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

AG says Netanyahu cannot fund legal defense with donation from witness

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has told the State Comptroller’s Office that he opposes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to receive some NIS 10 million in outside funding for his legal expenses in a series of graft cases, saying that the donation would border on a gift.

“It cannot be stated that receiving this amount by the Prime Minister from Mr. Partridge is not a gift given to him as a public servant,” reads a letter from Mandelblit’s office urging the permits panel to reject the request.

Netanyahu has asked the committee to allow an NIS 10 million ($2.9 million) donation from Spencer Partrich, a Michigan-based real estate magnate, to fund his legal defense.

Because Partrich also happens to be a witness in one of the cases, the committee has asked the country’s attorney general for his opinion on the matter.

‘Netanyahu associates’ lash out at Mandelblit

Responding to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision that a wealthy friend cannot fund his legal defense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses Mandelblit of hypocrisy.

“The attorney general’s conflict of interest screams out to the heaven,” reads a statement sent out to Hebrew media and attributed to Netanyahu’s associates.

“With one hand he serves a false indictment against the prime minister, and with his other he does everything to sabotage the prime minister’s ability to defend himself.”

The statement calls the graft charges against Netanyahu “politically motivated.”


Lapid predicts bloodshed from Netanyahu-Mandelblit tussle

Opposition leader Yair Lapid says on Twitter that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bashing of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the law enforcement community is “wild incitement” that “will end in blood.”

“Bibi cannot say afterwards ‘I didn’t know.’ He is leading the incitement. Anyone who stays quiet gives him legitimacy — they are also responsible,” he says, in a veiled jab at former partner Benny Gantz.

Israeli journalist in Lebanon accused of recruiting for Hezbollah

The Shin Bet security service accuses an Arab Israeli woman living in Lebanon of working to recruit Israeli citizens as operatives for the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

According to the Shin Bet, Beirut Hamoud sought to enlist two female residents of the northern town of Majd al-Krum, where she is originally from.

Hamoud, a journalist at the Hezbollah-linked Al-Akhbar newspaper, reached out to the two woman and met with them in Turkey in December, after which the Shin Bet questioned them on suspicion that Hamoud and her Lebanese husband Bilal Bizari tried to recruit them to Hezbollah, the security agency says.

“During the investigation the contact between the two and Beirut was confirmed, as well as information about the meeting in Turkey and the way in which Hezbollah worked through Beirut and her husband to enlist additional Israelis for Hezbollah operations,” a Shin Bet statement says.

The two Majd al-Krum residents were arrested on May 2 and have since been released under conditions.

The Shin Bet also says one of its agents called Hamoud’s husband to warn Israel was on to them and to cease their efforts to recruit Israelis citizens for Hezbollah.

— Alex Fulbright

Putin to (virtually) huddle with Erdogan, Rouhani on Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the Syrian conflict on Wednesday with the leaders of Turkey and Iran, the Kremlin says.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the video conference will see Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani make “three statements” before discussing Syria in private.

The call will take place around 11:00 a.m. GMT, Peskov says.

The talks will be the first since September in the so-called Astana format, in which the three powers discuss developments in Syria, where the conflict has entered its 10th year.

Iran and Russia have been staunch supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey has called for his ouster and backed opposition fighters.


Permits panel expected to reject Netanyahu legal defense request — report

The Haaretz news outlet reports that the Permits Committee mulling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to fund his legal defense with a NIS 10 million donation from businessman bud Spencer Partrich is likely to turn him down.

The report cites unnamed sources in the committee.

It comes after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended against allowing him to use the donation from the Michigan-based real estate tycoon, who is a witness in the case against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu meets with US officials ahead of annexation day

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with US Ambassador David Friedman and special Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz a day ahead of his self-imposed date for beginning to annex West Bank lands under the US peace proposal, his office says.

Also at the meeting are Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, national security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and PMO bureau chief Ronen Peretz.

The subject of the meeting is not announced.

Knesset committee demands local leaders be consulted on lockdowns

The Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee has given the go-ahead for the Knesset to vote two final times on a law extending the government’s ability to declare areas with high coronavirus infection numbers as restricted zones.

However, committee members mark up the bill with a caveat that any such move must be made in consultation with local leaders and with respect paid to local needs, with extensive efforts made to obtain the agreement of locals.

The change is spearheaded by committee head Yakov Asher, whose UTJ party represents an ultra-Orthodox community beset by high infection rates and which has opposed measures restricting movement in Haredi neighborhoods and shutting down synagogues and yeshivas.

The addition to the bill will also require lawmakers to ensure that the restricted area is not wider than absolutely necessary. Asher describes the additions as necessary to keep the Health Ministry from messing up. “If you bring things to ministers, make well sure they line up with reality,” he says at the end of the discussion, in a rebuke to health officials.

Ultra-Orthodox community leaders have complained that recent lockdowns on some Haredi neighborhoods were based on faulty data or unnecessarily draconian given the infection rates.

The bill will now to move to the Knesset for second and third readings.

Nissenkorn, Gantz back Mandelblit in tiff with Netanyahu

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn is defending his attorney general from attack by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Mandelblit isn’t hounding anybody, he is doing his job,” Nissenkorn tweets. “An attack on the gatekeepers hurts democracy and weakening democracy will harm the rights of all Israel’s citizens.”

A statement attributed in the Hebrew press to “associates of Netanyahu” had accused Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of chasing after the prime minister.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also says he is giving “full backing” to Mandelblit and the law enforcement community.

“They will continue to fulfill their duties fearlessly, professionally and determinedly. We created this government given the coronavirus crisis and that’s what we’ll deal with,” he tweets.


Lawyer who helped draft Trump articles of impeachment to release book

Former Obama administration official and House counsel Norman Eisen is releasing a book about the effort to impeach US President Donald Trump.

“A Case for the American People: The United States v. Donald J. Trump” will be released July 28, Crown announces.

Eisen served as the ethics czar under President Barack Obama and as counsel to Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment process.

Crown, a division of Penguin Random House, is calling the book “a detailed behind-the-scenes account of the attempts to bring the President to justice.”

“As a lead drafter of the articles of impeachment, he pulls back the curtain to reveal the 10 prospective articles — not just the two publicly tried,” according to Crown. “’A Case for the American People’ is a gripping narrative and rousing closing argument.”

— AP

Israeli firm says it’s working on 1-hour coronavirus test

Israeli firm AID Genomics says it is working on a one-hour COVID-19 test, joining several other firms around the world also seeking to cut down on testing times.

“We took the critical parts of the process, and saw how we could shorten the time, and do the tests in a collective way,” head scientist  Yitzhak Haviv says.

He says some tests can be shortened to be even faster. The new tests are expected to be rolled out in coming weeks, according to the channel.

Other firms and researchers in Israel and around the world have announced plans for one-hour tests in the past several months, though none are yet widely available here. Tests in Israel currently take around a day for results to come back.

On Monday, the prime minister reiterated the government’s goal of having a 48-hour window for identifying and performing contact tracing on new cases.

AID Genomics provides lab testing services, together with Chinese partner BGI.

Netanyahu says he’ll keep hashing out annexation with US ‘in days to come’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he spoke about “the question of sovereignty” with US Ambassador David Friedman and special US envoy Avi Berkowitz.

“We’re working on it and we will continue to work on it in coming days,” he says, indicating that no decision on annexation will be made by his self-imposed start date of July 1.

Netanyahu, speaking at a Foreign Ministry ceremony, also expresses worries over mounting coronavirus infections.

“We need to do something, on one side to stop this spread and on the other side to allow economic activity,” he says.


Israel left off EU list of safe zone countries

As expected, Israel has been left off a list of nations allowed to visit the EU, for at least the next two weeks.

Travelers from other big countries like Russia, Brazil and India will also miss out.

Citizens from the following countries will be allowed into the EU’s 27 members and four other nations in Europe’s visa-free Schengen travel zone: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Countries considered for the safe list are also expected to lift any bans they might have in place on European travelers. The list is to be updated every 14 days, with new countries being added and some even dropping off depending on whether they are keeping the disease under control.

— with AP

Knesset committee green-lights Shin Bet phone tracking

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has given the go-ahead to a bill that would allow the Shin Bet to assist in contact tracing efforts by tapping into peoples’ phones.

The controversial measure must still pass second and third readings in the Knesset. It is expected to be in effect for three weeks as a stopgap measure until an app from a private firm that can do the work can be rolled out.

The bill stipulates that the Shin Bet can only be deployed if other contact tracing efforts prove fruitless, but adds that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can ask the committee to expand the criteria needed for the Shin Bet to track people should he so desire.

Funnyman Carl Reiner dies at 98

Carl Reiner, the ingenious and versatile writer, actor and director who broke through as a “second banana” to Sid Caesar and rose to comedy’s front ranks as creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and straight man to Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man,” has died. He was 98.

Carl Reiner, left, and his son Rob Reiner following a hand and footprint ceremony for them at the TCL Chinese Theatre on April 7, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Reiner’s assistant Judy Nagy says he died Monday night of natural causes his home in Beverly Hills, California.

One of show business’s best-liked men, the tall, bald Reiner was a welcome face on the small and silver screens, in Caesar’s 1950s troupe, as the snarling, toupee-wearing Alan Brady of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and in such films as “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

Reiner, the son of Jewish immigrants, was born in the Bronx on March 20, 1922.

He is the father of actor-director Rob Reiner.

— with AP


Russian Jewish philanthropist Ilia Salita dies at 52

Ilia Salita, the head of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which funds Jewish identity-building efforts for Russian-speaking Jews around the world, has died.

Ilia Salita, president and CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which helps Russian-speaking Jews around the globe. (Courtesy)

Salita, who had cancer, died Monday in New Jersey at the age of 52.

He was the president and CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy Group for six years after serving as the organization’s North American executive director.

“Ilia was a dear friend, colleague, mentor and leader, especially in these challenging times,” the Genesis Philanthropy Group says in a statement. “We will feel his loss profoundly. He left an indelible mark on our organization, those who knew and loved him, and on the Jewish people.”


Netanyahu said to apologize after shaking US diplomat’s hand

Prime Minister apologized to US diplomat Brian Hook after he shook his hand when the two met in Jerusalem earlier in the day, Channel 12 news reports.

Video of the meeting showed Netanyahu stride up to hook with his arm outstretched and Hook, who should have been whiling away the hours in 14-day quarantine, grasping Netanyahu’s digits with the same gusto.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Adviser to the US Secretary of State, at the Prime Minister Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As they pull away, Hook is seen rubbing his hand on his suit jacket momentarily. The two then put their hands on their faces to remove their masks

According to the report, Netanyahu told Hook in private that he had messed up but had gotten carried away because the two got along so famously.

Netanyahu stopped shaking people’s hands in February, weeks before doing so was common, and soon after urged his countrymen to follow suit.

German military partially dissolves commando unit over far-right links

Germany’s Defense Minister says she has ordered the partial dissolution of the elite KSK commando force, which has come under growing criticism over right-wing extremism in its ranks.

The KSK had “become partially independent” from the chain of command, with a “toxic leadership culture”, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tells the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

That meant it “cannot continue to exist in its present form.”

One of the force’s four companies, where extremism was said to be the most rife, would be dissolved and not replaced, the minister said.

The elite commando force is charged with sensitive and risky missions such as hostage rescue operations or anti-terror action abroad.

But suspicions that some members harbor far-right extremist sympathies have plagued the force in recent years, even as Germany has been hit by a wave of extreme-right violence, including deadly attacks on migrants, Jewish people and politicians.

In April 2017, revelers at a farewell party for a KSK commander allegedly threw pig heads, played right-wing rock music and gave the Nazi salute.


Dutch lawmakers tell government to consider sanctions against Israel

The Dutch parliament has passed a resolution urging the government to explore possible sanctions against Israel if it goes ahead with its plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank.

The resolution calls on the foreign minister to “to identify options of measures (possibly) to be taken should Israel proceed with annexation of Palestinian territory.”

It also notes annexation is a “gross violation of international law” and notes that the Netherlands has in the past “taken measures against countries that violate international law.”

Last week, the Belgian parliament passed a similar resolution. Tomorrow, the German Bundestag is expected to discuss and pass a resolution condemning Jerusalem’s annexation plan as well, though lawmakers are unlikely to call for sanctions.

— Raphael Ahren

Senior GOP lawmaker says Trump should wear mask

A leading Republican senator says US President Donald Trump should start wearing a mask at least some of the time, because politics is getting in the way of protecting the American people from COVID-19.

Sen. Lamar Alexander speaks during a committee hearing on June 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago/Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

“The stakes are too high for the political debate about pro-Trump, anti-Trump masks to continue,” says Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Alexander is chairing a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee that’s focused on ways to safely reopen schools and workplaces.

Alexander had to self-quarantine after he was exposed to a staff member who tested positive. But the senator says he was protected because the staffer was wearing a mask.

— AP

Dozens at Ashdod school test positive for coronavirus

Some 30 students and seven teachers at an Ashdod school have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Hebrew media reports.

The school has been shut down since the weekend, when the first cases there were discovered.

Ashdod has seen a sharp increase in cases recently, with the government placing restrictions on some of the coastal city’s neighborhoods.

Far-right politicians Peretz, Marzel scrap in Hebron

A video shows a scuffle between far-right activist Baruch Marzel and far-right lawmaker Rafi Peretz during a tour of Hebron.

The video shows Peretz, the head of the Jewish Home faction within the Yamina party, outside Marzel’s home in an Israeli enclave within the Palestinian city, when Marzel begins yelling something at him.

Guards are then seen pushing Marzel away, as he tries to jostle with them.

Itamar Ben-Gvir says that Marzel had been protesting Peretz’s decision to renege on a deal with Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party in order to join Yamina before the last round of elections. Marzel, a former man Friday for extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, had been heavily involved in the formation of the Kahanist Otzma party.

Ben-Gvir says Marzel is considering pressing charges.

Over 760 new virus cases in last 24 hours, seriously ill tally ramps up

The Health Ministry releases new coronavirus data showing 765 new infections over the last 24 hours, as the pandemic continues to trend upward.

The tally matches the second-highest 24-hour count since the start of the pandemic.

There have now been 25,041 cases since the start of the pandemic.

The ministry says the number of patients in serious condition is up to 52, six more than the previous update this morning, though the number of people on ventilators remains steady at 24.

The death toll remains at 320.

Pompeo urges UN to extend arms embargo on Iran; China says no way

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging the UN Security Council to extend an arms embargo on Iran, warning that its expiration would risk the stability of the oil-rich region.

“Iran will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices,” Pompeo tells the virtual session, referencing two opponents of prolonging the embargo.

The United States is adamant about prolonging the ban on conventional arms sales to its adversary which expires in October and has threatened to use a disputed legal move to force a return of UN sanctions on Iran.

The session hears a UN report that found that cruise missiles and drones from an attack last year in Saudi Arabia — a close US ally and Tehran’s regional rival — were of Iranian origin.

“Iran is already violating the arms embargo even before its expiration date. Imagine if Iranian activity were sanctioned — authorized — by this group if the restrictions are lifted,” Pompeo says.

Chinese envoy Zhang Jun says the US is no longer able to take action on the sanctions.

“Having quit the JCPOA, the US is no longer a participant and has no right to trigger a snapback at the Security Council,” he says.

Iran’s Mohammed Javad Zarif is scheduled to speak at the UN session soon


Health Ministry to recommend total lockdowns … or not — TV

The Health Ministry plans to recommend that the government place some 10 cities under total lockdown as virus infection numbers rocket upwards, a Channel 12 news anchor reports.

The report lists Kiryat Gat, Ashdod, Ramle and Dimona as cities that could be placed under full curfew, which would go beyond the “breathing closures” currently in place in some neighborhoods, which still largely allows movement in and out of them.

A second Channel 12 reporter quotes senior officials in the ministry pushing against the idea, calling a total lockdown a bridge too far and questioning the reliability of the official data.

The officials also note that the virus appears to be widely dispersed and not largely contained to hotspots.

The channel’s nonplussed presenter quips that “the public is wondering which Health Ministry officials to believe.”

Large explosion reported in Tehran

Videos posted online show what appears to be a large explosion and fire in northern Tehran.

At least one report identifies the site of the explosion as a large hospital, that appears to still be burning.

The explosion comes days after another mysterious blast rocked an area north of Tehran.

Fauci: US could see 100,000 new virus cases per day

The US’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says coronavirus cases could grow to 100,000 a day in the US if Americans don’t start following public health recommendations.

He makes the remark at a Senate hearing on reopening schools and workplaces.

Asked to forecast the outcome of recent surges in some states, Fauci says he can’t make an accurate prediction but believes it will be “very disturbing.”

“We are now having 40-plus-thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned,” said Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health.

Fauci said areas seeing recent outbreaks are putting the entire nation at risk, including areas that have made progress in reducing COVID-19 cases. He cited recent video footage of people socializing in crowds, often without masks, and otherwise ignoring safety guidelines.

— AP

As Tehran hospital burns, Israeli channel sees tie-in for TV show

Israel’s Kan public broadcaster appears to be trying to capitalize on a massive explosion at a Tehran hospital by peddling its new show about an Israeli spy stuck in the Iranian capital.

“You’ve gone too far in #Tehran,” tweets one of the outlet’s reporters, alongside a video of the blast.

The Kan official Twitter account answers with “Tamar?” seemingly a reference to the show’s protagonist Tamar Rabinyan.

US seeking goodwill gesture for Palestinians to offset annexation — report

Channel 12 news reporter Daphna Liel reports that the Trump administration is pushing Israel to offer the Palestinians some sort of goodie in exchange for annexing part of the land they want for their future state.

Among the ideas is transferring an area to the Palestinians where they can build without limit, or re-delineating some Area C lands as Area B, where Palestinians have civil control.

“If the right wing knew what the Americans wanted in exchange for annexation, they would be less enthusiastic,” she quotes a diplomatic source saying.

Tehran officials say three hurt in fire at medical center

A spokesperson for Tehran’s fire and rescue service says it is battling a blaze at a medical clinic in the north of the city, after reports of an explosion there.

He tells the Tasnim news outlet the explosion may have been caused by oxygen cannisters, but it is not yet clear.

Reuters reports that three people have been injured, citing another official speaking to the Fars news site.

Lift arms embargo or the nuke deal gets it, Iran tells UN

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tells the UN Security council that failing to lift an arms embargo on the Islamic Republic by October 18 will bury what it left of the nuclear accord.

“The timetable for the removal of arms restrictions embodied in Resolution 2231 is an inseparable part of the hard-won compromise,” Zarif says, referring to the 2015 resolution that was passed in parallel to the nuclear deal and set the timeline for lifting the weapons ban.

“Any attempt to change or amend the agreed timetable is thus tantamount to undermining Resolution 2231 in its entirety,” he says.

— with AFP

Biden says he won’t hold rallies during pandemic

US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says he will not hold campaign rallies during the coronavirus pandemic, drawing a stark contrast with President Donald Trump, who has already held large campaign gatherings.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden takes off his mask before speaking during an event in Dover, Delaware, on June 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“This is the most unusual campaign I think in modern history,” the former vice president says during a rare question-and-answer session with reporters in Delaware to discuss the pandemic and ways to mitigate the spread.

“I’m going to follow the doc’s orders — not just for me but for the country — and that means that I am not going to be holding rallies,” says Biden, who added that he has not yet been tested for the coronavirus.


Palestinians report almost 300 new virus cases, one death

The Palestinian Health Ministry reports 293 West Bank cases of the novel coronavirus since Tuesday morning.

An additional 29 cases are confirmed in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem.

A 44-year old woman died today of coronavirus in Hebron, raising the total number of deaths in the West Bank to 5.

— Aaron Boxerman

Israeli map shows bid to widen West Bank annexation in isolated areas — report

The Kan broadcaster publishes what it says is a map that Israel has presented to the US for its proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank.

The map differs from previous versions in that it expands access to far-out settlements, thereby turning them from isolated enclaves into areas connected to the larger settlement blocs by wide swaths of land, the outlet reports.

The map also shows Arab cities inside Israel, such as Umm al Fahm, being included in the Palestinian entity, an extremely controversial move that Israeli leaders disavowed after it was included in the Trump administration’s peace plan.

The map shows areas that Israel would expand its footprint into, in green, and strips of land on the western edge of the Jordan Valley and the western edge of the northern West Bank, in yellow, that would be appended to Palestinian hands as “compensation” to sweeten the non-deal.

There is no confirmation of the map’s validity.


As virus spreads, South Korea may crack down on houses of worship

South Korea is considering including religious facilities on the same list with nightclubs, hostess bars and karaoke rooms as “high risk” venues for the spread of COVID-19 following a slew of transmissions tied to church gatherings.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun says during a virus meeting on Wednesday that more than 40% of the country’s newly confirmed infections over the previous three days have been traced back to places of worship.

“If religious facilities continue to be an environment for infections by failing to implement anti-virus measures, it will be inevitable for the government to designate (them) as high-risk facilities and enforce strong restrictions,” Chung says.

A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus passes by lantern decorations for Buddha’s birthday at the Chogyesa temple in Seoul, Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP/Ahn Young-joon)

High-risk facilities are advised to close or otherwise must enforce anti-virus measures, including distancing, temperature checks, keeping customer lists and requiring employees and visitors to wear masks. They are also required to register visitors with smartphone QR codes so they could be easily located when needed.

Israel, which has looked to South Korea as a model, has allowed houses of worship to reopen under social distancing guidelines. A study of infection zones in March had found synagogues to be the largest culprit of helping the disease spread.

— with AP

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