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

‘Coronavirus cabinet’ meeting ends with no decision on new restrictions

The so-called coronavirus cabinet finishes meeting without making any decisions on new restrictions to contain the rise in COVID-19 cases, with the Health Ministry and government ministers reportedly at odds on the scope of the measures.

According to Channel 12 news, the Health Ministry called for limiting events such as weddings to 50 people; require “capsules” in youth summer programs; restrict group prayer to open areas with a limit of 19 people; and bar gatherings of over 20 people.

The report says ministers pushed back on these proposals, saying they didn’t want to reimpose closures on parts of the economy.

“These are exaggerated demands,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri reportedly said. “There’s no need for further steps. We need to learn to live with the coronavirus.”

Amid complaints that the current testing system takes too long to return results, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office after the meeting says the premier called for the process to be shortened.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the coronavirus cabinet ordered the time of the epidemiological investigation from the moment a patient is located until all those he was in contact enter quarantine to be limited to 48 hours,” the statement says.

Iran to require compulsory mask-wearing in high-risk areas

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says that mask-wearing will be mandatory in certain areas as of next week and gives virus-hit provinces the green light to reimpose restrictive measures.

The Islamic Republic has refrained from enforcing full lockdowns to stop the spread of the COVID-19 disease, and the use of masks and protective equipment has been optional in most areas.

Mask-wearing would be “obligatory in covered spaces where there are gatherings,” Rouhani says during a televised meeting of the country’s anti-virus taskforce.

The measure will come into force as of next week, continue until July 22 and will be extended if necessary, he says.

Rouhani says the health ministry has devised “a clear list” of the types of spaces and gatherings deemed high-risk, but he doesn’t elaborate.

He also doesn’t say what the penalty would be for those who fail to observe the measure.

According to deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi, “services will not be given” to those without masks in areas such as “government organisations and shopping malls.”

Iran reported its first COVID-19 cases on February 19 and it has since struggled to contain the outbreak as the death toll has crossed 10,000 and the number of infected reached more than 220,000.

Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in daily recorded infections.

The increasing caseload has seen some previously unscathed provinces classified as “red” — the highest level on Iran’s color-coded risk scale — with authorities allowing them to reimpose restrictive measures if required.

According to Rouhani, the measure will be also extended to provinces with “red” counties.


Pedestrians, some wearing protective masks due to the coronavirus, walk along a street in the Iranian capital Tehran on June 28, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

US envoy calls for renewal of Iran arms embargo

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An expiring United Nations weapons embargo on Iran must remain in place to prevent it from “becoming the arms dealer of choice for rogue regimes and terrorist organizations around the world,” the US special representative to Iran says.

Brian Hook tells The Associated Press that the world should ignore Iran’s threats to retaliate if the arms embargo set to expire in October is extended, calling it a “mafia tactic.” Among its options, the Islamic Republic could expel international inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, deepening a crisis created by US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s 2015 atomic accord with global powers.

The UN arms embargo so far has stopped Iran from purchasing fighter jets, tanks, warships and other weaponry, but has failed to halt its smuggling of weapons into war zones. Despite that, Hook argues both an import and export ban on Tehran must remain in place to secure the wider Mideast.

Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, speaks at the Iranian Materiel Display at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, November 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“If we let it expire, you can be certain that what Iran has been doing in the dark, it will do in broad daylight and then some,” Hook says.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hook’s remarks.

Hook makes the comments while on a visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the US-allied United Arab Emirates, as part of a Mideast tour. Hook met yesterday with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and plans to meet with other officials today. Hook declines to say where else he will travel on his trip.

The United Nations banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear program. That blocked Iran from replacing its aging equipment, much of which had been purchased by the shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.

— AP

Gantz said to order IDF to find terrorists’ bodies to up leverage with Hamas

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has reportedly instructed the military to track down the bodies of Palestinian terrorists held by Israel whose burial places are unknown, in a move aimed at increasing the Jewish state’s leverage in talks with Gaza’s Hamas rulers on potential prisoner swap.

According to the Ynet news site, there are believed to be a few dozen bodies whose whereabouts are unknown.

Gantz has also decided to hold the bodies of terrorists regardless of their organizational affiliation, the report says, similar to plans put forward by his predecessor in the defense minister post, Naftali Bennett.

Gantz could bring the proposal for cabinet approval in the coming weeks, but likely not in the upcoming meeting on Israel’s possible annexation of West Bank lands, the report says.

A spokeswoman for Gantz declines to comment on the report.

Hamas is believed to be holding two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in Gaza during the 2014 war between Israel and the terror group.

Gaza-based factions declare ‘day of rage’ for July 1, when Netanyahu can begin annexing

Palestinian factions in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have called for a “day of rage” on Wednesday against Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

The groups don’t give details on what the “day of rage” will entail.

Wednesday marks the first day Prime Minister Netanyanu can begin moving forward with annexing West Bank lands slated for Israel under the Trump administration’s peace deal, as part of his coalition deal with Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged to begin moving forward on July 1 with extending sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley, but it remains unclear what the extent of the potential move will be.

Hamas’s military wing warned last week that annexation would be a “declaration of war” and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi suggested violence in the West Bank could spread to Gaza.

Israel orders evangelical GOD TV off the air for alleged missionary content

Israel’s media watchdog says it has withdrawn the broadcast license from US-based evangelical network GOD TV, accusing it of seeking to target Jews with Christian content.

International Christian network’s GOD TV launched its Shelanu (Hebrew for “ours”) channel at the end of April on Israeli cable provider Hot, describing it as catering to Christians.

But the channel provoked an immediate outcry in Israel, with then-communications minister David Amsalem accusing it of being a “missionary channel” seeking to convert Jews to Christianity.

The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council launched an investigation to determine if GOD TV had misrepresented its content when it applied for a license.

Council chairman Asher Bitton says today that following the probe and a hearing, he has informed Hot that Shelanu broadcasts must be removed within seven days.

“The channel is aimed at Jews with Christian content, in contrast to the original broadcast request, which stated it was designated for Christians,” Bitton says in a council statement.

It says that a Christian channel for Jews won’t be automatically disqualified in the future, but that it will have to seek council approval, which Shelanu had not done.

Hot could file a new request for Shelanu that would include “a truthful and detailed” characterization of the channel, the statement adds.

A spokeswoman for Hot says the company is “cooperating with the council and will act in accordance with its decisions on the matter.”

In one promotional clip for Shelanu, GOD TV director Ward Simpson tells viewers, “we’re going to preach the Jewish Jesus to the nation of Israel… they’re going to hear the gospel presented to them in their native tongue.”


9 Iran-backed militiamen said killed in 2nd Syria air raid

BEIRUT — Airstrikes targeting positions of Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria killed nine fighters today in the second such raid in 24 hours, a war monitor says.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Israel was “likely responsible” for the strikes near the Iraqi border, which came hours after a similar raid killed six other Tehran-backed fighters, raising the toll to 15 killed in 24 hours.


Director-general of the Education Ministry to step down

Shmuel Abuav, the director-general of the Education Ministry, has informed Education Minister Yoav Gallant he intends to step down from the post.

Abuav writes in a letter to Gallant that he’s willing to stay on through the start of the coming school year if needed, according to the Haaretz daily.

“We’re in a complex moment for the education system in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic,” Abuav says. “Therefore as is needed, I’ll continue in my role during the summer vacation and until the end of the start of the next school year.”

He adds: “Over the last year I dealt with stabilizing the system, dealing each day with the coronavirus crisis and its far-reaching impact on the functioning of the education system.”

Abuav has been serving as director-general of the ministry since 2017, when he was appointed to the post by former education minister Naftali Bennett.

Gallant releases a statement praising Abuav, saying “he helped me a lot since I entered the post and proved to be a loyal partner in dealing with the challengers of the coronavirus period.

Citing the need to prepare for the coming school, Gallant says “I’ll work to  bring a fitting candidate for government approval as soon as possible.”

Shmuel Abuav, director-general of the Education Ministry, speaks at the 16th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, February 11, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Lebanon’s FM summons US envoy over Hezbollah criticism

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s foreign minister has summoned the US ambassador to Beirut over comments she made recently in which she criticized the Hezbollah terror group, state-run National News Agency reports.

The agency gives no further details other than saying the meeting between Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti and Ambassador Dorothy Shea is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

Local media says the minister will tell the ambassador that according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an ambassador has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of another country and should not incite the Lebanese people against one another.

Yesterday, a Lebanese judge banned local and foreign media outlets in the country from interviewing the US ambassador for a year saying that her criticism of Hezbollah was seditious and a threat to social peace.

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.

The move was harshly criticized by many in Lebanon, which enjoyed one of the more freer media landscapes in the Arab world. Others, however, criticized Shea for comments deemed an interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs

Since the ban by the judge was imposed, several local TV stations aired fresh comments from Shea in which she described the judge’s decision as “unfortunate.” She added that a senior Lebanese government official, whom she did not name, apologized to her.

— Agencies

Netanyahu, finance minister say they’ll extend unemployment benefits

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz say they’ve decided to extend unemployment benefits through mid-August for Israelis whose eligibility for the payments was set to soon expire.

“As part of this, eligibility for grants for those 67 and older who didn’t return to work will be extended. At the end of this period the continuation of the ineligibility will be reexamined in light of the employment data in the economy,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.

The statement says the proposal will be added to a bill currently making its way through the Knesset to speed approval of the benefits.

“This is part of the steps we’re taking taking to encourage the economy, look out for self-employed [workers] and the unemployed. People need something to earn a living from,” Netanyahu says in a video statement.

Far-right activists arrested before Jerusalem LGBT rally released

Ativist from the Jewish extremist group Lehava is released from custody without conditions after he was arrested on suspicion of planning to disrupt a pro-LGBT rally in Jerusalem.

“They [the police] think they can read minds,” Moshe Ben Zikri, one of the activists, says outside the courtroom in footage aired by the Kan public broadcaster. “I have a family event tonight. I didn’t intend to go [to the rally].”

Health official says data error led to lockdown of Tiberias neighborhoods

A Health Ministry official acknowledges that a statistical error led the government to order a lockdown of several neighborhoods in the northern city of Tiberias, which was later reduced to three streets.

“We strive to thoroughly examine the data,” Anat Zurel-Farber, an assistant to the head of public services, tells the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. “We’re not free of mistakes. There was a mistake in Tiberias.”

Pressed by United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher, the chairman of the committee, on the extent of the error, Zurel-Farber says she doesn’t know.

She also says there were no statistical mistakes in the decision to impose a lockdown on the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad.

Tiff between Netanyahu, Gantz picked up on hot mic

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz butted heads at the opening of today’s cabinet meeting over an arrest during a protest outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence, another tiff between the two, which they hadn’t meant to publicize, was recorded.

Some 15 minutes before the cabinet meeting began, Gantz told Netanyahu’s staff he wanted to say a few words to the media after the premier speaks, as he has done occasionally in the past few weeks, according to footage obtained and aired by Channel 12.

When Netanyahu finished speaking, his associates told the journalists present that the public part of the meeting was over and that they should leave, according to the footage.

Gantz looked angrily at Netanyahu’s chief of staff Asher Hayoun, who replied: “Only now he told me [that you want to speak].”

Gantz answered: “What do you mean he now told you? I said it 15 minutes ago.”

Hayoun then whispered to Netanyahu: “He told me he wanted to speak for a minute” and the premier interjected: “He will speak later, not now.” Gantz, still visibly angry, then said: “No, no, I understand, it’s fine.”

The footage ends with Netanyahu saying he had been told Gantz wanted to speak at the opening of the coronavirus cabinet, a separate panel of ministers overseeing the government response to the pandemic.

From left to right: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Asher Hayoun and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Trump approvingly tweets video showing ‘white power’ chant

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump tweets approvingly of a video showing one of his supporters chanting “white power,” a racist slogan associated with white supremacists.

The video appears to have been taken at The Villages, a Florida retirement community, and shows dueling demonstrations between Trump supporters and opponents.

“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” Trump tweets. Moments into the video clip he shared, a man driving a golf cart displaying pro-Trump signs and flags shouts ‘white power.” The video also shows anti-Trump protesters shouting “Nazi,” “racist,” and profanities at the Trump backers.

“There’s no question: that Trump should not have retweeted the video and “he should just take it down,” Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina tells CNN’s “State of the Union.” Scott is the only Black Republican in the Senate.

The White House doesn’t immediately respond to questions about Trump’s decision to share the video.

— AP

Train passenger tests positive for virus in apparent first since return of service

An Israeli who rode on a train last week has tested positive for the coronavirus, in what appears to be the first person to test positive since Israel Railways resumed service last week after a three-month hiatus.

According to the Health Ministry, the man got on a train on Monday, opening day, in the southern city of Beersheba on June 22, at 3:30 p.m. and disembarked in Sderot at 4:30 p.m.

Health minister warns Israel ‘at the start of the second wave’

Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein addresses the recent rise in virus cases, after ministers rejected new restrictions recommended by the Health Ministry earlier today.

“We’re at the start of the second wave,” he says during a press conference at the Health Ministry.

Stressing his desire to balance health and economic considerations, Edelstein decries what he says is a failure by the public to adhere to the Health Ministry’s social distancing guidelines.

“My starting point is that whoever doesn’t listen to the instructions doesn’t only damage himself or his environment. He can also harm the entire economy,” he says.

Referring to the proposed restrictions presented to ministers earlier today, Edelstein describes them as “unpleasant” but necessary.

“The recommendations are of course unpleasant, but they are necessitated by the reality in order to deal with the virus at this stage and to not reach a general lockdown of the economy. Our goal is maximum benefit and minimum damage,” he says.

The recommendations presented by Edelstein include restrictions on religious events such as weddings and circumcisions; limitations on synagogues; restricting gatherings; holding end-of-year university exams remotely; and encouraging workplaces to have their employees work from home.

Edelstein also slams what he calls “populist competition” to downplay the severity of the virus.

Gantz to meet Trump’s peace envoy on Monday for annexation talks

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will meet tomorrow with Avi Berkowitz, US President Donald Trump’s peace envoy, ahead of Israel’s possible annexation of West Bank lands.

Berkowitz, who arrived in Israel over the weekend, is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Police detain far-right activists ahead of LGBT rally in Jerusalem

Police have detained several activists from an extremist Jewish group as they went to protest against a LGBT rally, their laywer says.

Bentzi Gopstein, the head of Lahava, was not detained and is making his way to the rally.

Police earlier today arrested three Lahava activists, but they were all later released without conditions.

27 suspects detained ahead of Jerusalem LGBT rally

Police say they have detained and arrested 27 people ahead of the LGBT rally in Jerusalem’s Independence Park.

All those in custody are suspected of “behavior that could violate the public peace,” according to police.

Health Ministry reports 218 new infections since Saturday night

The Health Ministry reports 218 coronavirus cases since last night, raising the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 23,639.

Of the 6,265 actives cases, there are 39 in serious condition, including 22 on ventilators. Another 60 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

The death toll remains at 318.

Israelis souring on Netanyahu’s handling of pandemic, economic crisis — poll

The Israeli public is souring on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic fallout, according to a television poll.

Asked how they rate Netanyahu’s performance in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak in health terms, 58 percent of respondents to the Channel 12 survey say they approve, versus 36% who disapprove.

When asked the same question on May 8, 74% approved and 23% disapproved.

Concerning Netanyahu’s handling of the economic aspects of the virus, 35% say they approve, while 58% give him a thumbs down.

In the May poll, 53% approved and 43% disapproved.

Gantz’s Blue and White party slumps to single digits in TV poll

In a separate television poll, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party sinks to single digits, while Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud would secure a majority together with right-wing religious parties if an election were held at this time.

According to the Channel 13 survey, Likud would pick up 38 seats if elections were held today, followed by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and the predominantly Arab Joint List, with 16 seats a piece.

The national-religious Yamina party, which backed Netanyahu in the elections but was left out of the new government, shoots up to 11 seats in the poll, up from the five seats it now has.

Blue and White would get nine seats, its worst showing since Gantz agreed to join a Netanyahu-led government after repeatedly ruling out sitting in a coalition headed by the premier, due to his indictment on graft charges.

MK Avigdor Liberman’s right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party received eight seats in the poll, as did the ultra-Orthodox Shas.

United Torah Judaism, another Haredi party, and the left-wing Meretz were each forecast to receive seven seats.

Between them, Likud, Yamina, Shas and UTJ would have 64 seats, enough for a governing majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

US health secretary: Trump doesn’t wear a mask due to his ‘unique’ circumstances

WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says US President Donald Trump’s “unique” circumstances is why he does not wear a mask even as the government is urging people to do so.

Addressing spikes in reported coronavirus cases in some states, Azar says people “have to take ownership” of their own behaviors by social distancing and wearing masks if possible.

He says Trump does not have to follow his own administration’s guidance because as a leader of the free world, he is tested regularly and is in “very different circumstances than the rest of us.”

Azar declines to say whether he has ever asked Trump to wear a mask. He tells CNN and NBC that his own message to the people is to take precautions for “public health.”

Democratic Governor Jay Inslee says Trump should spend more time tweeting about wearing masks instead of monuments. Inslee tells CBS: “We need a president who will care more about living Americans and less about dead Confederates.”

— AP

Thousands attend LGBT rallies in Jerusalem, other cities

Thousands of Israelis attend LGBT protest-rallies in four major cities across the country, in lieu of annual pride parades that were cancelled this year due to the coronavirus.

The demonstrations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba represent the peak of a month of events marking Pride that were organized by the Aguda Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel under the theme, “the revolution is not yet complete.”

Arguably the most highly anticipated of the protest rallies took place in Jerusalem, where the lead-up to the demonstration included arrests of large numbers of far-right activists as well as a spat between the gathering’s organizers and the municipality over hanging up pride flags throughout the city to mark the occasion.

Numerous people who arrived at the Jerusalem event were turned away by police, who said it was at full capacity.

Gazan arrested after trying to swim into Israel — reports

A Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who tried to swim into Israel, approaching via the sea, has been arrested by the IDF navy some 200 meters from Israeli shores, Hebrew-language media reports.

The IDF says the reports are being “investigated.”

The Walla news site quotes an unnamed security source saying the suspect was not armed and was trying to enter the country illegally.

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