Likud, Blue and White jockey for position as votes tallied
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Likud, Blue and White jockey for position as votes tallied

92% of votes counted said to give Likud-led right-wing bloc 59 seats, 2 shy of majority; Blue and White 4 seats shy of PM’s party; votes of soldiers and diplomats not yet tallied

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu meets with heads of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in Jerusalem, October 23, 2019 (Likud)
    Prime Minister Bejnamin Netanyahu meets with heads of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties in Jerusalem, October 23, 2019 (Likud)
  • Yair Revivo votes in municipal elections at a polling station in the central city of Lod on October 22, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
    Yair Revivo votes in municipal elections at a polling station in the central city of Lod on October 22, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
  • Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks after exit polls for the Knesset elections at party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 3, 2020. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
    Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks after exit polls for the Knesset elections at party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 3, 2020. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
  • Likely blocs based on count of 92% of votes in the March 2, 2020 Knesset elections
    Likely blocs based on count of 92% of votes in the March 2, 2020 Knesset elections
  • Preliminary election results based on count of 92% of votes in the March 2, 2020 Knesset elections
    Preliminary election results based on count of 92% of votes in the March 2, 2020 Knesset elections

The Times of Israel is liveblogged the fallout from Monday’s election as it unfolded.

Over 653,000 ballots counted, representing 10% of vote

Over 653,000 votes, 10% of the overall tally, have been counted, the Central Elections Committee says after 5 a.m.

Netanyahu’s Likud is currently picking up some 30.9% of the vote (about 36 seats), and Gantz’s Blue and White is predicted to clinch 23.6% (about 28 seats).

The figures will likely change in the coming hours. Currently, the two largest parties are separated by some 47,000 votes.

Gap between Likud, Blue and White narrows slightly as 12% of vote counted

Likud continues to enjoy a comfortable lead over Blue and White as 12.6% of the vote is accounted for.

With over 800,000 ballots counted, Netanyahu’s party wins 30% (equivalent to some 36 Knesset seats) while Gantz’s party trails with 24.5% (some 29 seats).

Vote count slower than usual, could take hours

The election results are trickling in at a slower pace than usual, with the lag attributed to stricter controls by the Central Elections Committee.

At this rate, the near-final figures may not be publicly available until this afternoon or evening, Hebrew media notes.

A recap for those just waking up

If you’re just tuning in now, here are some things that happened overnight.

Buoyed by promising exit polls, Netanyahu gave a victory speech to supporters in Tel Aviv, vowing to build a “strong national government” and heal the nation’s rifts. You can read our report here.

Gantz, meanwhile, expressed disappointment with the projected results but didn’t concede. Read more about it here.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led government of religious and right-wing parties.

And Labor-Gesher-Meretz, coasting to a likely embarrassing showing in Monday’s election, blamed Blue and White’s campaign tactics.

The revised exit polls gave the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu 59 Knesset seats, two shy of a majority. The televised polls had originally given the right 60 seats.

The election count is slower than usual and it’ll likely be hours before the country knows whether Netanyahu has 61 seats to form a coalition or whether the political deadlock plaguing Israel for a year continues.

 

1.4 million votes counted; Likud still far ahead

Nearly one-quarter of votes — over 1.4 million — have now been tallied.

With over 22% of the results in, Likud remains in the lead with 29.6% (amounting to about 35 Knesset seats).

Blue and White is next, with 23.5% of the vote, or an estimated 28 seats.

It is followed by the Joint List with over 10% of the national vote (some 12 seats).

United Torah Judaism surpasses Shas for the first time, with both ultra-Orthodox parties taking over 9% each.

Yamina follows with 6.4% of the vote, while Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu take over 5% each.

The results will likely shift over the coming hours.

With over 30% of votes counted, Likud remains in the lead

Nearly one-third of votes (1,430,449 ballots) have now been counted, Hebrew media reports.

With over 31% of the results in, Likud remains in the lead with 29.6% (amounting to about 35 Knesset seats).

Blue and White is next, with 23.6% of the vote, or an estimated 28 seats.

It is followed by the Joint List with over 10% of the national vote (some 12 seats).

United Torah Judaism surpasses Shas for the first time, with both ultra-Orthodox parties taking over 9% each.

Yamina follows with 6.4% of the vote, while Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu take over 5% each.

The results are likely to adjust over the coming hours.

Election Committee says votes all counted, are being checked and tested

The Central Election Committee responds to questions about the delays to the vote count, saying that the ballots have all been tallied and are now being closely checked, Hebrew media reports.

“All the votes have been counted, and we are currently in the process of testing and monitoring, including statistical tests and [checks] for anomalies,” the committee says.

“The purpose of these procedures is to tighten control over the election results and their credibility and to publish the accurate and reliable results. As we have emphasized, the publication will only be at the end of the process in the late afternoon.”

International nuclear watchdog to rebuke Iran for not allowing access — report

The International Atomic Energy Agency is to rebuke Iran failing to provide access to one or more nuclear sites of interest, Reuters reports.

Several diplomats told the news agency that in addition to its quarterly report due to be released Tuesday, the nuclear watchdog will issue a second document noting Tehran’s general failure to cooperate and in particular for not allowing access.

“The general message is: There’s a new sheriff in town,” a diplomat from a country on the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors tells Reuters in reference to new chief Rafael Grossi.

Since May 2019, Iran has progressively scaled back some commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement in response to the US sanctions and Europe’s inability to circumvent them.

Likud MK: We may form minority coalition; voters against Netanyahu’s prosecution

Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar says his party will form a coalition after Monday’s election, even if it is a minority government, and that the voters demonstrated they are against the pursuit of legal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The public said that what the legal system did to Netanyahu is a huge error, trailing after the left and the media in massive pursuit of the prime minister,” he tells Army Radio. “We will establish a government even if we have 59 [seats].”

Zohar has long been viewed as a trial-balloon foil for Netanyahu.

He led a public campaign to grant Netanyahu parliamentary immunity from a corruption indictment over the past year, even when Netanyahu himself publicly insisted he would not seek immunity and claimed to oppose the effort.

IDF to hold nationwide rocket drill for schools

The Israeli military today will hold an exercise in schools across the country simulating a rocket attack.

The drill will be held at 10.05am and will include sirens. As part of the exercise, students will be sent into bomb shelters.

The military says that the exercise was planned in advance and therefore is not tied to any particular threat.

The exercise comes just over a week after Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group fought an intensive two day battle in which roughly 100 rockets and mortar shells were fired at the Israeli home front.

— Judah Ari Gross

Likud maintains lead with nearly 40% of vote counted — reports

Nearly 40 percent of votes — over 1.8 million — have now been tallied, Hebrew media reports.

Likud remains in the lead with 29% and Blue and White in second place with 23.2% of the vote.

It is followed by the Joint List with over 12.2% of the national vote.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party takes 8.9% and United Torah Judaism has 8.6%.

Yamina follows with 6% of the vote, while Labor-Gesher-Meretz takes 5.6% and Yisrael Beytenu received 5.4% of the vote.

The results will likely shift over the coming hours and does not include the votes of soldiers or diplomats stationed abroad.

Outbreak of coronavirus continues to wane in China

The outbreak continues to wane in China, where the virus was first detected in December.

The health ministry on Tuesday announces just 125 new cases of the virus detected over the past 24 hours, the lowest number since authorities began publishing nationwide figures on Jan. 21. Another 31 deaths were reported, all of them in the hardest-hit province of Hubei. The figures bring China’s total number of cases to 80,151 with 2,943 deaths.

China’s UN ambassador says the government believes that “victory” over the coronavirus won’t be far behind the coming of spring.

Zhang Jun tells a news conference at UN headquarters in New York that “China’s fight against the coronavirus is indeed making huge progress, and the situation is really becoming stable.”

— AP

Joint List’s Tibi: Results show Gantz’s failure rather than Netanyahu’s victory

Ahmad Tibi, the Joint List’s third-highest ranking MK, says the partial results from the election show Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s shortcomings rather than a positive victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party.

“More than Likud and Netanyahu won, Gantz and Blue and White failed,” Tibi tells the Kan public broadcaster. “The right-wing public preferred it — Netanyahu incites better against the Arab public.”

Exit polls predicted the Joint List, an alliance of the four largest Arab-majority parties, would increase its representation in the Knesset after Monday’s vote.

However, leaders of the party have expressed concern about Netanyahu cobbling together a right-wing government following the final tally of votes

With 62% of votes counted, Blue and White slightly closes gap with Likud

Over 62 percent of votes have now been tallied, Hebrew media reports, with the gap between Likud and Blue and White slightly narrowing.

Likud remains in the lead with 28.5% and Blue and White is in second place with 24.6% of the vote.

It is followed by the Joint List with over 15.2% of the national vote.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party takes 7.8% and United Torah Judaism has 6.6%.

Yisrael Beytenu receives 5.6% of the vote, Labor-Gesher-Meretz takes 5.4%, and Yamina follows with 5.3% of the vote.

The results will likely shift over the coming hours and do not include the votes of soldiers or diplomats stationed abroad.

Watchdog files petition to stop Netanyahu from forming coalition while indicted

Corruption watchdog Movement for Quality Government files a petition with the High Court arguing that it is against the law for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government when he has been indicted.

“The government cannot be formed by one charged with a criminal offense,” the watchdog says in a statement.

“It is inconceivable that a prime minister can sit on the [court] bench of the accused in the morning and preside over the security cabinet in the evening. The Supreme Court must intervene and determine the proper norms.”

In January, the High Court rejected a petition that urged it to announce that Netanyahu cannot form a government after the March 2 election due to the charges against him. At the time, the court said a decision on the matter was “premature.”

The panel of justices led by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut eventually decided it was too early to give a ruling as the election had not yet taken place, and said the petition may be more pertinent if and when Netanyahu was to be tasked with forming a government after the election.

With 72% of votes counted, Likud maintains lead, Joint List has strong showing

With around 72 percent of votes tallied, the Arab-majority Joint List is still showing a significant improvement on the number of seats it gained in the September election.

However, the results will likely shift over the coming hours and do not include the votes of soldiers or diplomats stationed abroad.

Likud remains in the lead with 28.3% and Blue and White is in second place with 24.3% of the vote — a gap of some 70,000 votes.

Those parties are followed by the Joint List with over 13.7% of the national vote.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party takes 7.8% and United Torah Judaism has 6.7%.

Labor-Gesher-Meretz takes 5.8% and Yisrael Beytenu receives 5.6% of the vote. Yamina follows with 5% of the vote.

Likud minister: Petition asking court to stop PM forming government is ‘disgraceful’

Likud minister Gilad Erdan responds to a High Court petition by an anti-corruption watchdog asking for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be prevented from forming a government while facing criminal indictments.

“A disgraceful petition against the clear decision of the people,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan writes on Twitter.

“I am sure there will be more than 60 Knesset members to form a government headed by Netanyahu and to enact legislation, if necessary, clarifying the law that just as someone indicted can serve as prime minister, they can also form a government,” he says.

The Movement for Quality Government filed a petition with the High Court arguing that it is against the law for Netanyahu to form the next government when he has been indicted.

In January, the High Court rejected a petition that urged it to announce that Netanyahu cannot form a government after the March 2 election due to the charges against him. At the time, the court said a decision on the matter was “premature.”

With 81% of votes counted, Likud widening lead over Blue and White

With around 81 percent of votes tallied, the Likud party widens its lead over rivals Blue and White.

Likud takes 29.6% of the vote (36 seats), increasing the gap over second-place Blue and White with 25.8% of the vote (31 seats) — a gap of some 100,000 votes.

Those parties are followed by the Joint List with 12.55% of the national vote (15 seats).

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party takes 8.1% (10 seats) and United Torah Judaism has 6.4% (8 seats).

Yisrael Beytenu receives around 6% of the vote (7 seats) and Labor-Gesher-Meretz takes 5.7% (7 seats). Yamina follows with 4.9% of the vote (6 seats).

The new tallies give the right-wing bloc 60 seats and the center-left bloc 53, with the remainder held by Yisrael Beytenu.

However, the results will likely shift over the coming hours and do not include the votes of soldiers or diplomats stationed abroad.

With 90% of votes counted, Blue and White slightly narrows Likud’s lead

With around 90 percent of votes tallied, the Blue and White party slightly narrows the Likud party’s lead.

Likud takes 29.3% of the vote, with Blue and White in second place with 26.3% of the vote.

Those parties are followed by the Joint List with 12.9% of the national vote.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party takes 7.8% and United Torah Judaism has 6.2%.

Yisrael Beytenu receives around 5.9% of the vote and Labor-Gesher-Meretz takes 5.7%. Yamina follows with 5% of the vote.

The new tallies give the right-wing bloc 59 seats and the center-left-Arab bloc 54, with the remainder held by Yisrael Beytenu.

Liberman: We will do everything to prevent fourth elections

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman says that his party will do everything within its power to prevent the country going to the polls for a fourth time later this year.

“We will do everything to prevent fourth elections. We will decide to go here or there,” Liberman says.

Last May, Liberman refused to join a Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu-led government over disagreements on the ultra-Orthodox military draft law.

Following the September vote, he said he would only join a unity coalition of Likud and Blue and White, but the two parties failed to reach an agreement.

On Friday Liberman said that he will not back any candidate to become prime minister after next week’s elections, unless they meet his basic demands for a liberal Zionist government.

Joint List’s Odeh thanks Arab public, Jewish supporters for ‘crazy achievement’

Joint List head Ayman Odeh gives a statement thanking his party’s supporters after initial results show a large jump in the number of seats for the Arab majority faction.

“I congratulate both the Arab public and the Jewish public who supported the Joint List. From April until now we have increased from ten seats to 15 — that is a crazy achievement,” Odeh says.

He says that he has not been in contact with Benny Gantz but that the Blue and White leader can call him.

“Last time we recommended [Gantz] not because of a love of Mordechai, but due to a hatred of Haman,” Odeh says citing main characters from the story of the upcoming Purim festival. “We don’t want anything to do with Blue and White in light of their racist campaign.”

Head of the Joint List party Ayman Odeh speaks to the media outside his home in Haifa, March 3, 2020 (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Most, but not all, of the Joint List recommended Gantz as prime minister after September’s deadlocked elections.

Senior election officials to count ballots of quarantined Israelis – report

Senior election officials will count the 4,076 ballots cast by Israelis who could be carrying the deadly coronavirus, the Ynet news site reports.

According to the news site, those counting the potentially contaminated votes will include Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas.

The boxes of slips from the 16 special polling stations where citizens under home quarantine were permitted to vote have reportedly been untouched even as election officials pressed ahead with counting all the other votes.

Ynet reports that the officials will wear masks and gloves in a special tent while tallying the ballots of those quarantined.

Director of the Elections Committee of the Knesset, Orly Adas speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud spokesman says will build majority coalition in ‘a few days’ with defectors

Likud spokesperson Jonathan Urich says it will take “a few days” to form a coalition, with a parliamentary majority boosted by defectors from outside the right-wing bloc.

Likud has already spoken to “four to six” such potential recruits, Urich tells Channel 13 news.

Earlier he told Army Radio that he believes that “soon enough we’ll find the missing seats from the other bloc.”

“People on the other side understand it’s the right thing to do,” Urich says.

With 90% of votes counted, Likud and the right-wing bloc hold 59 seats, two short of a majority.

Blue and White MKs Yoaz Hendel, a former Netanyahu aide, and Zvi Hauser, a former cabinet secretary who also served under the Likud leader, on the right-wing flank of the party, are sometimes mentioned as potential defectors. The two were reportedly accused by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz of last year thwarting a bid to form a minority government bolstered by the predominantly Arab Joint List.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who heads the Gesher faction in the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, has also been tipped as a possibility to jump ship in return for a cabinet portfolio.

Iran’s supreme leader orders armed forces to help Health Ministry combat virus

Iran’s supreme leader orders the Islamic Republic’s armed forces to assist its Health Ministry in combating the spread of the new coronavirus.

The decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes as Iran has the highest death toll from the new virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes outside of China, the epicenter of the virus.

Khamenei’s decision comes after state media broadcasts images of him planting a tree wearing disposable gloves.

“Whatever helps public health and prevents the spread of the disease is good and what helps to spread it is sin,” Khamenei says.

— AP

Gantz: We’ll respect the voters’ decision, Likud doesn’t have majority

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz comments for the first time on Tuesday after incomplete results show his party coming in second place to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

“The election results are slowly becoming clear — Netanyahu does not have a majority. Wait for the final results. We will consider our path and we will respect the decision made by the voters,” he tells reporters outside his home in the central town of Rosh Ha’ayin.

With some 90 percent percent of ballots tallied, Likud holds 29.35% of the votes, equal to around 36 Knesset seats, which could represent the party’s strongest ever showing as Israelis look to end a deadlock that has left the country without a fully functioning government for over a year.

Blue and White party trails with 26.34% of the votes, representing some 32 seats, which would be the relatively new faction’s worst showing in three tries.

Iran reports 11 new coronavirus deaths, total death toll now 77 with 2,336 cases

Iran says there are 11 new deaths from coronavirus, bringing the total death toll to 77 dead amid 2,336 cases in the Islamic Republic.

The statement is made by Ali Reza Raisi, a Health Ministry official, at a news conference in Tehran.

Iran’s supreme leader earlier ordered the Islamic Republic’s armed forces to assist its Health Ministry in combating the spread of the new coronavirus.

— Agencies

Blue and White MKs say haven’t been asked to defect to Likud

Blue and White’s Yoaz Hendel says neither he nor MK Zvi Hauser have been asked to jump ship to the Likud party to allow the formation of a majority government.

“They haven’t approached us. They won’t approach us. And they know why,” Hendel tweets.

Hendel is a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Hauser is a former cabinet secretary who also served under the Likud leader.

The comments come after Likud spokesperson Jonatan Urich said the party has already spoken to potential recruits outside the right-wing bloc, which partial election results show is short of a majority.

Blue and White Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser in the Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, who heads the Gesher faction in the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, has also been tipped as a possibility to jump ship in return for a cabinet portfolio.

Likud said to tell Blue and White MK: Defect or we release embarrassing tape

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is threatening a Blue and White lawmaker with the release of further embarrassing tapes if she doesn’t jump ship, Haaretz reports.

According to the daily, Omer Yankelevich has been told that if she doesn’t defect to the premier’s party, there will be more leaks from a tape in which a senior adviser to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz quotes the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker.

The newspaper says Likud is using additional recordings as a bargaining tool and Yankelevich has indirectly told the prime minister’s party that she is considering crossing over.

Yankelevich responds to the report, tweeting: “All rumors, it won’t happen.”

In recordings released last week, Gantz’s senior adviser Israel Bachar is heard conveying the opinion of Yankelevich.

Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich attends a Knesset committee meeting on August 5, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“She [Yankelevich] says he [Gantz] is stupid and a complete nobody and she says, ‘he can’t be prime minister,’” Bachar said.

Netanyahu personally met the rabbi who is reported to have recorded Bachar — a recording that ended up in the hands of the media a day after the two met. Gantz fired Bachar.

The report comes as a Likud spokesperson says the party has already spoken to potential recruits outside the right-wing bloc, which partial election results show is short of a majority.

23 cases of coronavirus among Iranian lawmakers – report

An Iranian lawmaker reportedly tells colleagues to stop their contact with public as there are 23 cases of the new coronavirus among parliament members.

Lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri is quoted making the statement by Iranian state television’s Young Journalists Club program.

The comment comes as Iran’s supreme leader put the country on war footing against the virus outbreak, which is the deadliest outside of China.

— AP

Despite incomplete results, Austria’s Kurz praises Netanyahu’s ‘election win’

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is the first world leader to congratulate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his “clear election victory” as partial results show the Israeli premier still unable to form a majority coalition.

“Sincere congratulations to Prime Minister Netanyahu on his clear election victory! I am looking forward to continuing to work together with you in order to further strengthen our excellent bilateral relations and fight anti-Semitism & anti-Zionism,” Kurz tweets.

Last year Netanyahu welcomed Kurz to Jerusalem as a “tremendous friend of the State of Israel, a champion of fighting anti-Semitism, a great leader for Austria.”

Netanyahu meets with Shas head Deri; right-wing parties to convene at Knesset

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Shas head Aryeh Deri, the Ynet news site reports.

According to the report, the two discussed the formation of the next government and different possible scenarios for its establishment in the 1.5 hour-long meeting at the prime minister’s residence.

The parties in the right-wing bloc are expected to meet at 3 p.m. at the Knesset.

The decision regarding who will be the next prime minister ultimately lies with President Reuven Rivlin, who will meet with the leaders of all the parties that cleared the electoral threshold, hear who each of them recommends as prime minister, and determine which candidate has the best chance of forming a coalition of at least 61 out of the 120 elected Knesset members.

Bennett: Coalition makeup will determine if sovereignty extended over West Bank

At a faction meeting for the right-wing Yamina party, leader Naftali Bennett says the election results are positive but that the composition of a future coalition will determine whether Israel will establish sovereignty over the West Bank.

“The election results are good for the right-wing bloc, but it’s not over. Our mission is to ensure that the right policies are implemented. The composition of the coalition will determine whether there will be sovereignty [established over the West Bank],” Bennett says.

“If left-wing people are brought in, there will not be sovereignty,” he adds.

Ayelet Shaked tells the meeting that the results of Monday’s election show that the public is in favor of a right-wing coalition.

“It is obvious from the results that there will be a right-wing government. This is a clear choice for the public,” she says.

Turkey shoots down Syrian fighter jet in northwest Idlib

Turkey shoots down a Syrian fighter jet in Syria’s Idlib province, marking the third such incident in as many days, as steady clashes between the two national armies appear to signal a new stage in the nine-year old war.

The Turkish Defense Ministry announces on Twitter that the Turkish military downed a L-39 warplane belonging to Syrian government forces.

Syrian state-run television reports that Turkish forces targeted a warplane as it was carrying out operations against “terrorist groups” in the rebel-held Idlib region. It is not immediately clear what happened to the plane’s crew.

Turkey has sent thousands of troops into Idlib to support the opposition fighters holed up there, but hasn’t been able to roll back the government’s advance.

Erdogan has said he hopes to broker a ceasefire in Syria later this week when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

— AP

IAEA demands ‘clarifications’ on Iran nuclear program at site flagged by Israel

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog sounds the alarm on Iran’s nuclear program and demands “clarifications” over an undeclared site in Tehran where uranium particles were found late last year.

Rafael Grossi, the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who was in Paris to meet President Emmanuel Macron, tells AFP: “Iran must decide to cooperate in a clearer manner with the agency to give the necessary clarifications.”

While the IAEA has not named the site in question, diplomatic sources have previously said the agency asked Iran about a site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has alleged secret atomic activity in the past.

The particles are understood to be the product of uranium which has been mined and undergone initial processing, but not enriched.

— Agencies

Netanyahu bars Likud MKs from speaking to press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has barred members of his Likud party from taking interviews with the media.

This is a common practice in the premier’s party during sensitive security situations, but has also been employed by Netanyahu for political reasons.

The prime minister appears to be attempting to keep his cards close to his chest as exit polls indicate his right-wing, religious bloc won’t have enough seats to form a majority coalition on its own.

Netanyahu meets with right-wing, religious bloc; sides don’t rule out allowing Liberman to join

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ended his meeting in the Knesset with the heads of the parties in the right-wing religious bloc.

The sides have agreed to continue to remain in contact, and according to the Walla news site, to not rule out allowing the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party to join their coalition.

However, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni tells reporters after the meeting that Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman is “irresponsible.” UTJ chairman mocks, “Who is Liberman, anyway?

The Srugim national religious site reports that the party heads are running on the assumption that they will have a 60-MK bloc — one more than the official tally shows — and that they will only need to pull away one MK for a majority.

France threatens to control prices of face masks

A French official is threatening to issue a decree controlling prices of face masks and disinfectant gels used to protect against the virus outbreak if an investigation shows they are being sold at unfairly high prices.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire also urges the public to avoid “precautionary shopping” in supermarkets. Some store shelves, notably in the Oise region north of Paris — the center of a virus cluster in France — are empty of staples.

He said he has asked the office of consumer affairs and fraud prevention to investigate prices for masks and alcohol gels. If widespread abuses are uncovered, he said he “will not hesitate” to make high prices unlawful.

France has reported 191 cases of the virus, including three on French Caribbean islands, and three deaths.

— AP

SAR Academy in New York shuts down after suspected case of coronavirus

The Modern Orthodox Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) Academy in Riverdale, New York, announces that it will be closing because of “a suspected case of coronavirus.”

“We are writing to inform you that there is a suspected case of coronavirus in our community,” reads a letter sent to parents and faculty.

“We are in touch with the New York City Department of Health and following their guidelines,” the letter continues, adding that the decision to shut down is a “precautionary measure.”

“At this time it is important to remain calm and to please continue following the preventive measures listed below.”

Rivlin won’t start consultations with parties until after receiving final results next Tuesday

President Reuven Rivlin’s office says he won’t begin holding consultations with parties ahead of assigning an MK with the task of forming a government until after he has received the official results from the Central Elections Committee next Tuesday.

 

8 seats’ worth of votes said yet to be counted

Channel 12 reports that some 400,000 votes have yet to be counted, totaling to eight seats in the Knesset.

The tally is not expected to drastically change the current results after 90% of the vote has already been counted.

The eight seats’ worth comes from polling stations where irregularities were reported and the double envelopes — votes from prisoners, soldiers, quarantined patients and diplomats. These won’t be counted until tomorrow.

A spokesman for the Central Elections Committee says that the vote count won’t be updated until 5 a.m. tomorrow.

Deri claims he has ‘data’ showing right-wing, religious bloc won 61 seats

“From the data I received now, we’re close to the 61st seat,” Shas chairman Aryeh Deri tells reporters as he leaves the meeting of right-wing party chiefs.

Yamina with 6 seats says election a ‘victory’; Labor with 7 calls for self-reckoning

Channel 12 reporter Daphna Liel points out how the Yamina party has sent lawmakers to speak to every TV channel to explain how yesterday’s election marked a victory for their party and the right-wing bloc despite their national-religious alliance only winning six seats, after 90% of the vote was counted.

Liel also shares a tweet from Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Itzik Shmuli who calls on his fellow faction members to carry out some “self-reckoning” after the left-wing alliance wins seven votes.

Tibi: Blue and White sought to take votes from the right, but public opted for the real thing

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi tells Army Radio that Blue and White came up short in the election because of their strategy of seeking to take votes from the right.

“It turns out that the public prefers the original source, not an imitation,” he says.

 

Netanyahu can thank settlers for strong showing in yesterday’s vote

After 90% of the vote has been counted, tallies from the settlements show Likud enjoyed boosts across the board on Monday compared to the results from September.

For example, in the Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim city settlements, Likud enjoyed 9% and 10% improvements respectively, winning 52% and 59% of the vote in those towns.

Blue and White thinks it can prevent Netanyahu from forming coalition if right-wing bloc stuck at 59

Channel 12 reports that the Blue and White party believes it can prevent Prime Minister Netanyahu from forming a coalition if the right-wing bloc remains stuck at 59 seats after the final vote is counted.

Likud campaign chief credits data app with Likud’s election gains

The Likud campaign manager on Tuesday credited the party’s improved showing in Israel’s latest round of elections to an application used to help pinpoint potential voters and get them to the polls.

“The whole growth [in seats] from this time to last time, 4-5 seats” was because of the Elector app, the mayor of Lod, Yair Revivo, said in an interview with Channel 12 news.

Revivo was praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Likud’s “elector” in a post-election speech as exit polls indicated the party would receive 36-37 seats, well ahead of its centrist rival Blue and White.

“Likud didn’t have this database [nationally], so it was all new [this time],” said Revivo, who used the app in his successful mayoral campaigns in 2013 and 2018.

In an interview, Revivo detailed how the app works. A list of Israel’s roughly 6.5 million eligible voters is uploaded to the app, with those who are party supporters marked down.

“You know where he lives, which city, and you call him. If he’s supports you, you mark him. If he was at a [party] event, you mark that he was at a Likud event and that he’s a Likud supporter,” he said.

The app is downloaded by party activists who enter in information about their acquaintances, according to Revivo, creating a pyramid of Likud supporters.

The Lod mayor said there were 20,000 Likud activists across Israel who used the app during Monday’s elections, giving them a sense that their involvement was meaningful.

“That’s what got people out to the polling stations,” he said.

Yair Revivo votes in municipal elections at a polling station in the central city of Lod on October 22, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Bloomberg says convention fight may be only path

Mike Bloomberg is acknowledging that his only path to the nomination is through a convention fight and suggested he may not win any states on Super Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters at a field office in Miami, the businessman says, “I don’t know whether you’re gonna win any” when he was asked which of the 14 states voting Tuesday he believed he could win.

Bloomberg adds, “You don’t have to win states, you have to win delegates.” He suggested that no one will get a majority of delegates and “then you go to a convention, and we’ll see what happens.”

Bloomberg was then asked if he wanted a contested convention and he says, “I don’t think that I can win any other way.”

The billionaire is appearing on the ballot for the first time in the presidential race today.

— AP

Lapid says no one in Blue and White will join Netanyahu-led government

Entering a Blue and White faction meeting in Kfar Maccabiah, MK Yair Lapid tells reporters, “I will not enter a government under Netanyahu, and no one else on our list will enter such a government.”

 

Damascus announces parliamentary polls on April 13

Syrian President Bashar Assad says parliamentary elections will be held in the war-torn country on April 13.

The polls, to be held across government-controlled parts of Syria, are the third such elections in the country since the start of its nine-year civil war.

Assad’s forces today hold more than 70 percent of Syrian soil following victories against rebels and jihadists with Russian backing since 2015.

During the last polls in 2016, Syria’s ruling Baath party and its allies won a majority of the chamber’s 250 seats.

The United Nations refused to recognize the results.

The Baath party has governed Syria with an iron fist for the past half-century.

But in 2012, Damascus for the first time allowed candidates from outside the party to run in legislative elections.

Areas outside government control include the northwestern region of Idlib, where government forces are waging a deadly campaign against jihadists and Turkey-backed rebels.

Turkish forces have become directly involved in fighting since last week, downing several regime jets as bombardment has killed dozens of troops on each side.

Turkey also controls a large swathe of borderland in northeastern Syria, while US-backed, Kurdish-led fighters are present in the oil-rich east.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since its start in 2011.

— AFP

Balad MK says hard-line faction won’t recommend Gantz to be PM

Balad faction chairman Mtanes Shihadeh tells the Kan public broadcaster that his ultra-nationalist slate will not recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz be tasked with forming a coalition.

Balad did not recommend Gantz after the last election either, splitting from the rest of the Joint List.

However, Gantz has also disqualified the hard-line faction, saying it is beyond the pale.

Health Ministry weighs ordering travelers returning from France into quarantine

The Health Ministry is considering imposing restrictions on travelers returning from France following the spread of the coronavirus in the country, the Walla news site reports.

The ministry is also weighing issuing a travel warning urging Israelis not to travel to France.

2,000 surgical masks stolen from French hospital

Around 2,000 surgical masks have been stolen from a hospital in the southern French city of Marseille in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, health authorities says.

The masks were pilfered from a part of Conception hospital that is accessible only to staff and patients who have undergone surgery, the Marseille hospitals authority (AP-HM) tells AFP.

“The AP-HM immediately launched an internal investigation to find the culprits,” it says.

It assured that the hospital had enough masks to continue operations as normal, but that it had ordered more and taken steps to secure its stocks of both masks and sanitizing hand gels.

News of the theft came as President Emmanuel Macron announced that the authorities would requisition all face mask stocks and production in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Macron says they would be reserved for coronavirus patients and health professionals.

Four people have died of the virus in France, which has 204 confirmed cases of the disease.

Face masks have also caught the eye of thieves in Japan, who made off with some 6,000 masks from a hospital in the western city of Kobe in mid-February.

— AFP

Katz: Gap in results between Likud, Blue and White shows public decisively picked Netanyahu

Israel Katz tells Channel 12 that results from yesterday’s election shows public overwhelmingly chose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the country, citing the gap between Likud and Blue and White (36-32 after 90% of the votes have been counted).

The right-wing bloc currently has 59 seats, two seats short of a majority.

Katz says Likud will not rely on defectors to form coalition

Foreign Minister Israel Katz tells Channel 12 that his party will not rely on defectors to form a coalition, contradicting remarks from other party officials, who have said they are working to pull lawmakers away from Blue and White and Labor-Gesher-Meretz.

Health Ministry official: We’re weighing what to do with travelers from US due to virus fears

Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells Channel 12 that his office is approaching the point where it might have to make some sort of warning regarding travelers coming from the US where the coronavirus has been spreading.

He also says that there are currently no Israelis seriously ill with the virus.

Right-wing bloc drops to 58 seats as new vote tally thins Likud lead

The right-wing bloc has dropped by one seat to 58 after an additional two percent of votes were counted.

With 92% of the vote tallied, those that remain include the so-called double envelopes, belonging to soldiers, diplomats, prisoners and those in hospitals.

The new seat count is as follows:

Likud: 35
Blue and White: 32
Joint List: 16
Yamina: 6
Labor-Gesher-Meretz: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 7
Shas: 10
United Torah Judaism: 7

Right-wing, religious bloc (Likud, Yamina, Shas, UTJ): 58
Left-center bloc (Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, Joint List): 55
Yisrael Beytenu: 7

 

Gantz: We’ll do everything that law allows to remove Netanyahu

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz tells reporters that he will do everything that the election results and the law allow in order to remove Prime Minister Netanyahu from power.

He adds that his party is still waiting for the final results before making any decisions.

Fuming at Blue and White over campaign, Peretz and Levy said weighing joining right-wing bloc

Channel 13 reports that Labor and Gesher leaders Amir Peretz and Orly Levy-Abekasis respectively are not ruling out joining the right-wing bloc due to their frustrations with the Blue and White party over its campaign against Labor-Gesher-Meretz.

They claim that a Blue and White ad saying that those who vote for Amir Peretz will receive [Yamina MK Rafi] Peretz and those who vote Orly [Levy-Abekasis] will receive [Likud MK] Miri [Regev]. Peretz and Levy reportedly feel that the ad was racist because they are both Mizrahi and they were specifically compared to two other Mizrahi lawmakers on the right.

But Peretz and Miri appear to have been chosen because their names sound similar or the same to Peretz and Orly.

Channel 13 says that Levy would be more willing to jump ship if the right-wing religious bloc reaches 60 seats.

Election committee begins tallying votes of Israelis quarantined due to virus fears

With gloves, masks and full body suits on, members of the Central Elections Committee have begun counting the votes of Israelis quarantined due to fears of coronavirus.

Senior IDF officer goes into quarantine after returning from Italy on personal trip

The Israel Defense Forces confirms that the head of the Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, has gone into quarantine following a visit to Italy out of concerns for the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

The military says Haliva had traveled to Italy for a personal trip, not on official business.

The Health Ministry requires all those returning from Italy and a number of other countries with the coronavirus to quarantine themselves.

— Judah Ari Gross

TV channels update vote tally, returning Likud lead over Blue and White to four seats

TV channels have updated their vote tally, boosting Likud’s lead over Blue and White back to four seats from three seats (36-32).

The right-wing bloc lead over the center-left also climbed back to 59-54 as a result.

The one seat difference came at the expense of the Joint List, in favor of Likud.

The seat differential is as follows:

Likud: 36
Blue and White: 32
Joint List: 10
Yamina: 6
Labor-Gesher-Meretz: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 7
Shas: 10
United Torah Judaism: 7

Right-wing, religious bloc (Likud, Yamina, Shas, UTJ): 59
Left-center bloc (Blue and White, Labor-Gesher-Meretz, Joint List): 54
Yisrael Beytenu: 7

No progress made in probe of firm Gantz once owned since announcement on opening of investigation

Channel 12 reports that no progress has been made since the interim state prosecutor announced last month his decision to open an investigation into the Fifth Generation firm that was once owned by Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz.

Gantz is not a suspect in the investigation, but was seen to have been hurt politically by the timing of the announcement, which was heavily criticized by Netanyahu opponents.

Labor head vowing not to step aside after poor finish, but those in party calling for reckoning

Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz is vowing not to step aside after his party won just seven seats yesterday (with 92% of the vote counted), but the Kan public broadcaster reports that voices in the party are calling for his ouster.

Trump says he had ‘very good talk’ with Taliban leader days after signing peace deal

US President Donald Trump says he had a “very good talk” with Taliban leader, days after signing of Afghanistan peace deal.

— AP

Vatican says pope’s symptoms point to simple cold

The Vatican says that Pope Francis was still suffering from a cold and not exhibiting other symptoms, after a report said he had tested negative for the novel coronavirus.

Italy’s Messaggero newspaper reported that the 83-year-old pontiff, who has been canceling events since last Wednesday, had been tested for the virus as a precaution.

Without directly confirming the report, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement that “the cold diagnosed [in the pope] was running its course, without symptoms attributable to other pathologies.”

Pope Francis canceled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy on Sunday, after axing all public meetings and retreating to his Vatican residence last week.

— AFP

1st death due to coronavirus reported in Spain

The first death due to the coronavirus has been reported in Spain.

Mona Lisa’s smile restored: Louvre reopens after virus fears

This should restore the Mona Lisa’s famous smile: Her Paris home, the Louvre Museum, is open again after management eased workers’ fears about catching the coronavirus.

Louvre Museum employees who had stayed off the job since Sunday for fear of infection voted overwhelmingly today to resume work, allowing the world’s most-visited museum to open its doors again in the afternoon.

Management presented a raft of new anti-virus measures to try to coax employees back to work. Among them: wider distributions of disinfectant gels and more frequent staff rotations so employees can wash their hands.

Staff members will be pulled back from the room where Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “Mona Lisa” is displayed. Instead of rubbing shoulders with visitors in the room itself, workers will just be posted at the entrances.

Most of the museum’s 9.6 million visitors last year came from abroad.

AP

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