz tweets.

Horowitz is referring to the arrest of several protesters yesterday during an anti-corruption protest outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem. Police said the demonstrators blocked the road and disturbed public order, while Ohana, a close political ally of Netanyahu’s, denied the arrests were political.

The Meretz chief also calls for the release of three demonstrators who police continue to hold after they refused to be released under certain conditions, among them staying away from the Prime Minister’s Residence.

After arrests, hundreds protest against Netanyahu outside his official residence

Hundreds of Israelis are protesting outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, a day after several demonstrators were arrested there during a protest against the premier.

The demonstrators hold up signs calling Netanyahu “crime minister” in reference to his indictment on corruption charges and also call for the release of Amir Haskel, a former air force general who was arrested yesterday outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Amir Haskel prepares to get into a police car after he was arrested at a demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on June 26, 2020 (Twitter screenshot)

Haskel and two other protesters remain in custody after refusing to be released under restrictive conditions.

Video of the protest shows the demonstrators standing in the middle of the road. Police said yesterday’s protest was illegal because demonstrators had blocked the road and allegedly disturbed public order.

Deputy health minister says further virus restrictions under consideration

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch says the Health Ministry is weighing further restrictions to help combat the recent rise in new coronavirus cases.

In an interview with Channel 12 news, Kisch says possible measures include restrictions on youth programs over the summer, limiting the size of gatherings and requiring “capsules” at workplaces, with set groups of employees working the same shifts.

“We need to act today so there won’t be a lockdown tomorrow,” he says.

Kisch stresses a final decision on new restrictions is up to the government.

He says Israel is now averaging 400-500 new infections a day and warns that number could rise further in two weeks.

According to Channel 12 news, officials from the Health Ministry and National Security Council will meet this evening to discuss what restrictions the so-called coronavirus cabinet should approve when it meets tomorrow.

The network says among the measures being considered are limiting gatherings to 20-30 people; capping events at 150 people instead of 250; restoring “capsules” at summer school; limiting the number of people at the beach, barring summer camps; and calling on workplaces to have employees work from home.

Ethiopian monk thought to be aged 114 survives coronavirus

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — An Ethiopian monk believed to be 114 years old has survived the coronavirus.

Tilahun Woldemichael was discharged from a hospital on Thursday after almost three weeks. He received oxygen and dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available steroid that researchers in England have said reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients.

Ethiopia’s health minister has said the ministry recommends the emergency use of the drug for COVID-19 patients who require ventilation or oxygen.

Tilahun’s grandson Biniam Leulseged says he has no birth certificate to prove the monk’s age, but he shows a photo of him celebrating his 100th birthday.

“He was looking young back then, too,” Biniam tells The Associated Press.

He says he was emotional when his grandfather was taken to the hospital but “I am very happy because we are together again.”

Ethiopia has more than 5,200 confirmed cases of the virus.

— AP

Centenarian Tilahun Woldemichael crys as he prays to God after spending weeks in a hospital recovering from the coronavirus, at his house in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Netanyahu supporters hold small counter-protest across from demonstration against PM

A small group of supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are holding a counter-protest across from a demonstration against the premier outside his official residence in Jerusalem.

Besides the protest in Jerusalem, in which reports say over 1,000 people are taking part, the Haaretz daily says demonstrations against Netanyahu are also being held at hundreds of bridges across the country.

Ahead of possible Israeli annexation, Abbas said to refuse call from Pompeo

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused a phone call this week from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Kann public broadcaster reports, ahead of Israel’s possible annexation of parts of the West Bank.

The broadcaster says CIA representatives met this week in Ramallah with Palestinian officials in a bid to convince them to open a dialogue with the White House about US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, but their effort came to naught.

The Ramallah-based PA has boycotted the Trump administration since he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and has rejected his peace plan, which designates some 30 percent of the West Bank for Israel and the rest for a prospective Palestinian state.

Kann also says the PA told US and European officials it’s planning to gather weapons from its security forces and turn them over to the IDF if Israel moves forward with annexation. Palestinians officials cited by the broadcaster describe such a move as a “judgement day weapon.”

“We’ll bring the weapons and ammunition in trucks to the headquarters at Beit El if there’s annexation. We’ve already prepared lists of all the weapons. Israel will be responsible for security in the [West] Bank,” the Palestinian officials are quoted as saying.

The officials also say the Palestinian Liberation Organization could declare the disbandment of the PA.

FM Ashkenazi calls for immediate release of ex-general arrested during protest against PM

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi calls for the immediate release of a former air force general who was arrested yesterday during a protest outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

“Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amir Haskel paid the full price, in his life and work, [gaining] the right and duty to say his opinion, express objection and to protest,” Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff, writes on Twitter.

Police said earlier today that Haskel refused to a conditional release and therefore remained in custody. He was arrested on suspicion of disturbing the peace during a protest calling on Netanyahu to resign due to the premier’s indictment on graft charges.

“The pictures that the public was exposed to during Shabbat in which Haskel is seen with cuffed hands and feet are a badge of shame for democracy in Israel,” Ashkenzai adds. “I admire his position and work, am pained by his arrest and call for his immediate release without preconditions.”

Ashkenazi is a member of the Blue and White party, the coalition partner of Netanyahu’s Likud.

Gantz calls for release of protesters arrested at anti-Netanyahu demonstration

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is now joining calls for the release of Amir Haskel, a former air force general arrested yesterday during a protest against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Haskel and two other demonstrators remain in custody after refusing to be released under restrictive conditions, including staying away from Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, where they were arrested during a protest yesterday against the premier for allegedly disturbing public order.

Calling the right to protest a “sacred right,” Gantz says demonstrations should only be barred in “extreme cases.”

“Therefore, from the information I have, I believe that the three detainees [from] the demonstration need to be released without preconditions,” he writes on Twitter.

Gantz says he spoke this evening with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who defended the arrests on the grounds the protesters were blocking a road.

“I told him that along with my full backing for the Israel Police and its operations against any citizen — no matter his role, status or rank — expansive policies should be promoted regarding the right to protest and freedom of speech,” the defense chief says.

Gantz, whose Blue and White party is Likud’s main coalition partner, also criticizes “irresponsible comments” by some politicians against the police, apparently referring to opposition figures suggesting the arrests were politically motivated.

Netanyahu says he’ll file complaint against musician for alleged online threats

As thousands of people protest outside his official Jerusalem residence over his indictment on graft charges, Prime Minister Netanyahu decries “left-wing incitement” and says he’ll file another police complaint for alleged online threats against him and his family.

“The dangerous left-wing incitement knows no bounds. This is what Efraim Shamir wrote. No one is condemning [it]. I’ll file a complaint against him with police,” Netanyahu writes on Twitter.

The tweet included a screenshot of a post on Shamir’s Facebook page.

“Take out the psychopath, his wife the disturbed whore and the repulsive son of a bitch parasite. I wonder if this is a good beginning to a good protest song,” the post shared by Netanyahu says.

Shamir, best known as a member of Kaveret, a popular rock band in the 1970s, appeared to have later edited the post, changing “take out” to “expel.”

Netanyahu has recently made several complaints to police over threats to harm him and his family.

UK counter-terror police charge suspect with murder of 3 in deadly park stabbing

LONDON — UK counter-terrorism police have charged a 25-year-old man with three counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder for a stabbing attack in an English park that killed three men a week ago.

British prosecutors authorized the charges filed today against Khairi Saadallah, of Reading. The attack happened June 20 at Forbury Gardens park in Reading, a town of 200,000 people some 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of London.

The three victims, friends who were identified by police as teacher James Furlong, 36, scientist David Wails, 49, and pharmaceutical worker Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, were enjoying a warm Saturday evening at the park when they were stabbed. Police said Friday that each man had received a single fatal blow.

Three other people also were wounded and have since been released from the hospital. Police declared the stabbings as a terrorist incident the day after the attack, but they have not said what they think the motive was and noted the investigation is ongoing.

The local Reading Borough Council has organized an online vigil later this evening for the three friends.

Saadallah is due to appear in court on Monday.

— AP

621 new infections, 2 more virus deaths recorded over past day

The Health Ministry reports 621 new coronavirus cases over the past day, with the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic rising to 23,421.

It also says two more people died from the virus, bringing the national toll to 317.

According to the ministry’s figures, 41 people are in serious condition, 23 of whom are on ventilators. Another 55 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

The ministry also says 16,551 tests were conducted yesterday.

Health Ministry reports virus outbreak at Ramle senior living home

The Health Ministry reports a COVID-19 outbreak at a senior living home in the central city of Ramle that it attributes to health workers at the facility.

According to the ministry, seven staff members at Ne’ot Margo’a tested positive for coronavirus and were sent to an isolation facility. Additionally, 17 residents tested positive and were sent to hospitals and geriatric health centers.

The ministry says it will perform further tests on all residents and staff over the next three days to check for further infections, adding that everyone at Neo’t Margo’a is in quarantine.

“At the moment all the remaining residents feel well,” a ministry statement says.

Likud lashes out at press amid protests against arrest of anti-Netanyahu demonstrators

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party responds to the arrest of demonstrators yesterday during a protest outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem, lashing out at the media’s coverage of the detention and accusing it of bias against him.

“The media didn’t say anything about the shocking arrest of right-wing activist Sheffi Paz or the arrest of many other right-wing activists at right-wing protests,” Likud says in a statement.

The party doesn’t specify which of the several times that Paz, an anti-African migrant protester in south Tel Aviv, has been arrested it is referring to.

Likud also claims without evidence that the protest was organized by former prime minister Ehud Barak, a vocal critic of Netanyahu.

“The press is turning this into a media festival to support the protests against Likud and Netanyahu’s leadership. It’s unsurprising [that] all this is happening [while] Likud is at peak support in every poll,” the party says.

Likud’s reaction was markedly different from that of its Blue and White coalition partners, who earlier this evening called for the immediate release of three anti-Netanyahu protesters who remained in custody after refusing to be released with restrictive conditions.

To protest the arrests and Netanyahu’s continued premiership despite his indictment on graft charges, thousands of people rallied outside the Prime Minister’s Residence this evening. Additional protests were also held elsewhere in Israel.

Police to ask court to bar anti-Netanyahu protesters from Jerusalem for 15 days

Three demonstrators arrested at a protest yesterday outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official residence will be brought before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court this evening, with police requesting they be banned from the city for 15 days.

Amir Haskel, a former air force general, and the two other protesters have remained in custody after refusing to be released under restrictive conditions, among them staying away from Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem.

Police say Haskel was arrested for “endangering public security” and that he is suspected of violating a legal order, taking part in a prohibited gathering and being a public nuisance, the Ynet news site reports.

In addition to a temporary restraining order barring him from Jerusalem, police are also asking he post bail of NIS 5,000 as part of his release, according to the report.

Lebanese judge bans media from interviewing US ambassador after Hezbollah criticism

BEIRUT — A Lebanese judge bans local and foreign media outlets in the country from interviewing the US ambassador to Beirut for a year, calling a recent interview in which she criticized the powerful Hezbollah terror group seditious and a threat to social peace.

The court decision reflects the rising tension between the US and the Iran-backed Hezbollah. It also reveals a widening rift among groups in Lebanon, which is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

Judge Mohamad Mazeh in the southern city of Tyre says he acted after receiving a complaint from a citizen who considered Ambassador Dorothy Shea’s comments to a Saudi-owned station “insulting to the Lebanese people.”

Mazeh says Shea’s comments incited sectarian strife and threatened social peace. The judge says while he can’t ban the ambassador from speaking, he can bar the media from interviewing her for a year. Mazeh made today, the start of the weekend, saying the matter was urgent.

The backlash was swift.

The private LBC TV station says it’ll appeal the ruling and calls it a violation of media freedom. Critics of Hezbollah call it politicized.

But others hail the ban as “brave” on social media, saying Shea had crossed a line, interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs.

The judge’s ruling came a day after Shea told Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath that Washington has “great concerns” over Hezbollah’s role in the government.

In her first response to the ruling, Shea calls it “unfortunate” in a telephone interview with the local MTV station.

— Agencies

In this photo released on June 11, 2020, by the Lebanese Government, President Michel Aoun, left, meets with US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Government via AP)

Hamas, Islamic Jihad say they’ll cooperate against annexation

The Gaza-based Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups say they’ve agreed to work together against Israel’s potential annexation of West Bank lands, according to the Hamas-linked Al Resalah news site.

Court hears police request to bar 3 anti-Netanyahu protesters from Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court is hearing police’s request that three protesters arrested yesterday during a protest outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence be released under conditions.

The three, including former air force brig. gen. (res.) Amir Haskel, have remained in custody after police said they refused to a conditional release.

During the hearing, a police representative says a temporary restraining order barring them from Jerusalem is the minimal condition to justify their release, according to the Ynet news site.

“I’m having difficulty with this assertion,” Hebrew media quotes the judge as saying. “This is in fact silencing [them].”

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