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New Knesset’s swearing-in could be affected by ban on gatherings

It’s not yet clear whether the latest limit on congregations of over 100 people will cause issues for new legislature, set to convene on Monday

A general view of the Knesset in Jerusalem, file (Orel Cohen/FLASH90)
A general view of the Knesset in Jerusalem, file (Orel Cohen/FLASH90)

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

El Al places some 85% of pilots on unpaid leave amid crisis

El Al has informed 550 of its 650 pilots (85%) that they will be placed on unpaid leave until May as the airline cancels flights and suffers significant losses over the coronavirus crisis.

The decision comes after Israel this week announced all arrivals from abroad would be required to enter home quarantine, leading foreign airlines to cancel numerous flights to Israel, and Israeli airlines to announce the coming closure of most international routes.

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead in West Bank clashes with Israeli troops

A Palestinian teen has died after being shot during clashes with Israeli security forces near Nablus.

The 15-year-old was shot in the head in the riots where 16 other Palestinians were reported wounded. The riots, which included hundreds of people, came in response to a group of Israelis visiting an ancient fortress in the region.

The Israel Defense Forces says protesters hurled rocks at troops and burned tires and added it will investigate the reports of Palestinian casualties.

Palestinian youths take cover amidst tear gas smoke during clashes with Israeli forces in a village south of Nablus in the West Bank on March 11, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Netanyahu announces $2.8 billion package to help economy through crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces an NIS 10 billion ($2.8 billion) package to stabilize the economy amid damage caused by the coronavirus crisis and to “allow the economy to continue to function.”

He adds: “The state of the Israeli economy is better than most world economies. The financial system is strong and unemployment is low. These are big advantages in entering this crisis. This is a challenge we believe we can manage, in order to eventually traverse it safely.”

Netanyahu says he does not expect a shortage of goods in the country over the heavy flight restrictions as the vast majority of goods arrive by sea and “we’ll make sure that is not harmed.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the heads of the right-wing parties, following the results of elections, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Blue and White, Joint List representatives conclude hour-long meeting

A meeting between representatives of the Blue and White party and the leaders of the Joint List of Arab parties has concluded after about an hour amid apparent attempts by Benny Gantz’s slate to receive the Joint List’s backing for a minority government.

“We exchanged positions on recommendations to the president [on who should form the government] and on parliamentary issues,” the Joint List’s Ahmad Tibi tweets.

“Now we will return to our institutions and parties to make decisions. Both sides utterly reject the campaign of sedition and incitement [by the right].”

Liberman: Our position on the Joint List has not changed

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says his party’s position on cooperating with the Joint List “has not changed,” amid reports he could agree to support a Blue and White-led government backed from the outside by the predominantly Arab slate.

But, he says, “we are not obligated to provide [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu with intel or calming pills. We will make decisions according to the national interest and our promises to voters.”

He adds: “Netanyahu cooperated with [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat and Arab parties more than anyone else.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman participates in a conference at the Israeli Institute for Democracy, in Jerusalem, on November 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman says PM ‘running a machine of incitement and lies’

More from Avigdor Liberman, this time attacking the prime minister.

“The situation is a state of emergency and it would be expected of the prime minister to work for reconciliation and attempting to heal the divide after three elections.

“But instead he is engaging in delegitimization. He is running a machine of incitement and lies.”

Iran says virus kills 63 more, death toll climbs to 354

The death toll in Iran from the new coronavirus has climbed for another consecutive day, killing 62 more people in the past 24 hours as the government raises the nationwide death toll to 354.

The nation’s Health Ministry says the deaths are among some 9,000 confirmed cases in Iran, where the virus has spread to all of the country’s provinces.

The Islamic Republic has one of the world’s worst death tolls outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Outside of Iran, only Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon have recorded deaths from the virus in the Middle East.

In this Tuesday, March, 10, 2020 photo, paramedics test samples taken from patients suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, at a laboratory in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran (Amin Nazari/ISNA via AP)

— AP

MDA launches new scheme to consult doctors live, prevent needless trips to ER

Magen David Adom emergency and rescue service says it launching a new initiative to connect non-urgent patients to doctors for consultations and prevent needless trips to the emergency room.

MDA says it will use video chats with doctors to guide paramedics’ decision-making process when they respond to calls at patients’ homes, thus potentially cutting by a third — or 200,000 cases — the number of people who eventually must be taken to hospital.

An ambulance carrying an Israeli man who returned from Italy and tested positive for coronavirus arrives at Tel Hashomer Hospital, February 27, 2020 (Flash 90)

“We’ve been planning a community medicine program for three years,” says MDA director general Eli Bin. “But the need for this type of initiative has become much more urgent in light of the current coronavirus crisis, where taking a patient to the hospital presents serious risks — especially when the patient might not be severely ill, but can still be highly contagious, potentially putting immunocompromised patients at the hospital in danger.”

Harvey Weinstein arrives at court for sentencing

Harvey Weinstein arrived at court in a wheelchair for the final act of the rape trial that landed him behind bars: the sentencing that will send the once-powerful film producer to prison for his landmark #MeToo conviction.

Weinstein faces at least five years and up to 29 years behind bars after being convicted of raping an aspiring actress in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant in 2006. A second criminal case is pending in California.

Onlookers applaud the two women whom Weinstein was convicted of assaulting as they arrive in court, where they are expected to speak.

Harvey Weinstein arrives at the Manhattan Criminal Court, on February 24, 2020 in New York City (Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Weinstein, who has maintained that any sexual activity was consensual, will also have a chance to give his account. He opted not to testify at his trial.

— AP

US stocks tumble, resuming selloff on virus fears

Wall Street stocks resume their downward slide, falling sharply in opening trading amid rising fears the coronavirus outbreak will lead to a recession.

About 12 minutes into trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 24,288.78, down about 730 points, or 2.9 percent.

The broad-based S&P 500 also sank 2.9 percent to 2,797.51, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 2.6 percent to 8,125.42.

While stocks rallied on Tuesday, equities have been on a broad downward trend for the last three weeks or so as the coronavirus has morphed from a China-centered problem to a global worry, threatening the 11-year US “bull” market for stocks.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during the opening bell on March 10, 2020 in New York (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)


Report: Government may ban gatherings of over 100 people, close schools

As it intensifies its response to the coronavirus crisis, the Israeli government is considering barring gatherings of over 100 people and closing schools, with studies being conducted online, Channel 12 reports.

Historians quit Belgian Holocaust museum over plan to honor anti-Israel activist

Half of the scientific committee of Belgium’s national Holocaust museum resigned over the institution’s plan to host an event that was to honor a promoter of boycotts against Israel.

The resignation Tuesday of nine historians from the Kazerne Dossin memorial followed an outcry over its plan from December to host the awarding of a prize by the Pax Christi Catholic aid group to Brigitte Herremans, the Belga news agency reported. Herremans has said that Israel’s supporters inflate anti-Semitism to distract from its actions and called for the European Union to sanction both the country and its citizens when they enter European soil.

Brigitte Herremans (YouTube screenshot)

The plan to host the award ceremony was canceled amid protests by Belgian Jews. Kazerne Dossin, which at first said it was merely serving as a venue for Pax Christi rather than a co-organizer, did not explain the cancellation.

The controversy showed that “Kazerne Dossin, as a memorial site, cannot become a place where the current policies of the State of Israel are placed on the agenda,” the nine historians wrote in a joint statement.


Labor federation chief: PM’s aid package will not solve crisis

Histadrut labor federation chief Arnon Bar-David says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of an NIS 10 billion aid package to support the economy is insufficient.

“His proposal contains no solution to save the economy,” Bar-David says. “Giving loans does not truly provide a solution to businesses that are now collapsing. The financial system needs oxygen, not talk of oxygen.”

He calls to form an immediate round-table platform for discussion that will include the government, labor federation and employers.

Harvey Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape, sexual assault

Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison by a New York judge on Wednesday, two weeks after he was convicted of rape and sexual assault.

Judge James Burke ignored the pleas of Weinstein’s defense team to give their client the minimum of five years behind bars.

Weinstein, 67, was found guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree on February 24, in a verdict hailed by the #MeToo movement.


Netanyahu, health officials to hold 6:30 p.m. press conference

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and health officials will hold a press conference at 6:30 p.m., presumably to announce new actions to combat the spread of coronavirus in Israel.

There is now word yet on what exactly will be announced.

Number of coronavirus patients in Israel rises to 79

Two more people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, the Health Ministry says, bringing the total number of people to have caught the virus to 79.

No immediate word on who those people are or how they may have become sick.

World Health Organization declares COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic

The World Health Organization is officially designating the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.

At a press conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the organization “has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and the alarming levels of inaction.

“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized by ‘pandemic,'” he says.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press briefing on the coronavirus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 9, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/ AFP)

Iran’s vice president, 2 cabinet members have coronavirus

Iran’s senior vice president and two other cabinet members have contracted the new coronavirus, a semiofficial news agency reports as the death toll in the Islamic Republic from the outbreak rises by 62 to 354.

The report by the Fars news agency, believed to be close to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, comes as President Hassan Rouhani took control of the country’s much-criticized response to the virus and the illness it causes. Authorities announced that there were some 9,000 confirmed cases of the virus across Iran.

The Fars story also comes amid days of speculation about the health of Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. Jahangiri has not been seen in pictures of recent top-level meetings, raising concerns about him.

Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri in 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

— AP

Three more Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus, bringing total to 82

The number of Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus has risen by another three people, to 82 confirmed cases, according to Health Ministry figures.

The ministry says some 31,000 people are currently under home quarantine to contain the spread of the disease in the country.

Netanyahu announces ban on gatherings of over 100 people

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new limit on gatherings of over 100 people in closed spaces in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

He says there will be exceptions related to security, public need and more.

But “We’re asking, if there is no need for conferences, if there is no need for events, don’t hold them and don’t go to them.”

Netanyahu: Cough into a tissue; you don’t need masks

Netanyahu says Israel is in good shape to deal with the coronavirus crisis, when compared to many other countries, having closed its “outer envelope” by requiring self-quarantine for all arrivals from abroad.

He asks Israelis to change their day-to-day routine.

“We like to hug, shake hands, kiss — don’t do it,” he says.

“Don’t shake hands. Wash your hands. Maintain good personal hygiene,” he urges. “Cough into a tissue… you don’t need masks.”

“We’re in a pandemic — a global plague,” he says.

Sanders staying in the race, says priority is to beat Trump

Senator Bernie Senator says he will take part in Sunday’s debate with Joe Biden, giving no indication he plans to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“On Sunday, I very much look forward to the debate in Arizona with my friend, Joe Biden,” Sanders said, the day after Biden scooped a series of key wins in the most recent primaries.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont, arrives at a primary night election rally in Essex Junction, Vermont, March 3, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP)


Health Ministry says schools, public transport continue to operate normally

The director general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, says authorities are currently not closing schools, though they are looking into institutes of higher education holding their lessons online, with students studying from home.

Public transport is continuing to operate as usual.

Lives of older people are at stake — Netanyahu

Netanyahu says that younger people are not in danger from the virus, but older people are, and thus its spread must be prevented.

“If you get sick and you’re in your 20s or 30s,” he says, “you’ll get better.

“But if we can’t prevent the spread, we’ll infect the older people — and they’re in much greater danger… I’m talking about their lives…We have to look after dad and grandpa and grandma.”

“With God’s help and everybody’s cooperation, we’ll beat this,” he concludes.

Health Ministry says anyone with fever, respiratory symptoms must quarantine

The Health Ministry’s director general says anyone in Israel who develops a fever and respiratory symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath will henceforth be instructed to enter quarantine to rule out possible coronavirus infection.

He says quarantine should be maintained until 48 hours after symptoms disappear.

“It doesn’t mean you have coronavirus, it doesn’t mean you need to be examined. It means we’re taking a protective step,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov says.

Will the new Knesset’s swearing-in be affected by new ban on gatherings?

It is not yet clear whether the swearing-in ceremony for the new Knesset on Monday will be affected by the new decree against gatherings of over 100 people in enclosed spaces.

Netanyahu noted in his comments that there will be exceptions to the rule in areas of public need, but it is not known whether this will include parliament.

A general view of the Israeli parliament during a vote on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 11, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Public warned against visiting the elderly: ‘It’s hard but it can save lives’

The Health Ministry’s Moshe Bar Siman-Tov also calls on the public to avoid visits to the elderly, who are most at risk of serious illness.

“We know it’s hard but it can save lives. We see what is happening in other countries, where often the conflagration was sparked in nursing homes. Be careful.”

Theaters set to shut doors over new limitations, cinemas seek to comply

Theaters and cinemas throughout the country face closures, limitations and huge losses amid a new ban on gatherings of over 100 people.

Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater says it has canceled all performances until further notice. Habima, the national theater, says it is awaiting instructions from the Culture Ministry before it makes changes to its program.

The Cinema City chain of movie theaters tells Channel 12 it will move to limit audiences to 100 people and to space out its screenings to avoid large gatherings in cinema lobbies.

Israel Philharmonic streams live concert online ‘to music lovers in quarantine’

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is broadcasting a live concert from Tel Aviv on its Facebook page “as a gesture to the music lovers in quarantine.”

The program includes Bach, Mozart and Sibelius.

Watch it here now.

Orly Levy-Abekasis says inundated with threats since comments against Joint List

Gesher head Orly Levy-Abekasis has complained to Knesset security of being inundated with threats since announcing her refusal to support a government backed by the Joint List.

Levy-Abekasis says her number was distributed online and she has received thousands of text messages and phone calls by angry left-wingers including some threats of physical harm. One person told her he’d throw a grenade at her house.

The complaint has been forwarded to the police.

Labor-Gesher party co-chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis at faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )

Israel’s Independence Day ceremony will be held without audience this year

Culture Minister Miri Regev announces the traditional torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl to celebrate Independence Day will be held without an audience this year due to the threat of coronavirus infection.

“It’s been decided to hold it without an audience, sadly,” Regev tells Channel 12 of the April 28 event.

IDF troops march in the formation of two hearts at an Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on May 11, 2016. (Melanie Lidman)

US considering ban on travelers from Europe over virus, top official says

The United States is weighing a ban on travelers from Europe to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a senior US official says.

“The question is a live question about how to treat Europe as a whole,” says Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

“That is not to the level of using legal authorities to block travel yet. But it is under consideration,” he tells a congressional hearing.


Spanish basketball team arrives in Israel for game under heavy quarantine steps

Amid unprecedented steps to limit the spread of coronavirus, and the effective closure of Israel to virtually all foreigners, Maccabi Tel Aviv is hosting Spanish basketball team Saski Baskonia tomorrow.

The game will be held without an audience, and will be closed even to press, officials say.

The Spanish team landed in Israel today on a specially chartered flight and was bused straight to a quarantined floor of a Tel Aviv hotel. They will come into contact with as few Israeli individuals as possible during their stay, and any they do come into contact with will be required to maintain strict hygiene procedures.

Spain has had some 2,000 infection cases so far and 50 deaths.

Number of coronavirus patients jumps by 15, to 97

The Health Ministry says 15 more people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the past few hours, bringing the total number of confirmed sick to 97.

Israeli scientists said closing in on vaccine, but may take year to okay; report denied

Scientists at the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona are closing in on a vaccine for coronavirus, officials tell Hebrew media, though such a vaccine will require many months before it can go public.

Haaretz and Channel 12 news report that Israeli scientists are hard at work on medical solutions to the COVID-19 illness, though medicine will probably take up to a year to receive approval for public use.

The Defense Ministry, which is responsible for the institute, largely denied the reports, saying that “there has been no breakthrough in the efforts of the Institute for Biological Research to find a vaccine for the coronavirus or to develop a testing kit.”

In a statement, the ministry said the process of developing a vaccine would take time, but that it was operating on schedule.

According to the ministry, more than 50 “experienced scientists” were taking part in the effort.

“If and when there is something to report, this will be done in an orderly manner,” the ministry said.

UN experts denounce Iranian ‘threats’ against BBC staff

Four United Nations experts call out Tehran for allegedly intimidating BBC and other broadcast journalists and their families with death threats.

Voicing their “alarm” in a joint statement, the special rapporteurs — independent experts who do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it — urge the Iranian authorities to stop threatening reporters.

“Journalists working for the BBC Persian Service and other Farsi-language news outlets outside Iran have faced threats, criminal investigations, unlawful surveillance, freezing of assets, defamation and harassment by Iranian authorities,” they say.

“Several journalists have also been targeted for going public about the harassment and seeking protection from the UN.”


Tel Aviv coronavirus patient in serious condition, under sedation

A coronavirus patient hospitalized at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center has deteriorated, officials say.

He is now in serious condition, under sedation and connected to a respirator.

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