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Arrivals from abroad may now self-isolate at home, rather than at hotels

Cabinet votes to change regulations, which had previously forced all travelers to remain in quarantine facilities for 14 days

Illustrative photo of Israeli travelers arriving at Ben Gurion airport on March 23, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli travelers arriving at Ben Gurion airport on March 23, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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

Hundreds of thousands of kids head back to kindergarten, but many stay home

Hundreds of thousands of children aged 3-6 have returned to kindergartens, supervised daycares and private facilities after nearly two months at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, but hundreds of thousands more remained at home amid regulatory caps on class sizes and confusion.

Children at public kindergartens will attend in groups of no more than 18 and the majority will attend only three days a week so that the limits can be maintained, meaning that some 250,000 children will stay home for the first part of the week. The set days are rotated on a weekly basis on the grounds that many parents don’t work on Fridays.

The groups of 18 will in turn be divided into groups of no more than nine children, who will be strictly separated within the kindergarten. Parents are not allowed to enter kindergartens, with children met at the gate by staff and taken inside.

The Education Ministry has said that attendance is not compulsory.

Some private daycares have decided to postpone opening their gates due to what they see as Health Ministry guidelines that are too difficult to implement, and others have shut their doors for good after weeks of closure.

In addition, more than 250 private daycares that are members of the Private Kindergarten Association have announced that they will not open on Sunday due to disagreements over the outline proposed to them for compensation by the Treasury and the Labor Ministry, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Some 40,000 children at government-supervised daycares will stay home for the foreseeable future because class sizes are limited to 17 without any rotation, with priority given to the most in need on the basis of the system used to determine entry.

Around 700 private daycares that are under national supervision will also not open today due to a disagreement with the Treasury, leaving around another 50,000 toddlers at home.

Health official: Coming week decisive to whether restriction rollback can expand

Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto says the coming week will prove “decisive” as to whether the government will be able to continue rolling back restrictions or will be forced to order their return if COVID-19 spike again.

He tells Army Radio that Israeli should feel “pleased with the results” of the government’s handling of the pandemic thus far, but warns that a return of cases in the summer is a real possibility.

“We are preparing for a number of scenarios in which we remain in the same situation [of some degree of restrictions] until winter and also consider the possibility of another wave in the summer,” Grotto says.

Taliban say they don’t have missing US contractor

Taliban leaders are searching their ranks, including the much-feared Haqqani network, and have told The Associated Press they are not holding Mark R. Frerichs, a Navy veteran turned contractor who was disappeared in Afghanistan in late January.

“We don’t have any information about the missing American,” Sohail Shaheen, Taliban’s political spokesman, tells the AP in a message on Sunday.

A second Taliban official familiar with the talks with the United States says “formally and informally” the Taliban have notified US officials they are not holding Frerichs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban signed in February to allow America and NATO countries to withdraw their troops and end decades of war, asked for Frierchs’ release during his meetings this week in the Middle Eastern State of Qatar where the Taliban maintain a political office.

In a statement late Saturday by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Khalilzad also sought Pakistan’s help in locating Frierchs. He arrived in Islamabad on Friday from Doha before heading next door to India in his pursuit of a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

— AP

In latest anti-LGBT remark, prominent rabbi calls for starting conversion therapy early

In his latest anti-LGBT lesson to be leaked to the press, the co-head of a prominent national religious pre-military program told his students that it’s important to start conversion therapy for LGBT youth “at a very young age for [the tactic] to be most effective.”

Army Radio reports that Yigal Levinstein made the remarks during a Zoom class he taught since the pandemic forced the Bnei David pre-military academy to move online.

“You can help people return to being straight. The earlier you reach out to the child when [he is feeling] dual tendencies, the easier it is to help,” Army Radio quotes the homophobic rabbi as having actually said.

Asked to specify when LGBT youth are ripe for conversion therapy, Levinstein told the class that “experts” recommend between the ages of 13 and 15, Army Radio reports.

Eilat mall offers to refund shoppers’ plane tickets

A mall in the Red Sea coastal city of Eilat announces that it will refund the cost of plane tickets for Israelis who splash out at its stores, in a bid to drum up business as Israel reopens its economy.

Malls were allowed to reopen Thursday after being shuttered in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, though must limit the number of people who can enter at a time and adhere to new social distancing regulations.

In the days since their reopening, malls have seen a 50 percent drop in the number of shoppers, according to Channel 12 news, with many Israelis apparently still wary of visiting them.

To bring back shoppers, the Ice Mall in Eilat says it will refund the plane tickets (Hebrew) of Israelis who spend over NIS 1,000 ($285) at its shops, or at least NIS 990 at the TouchIt electronic goods store.

Eilat is a popular shopping destination for many Israelis, as products sold in the city are exempted from Israel’s 17 percent value-added tax imposed on goods and services.

The city has been one of the hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Kahlon to decide today on whether to offer EL Al loan — report

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon hopes to make a decision today about whether national carrier El Al should be offered state-backed loan guarantees or should be liquidated, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the report, officials privy to the discussion were favoring liquidation.

However Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad tells Army Radio that in fact the loan guarantees were “currently the preferred option.”

Channel 13 news reported Friday that the airline was already in such a poor financial state even before the crisis that banks view loans to it as too risky.

Likud reportedly weighs seeking split of Yamina to leave Bennett outside government

The Likud party is considering trying to force a split in the Yamina party that would see Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich join the government while Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked would remain in the opposition.

The parties have publicly sparred as coalition talks head into their final days.

With public transportation still limited, soldiers forced to crowd buses to get back to base

With public transportation routes still running at a limited capacity due to the pandemic, long lines and crowded conditions are being reported at bus stations across the country as soldiers return to their bases for the week.

Footage of the scenes has led to criticism of the Transportation Ministry for not properly preparing for such a scenario.

Poll: 52% of Jewish Israelis support annexation

Over half of Israeli Jews back annexing parts of the West Bank as part of the Trump administration’s peace plan, according to a poll released this morning, though only a third (32%) believe it will happen this year.

As part of their coalition agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz agreed the next government can begin moving forward with applying Israeli sovereignty to settlements and the Jordan Valley on July 1, a move expected to enjoy backing from a majority of lawmakers in the current Knesset.

Asked whether they back annexation in the near future, 52 percent of Jewish respondents to an Israel Democracy Institute survey say they do, versus only nine percent of Arabs.

Dismissing reported Likud effort, Yamina MK asserts party won’t be split

Yamina MK Matan Kahana asserts that his party will not be fractured, dismissing an Army Radio report that said Likud is considering trying to force a split in the national religious party that would see Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich join the government while Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked would remain in the opposition.

“There is no chance there will be a split. We are united and will stay together. The ideologically right-wing, religious Zionist party will God willing be inside the government and if not, then we’ll be together in the opposition,” he tells 103 FM radio.

The parties have publicly sparred as coalition talks head into their final days.

30-year-old construction worker falls to his death in Or Akiva

Magen David Adom medics have declared the death of a 30-year-old man who fell at a construction site in Or Akiva.

The Labor Ministry and Israel Police have opened an investigation into the circumstances of the death.

Cabinet slated to decide on future of quarantine hotels for arrivals from abroad

The cabinet is slated to meet later today and decide on the future of the state-run quarantine hotels where all arrivals from abroad are required to stay for 14 days.

Ministers will weigh shuttering the hotels amid concern over the high costs required to maintain them and reports of several attempted suicides among lodgers due to the difficult conditions.

Army Radio reports that a draft of the decision slated to be passed would allow arrivals to return home, where law enforcement will be charged with monitoring them and ensuring that they don’t leave their houses. One of the options proposed is to have all arrivals download an app on their phones that would monitor their movements.

Just 14 new virus cases in last day, as confirmed case tally climbs to 16,458

The Health Ministry announces that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 16,458, an increase of 14 over the past 24 hours and 4 since last night.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 248, up one since last night and three since yesterday morning.

According to the Health Ministry, 74 people infected with COVID-19 were in serious condition, 65 of whom were on ventilators.

Another 52 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 11,384 people have recovered from the virus, while 4,826 are still sick; 703 tests have been conducted today, and 3,650 yesterday.

However, unexplained discrepancies in the Health Ministry’s numbers continue popping up. Beit Shemesh has one less cumulative case than it did yesterday, according to the figures.

‘Preparing for day after Netanyahu,’ Yamina claims it’s heading to opposition

The national religious Yamina party announces that it is heading to the opposition after its talks with the Likud party aimed at joining the government fell apart.

“In light of the composition of the [incoming] government and its emerging policies that appear to make it a left-wing government headed by Netanyahu, and in light of the prime minister’s blatant disrespect for Yamina and its voters, the Yamina party has decided to serve the public during the upcoming term from the opposition where it will fight on behalf of the nationalist camp,” Yamina says in a statement.

“The decision was made after repeated attempts to reach agreements in the coalition negotiations with Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who chose to dismantle the right-wing bloc and his partnership with Yamina.”

“Yamina will prepare for the day after Netanyahu, which will come in a year and a half, and produce from the opposition a real, right-wing alternative. A right wing that is not ready to sell the justice system to the left for personal survival, a right wing that is unwilling to cede to Hamas and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen, a right wing that is truly committed to the development and legalization of settlement, a right wing that does not sell Judaism to special interests or the Israeli economy to Amir Peretz and the Histadrut labor union, a right wing that does throw in the towel in the struggle to remove infiltrators and rehabilitate neighborhoods [which have experienced an influx of them].”

The party says it will fight the government from the opposition, but do so responsibly. This means voting in favor of West Bank annexation, while opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Likud says Yamina’s refusal to join government has nothing to do with ideology

Responding to Yamina’s announcement that it will be heading to the opposition, Likud issues a statement blasting the national religious party for being more interested in receiving portfolios than in ideology.

“If Yamina had been given another post, then they would’ve considered the government to be right-wing?” Likud asks sarcastically in a statement mocking Yamina for calling the incoming coalition “left wing.”

“This will be the first government in the history of the country to [annex the West Bank], and it is unfortunate that Yamina will not be a part of it just because of internal rifts over the distribution of portfolios,” Likud says.

“We hope that Yamina will come to its senses, demonstrate some national responsibility and enter the government that will lead a historic move in the history of Zionism,” the party concludes, referring to its annexation plans.

Poll: Majority of Israelis think Jewish-Arab relations have improved during pandemic

The majority of the public thinks Jewish-Arab relations have improved in light of the pandemic, according to a new Israel Democracy Institute poll.

Fifty-six percent of Jewish Israelis and 64% of Arab Israelis believe that relations have improved between Jews and Arabs in Israel during the COVID-19 outbreak, the poll finds.

Conversely, 62% of the public thinks that relations between the ultra-Orthodox community and the rest of Israelis were damaged during this period. Only 17% of Haredim and 28% of remaining Jewish Israelis think that relations have improved during this period.

Palestinian detained for questioning after clash with settlers

Police have detained a Palestinian for questioning after he allegedly rode over an Israeli farmer with his tractor during a clash earlier today outside the Shiloh settlement, authorities say.

The farmer was lightly injured in the incident, according to authorities.

Churches in Lebanon welcome worshipers again

Lebanon’s churches have welcomed worshipers for the first time in nearly two months.

Most churches were closed to the public to limit the spread of coronavirus, but Lebanese authorities have started easing restrictions that were imposed in March.

Churches and mosques are now permitted to welcome worshipers for congregational prayers on Sundays and Fridays as long as capacities are limited and other safety guidelines including social distancing measures are respected.

Many worshipers entering churches around Lebanon today are being sprayed with disinfectant and having their temperatures checked before they were allowed in to sit at a distance from others.

Masses including the Easter prayers were held in empty churches for the first time in Lebanon’s recent history last month. Even the country’s civil war in 1975-90 did not stop its people from going to places of worship.

Lebanon has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East, about a third of the country’s five million people. The country has registered 809 cases of the coronavirus with 26 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

— AP

Russia records highest daily tally of new cases

Russia’s count of coronavirus infections has climbed above 200,000 after its highest daily tally of new cases.

Figures released this morning recorded 11,012 new cases of the virus for a total of 209,688, with 1,915 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Russian officials say the sharp rise in numbers can be attributed to increased testing, at least in part.

More than half the infection cases and deaths are recorded in Moscow, which will remain under a lockdown for the rest of the month.

— AP

Court delays implementation of ruling allowing convicted pedophile to supervise student healthcare

The Nazareth Regional Labor Court has ordered a delay in the implementation of its ruling last month that allowed a pediatrician who was convicted of possessing and distributing some 190,000 child pornography videos and images to take a position as a medical supervisor at the Health Ministry’s student health services department in the Northern District.

The decision comes in the light of a request by the State Prosecutor’s Office, which plans to file an appeal against the ruling in the coming days, a legal official tells The Times of Israel.

Against the recommendation of the Civil Service Commission, the court ruled last month that Avraham Barkai can fill the post which will allow him to pay visits to schools but not treat children.

The decision sparked widespread uproar among rights groups, and Education Minister Rafi Peretz declared that he would not allow Barkai to enter a single school on his watch.

Two settler leaders call on Yamina to join government

Two prominent settler leaders are calling on the Yamina party to walk back its declaration to head to the opposition for the coming terrm.

Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Beit El Mayor Shai Alon urge the national religious slate not to “divide the right-wing bloc.”

Revivi says Naftali Bennett’s party should join the government so it can influence from the inside and be a part of the effort to apply Israeli sovereignty to large parts of the West Bank.

Pope Francis calls for EU solidarity

Pope Francis is calling on leaders of European Union countries to work together to deal with the social and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pope notes in his blessing that 75 years have passed since Europe began the challenging process of reconciliation after World War II. He says the process spurred both European integration and “the long period of stability and peace which we benefit from today.”

He prays that the same spirit that inspired European integration efforts “not fail to inspire all those who have responsibility in the European Union” to deal with the coronavirus emergency in a “spirit of harmony and collaboration.”

Throughout his papacy, the pope has urged European countries to resist nationalism and instead pull together on issues like migration.

During the pandemic, hard-hit countries like Italy and Spain have insisted that EU leaders demonstrate solidarity.

— AP

UAE foreign minister slams incoming Israeli government’s annexation plans

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan speaks out against the incoming Israeli government’s plans to annex large parts of the West Bank in the coming months.

“This unilateral step is illegal, undermines chances for peace and contradicts all efforts made by the international community to reach a lasting political solution in accordance with relevant international resolutions,” official Emirati media quotes the top diplomat as having said.

Al Nahyan adds that Netanyahu’s claims that Arab states will ultimately accept annexation are wrong and misleading.

The UAE has been one of several Gulf states with which Israel has sought to warm ties in recent years. The Emerati UN envoy even praised Israel’s efforts to produce a vaccine for the coronavirus just last week.

Soccer teams begin practice ahead of season resumption

Israel’s Premier League soccer teams have begun practicing ahead of the season’s resumption on May 30.

The first team to return to the field is Hapoel Tel Aviv. The squad along with all others in the league are quarantining together in the lead-up and throughout the upcoming season.

New Iraq PM releases protesters, promotes respected general

Iraq’s judiciary has ordered courts to release anti-government protesters, carrying out one of the first decisions of the recently inaugurated prime minister just as dozens of demonstrators burned tires in renewed protests against the new leadership.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is also promoting a well-respected Iraqi general, who played a key role in the military campaign against the Islamic State, to lead counter-terrorism operations. Former leader Adel Abdul-Mahdi had previously mysteriously demoted the general, prompting outrage and sparking popular protests in northern Iraq and Baghdad in October.

The Supreme Judiciary Council says in a statement that it had ordered the release of protesters detained since those demonstrations erupted, in line with the new prime minister’s call.

The council has released detainees based on Article 38 of the constitution which guarantees the right to protest, “provided that it is not accompanied by an act contrary to the law,” the statement says.

— AP

Senior citizens allowed out in Turkey

Turkey’s senior citizens have been allowed to leave their homes for the first time in seven weeks under relaxed coronavirus restrictions.

Those aged 65 and over, deemed most at risk from the virus, had been subjected to a curfew since March 21, but they are permitted outside today for four hours as part of a rolling program of reduced controls. Under-20s will be allowed outside for a similar period later in the week.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweets his thanks to the elderly for their “great support” in fighting the outbreak by staying at home, and he reminded them to wear masks outside.

The government announced a “normalization plan” as the number of new cases dropped last week, but warned of tougher measures if infections go up again.

Entry and exit restrictions have been lifted for seven provinces where the outbreak is under control. They remain in place for 24 other provinces, including Istanbul and Ankara.

Shopping malls, barbers, hairdressers and beauty salons can open under strict conditions on Monday, while domestic and some international flights will resume at the end of May.

Turkey has recorded 137,115 cases of the virus and 3,739 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to a tally by John Hopkins University. The true number is likely much higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with displaying symptoms.

— AP

NW Syria clashes kill 22 in highest toll since truce — monitor

Clashes in northwest Syria have killed 22 regime fighters and jihadists in the highest such death toll since the start of a two-month-old ceasefire there, a monitor says.

A truce since March 6 had largely stemmed fighting in Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib after a months-long regime assault that killed hundreds of civilians and forced almost a million to flee.

But before dawn today, rebels attacked the positions of pro-regime fighters on the western flank of the jihadist-dominated region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

The clashes in the Sahl al-Ghab area killed 15 regime fighters as well as seven jihadists including from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Deen group, the Britain-based monitor says.

“It’s the highest death toll for fighters since the truce came into force,” says Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, who relies on sources inside Syria.

“There had been intermittent clashes and mutual bombardment between both sides before, but this is the most violent attack yet.”


Restrictions eased in least-hit areas of Spain

Roughly half of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants will be able to enjoy their first drink or meal at an outdoor terrace on Monday, but residents of Madrid and Barcelona have to wait.

The two major cities have been hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Spain’s government is allowing other areas to further loosen restrictions that have been in place for nearly two months.

Bar and restaurant owners in cities like Sevilla and Bilbao will be able to open 50% of their outdoor seating for customers, while residents there will be allowed meet in groups of up to 10 people, and go to church, theaters and museums in limited numbers. Small shops will be able to open without the requirement for an appointment.

Officials are under pressure to revive a flagging economy amid rocketing unemployment.

Spain’s health minister reported 143 new confirmed fatalities from the virus on Sunday, the lowest daily increase since March 19. The total death toll for Spain is 26,621 since the start of the outbreak. More than 136,000 have recovered.

— AP

PM reportedly offers Erdan choice of transportation, education portfolios or UN post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered outgoing Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan his choice of the transportation ministry, the education ministry or a posting in New York as Israel’s UN envoy, Channel 12 reports.

Netanyahu will be meeting with other senior Likud lawmakers in the coming days to divvy out portfolios ahead of the government’s swearing-in on Wednesday.

Germany to allow cross-border entry so children can visit on Mother’s Day

Germany’s interior minister is making an exception for cross-border entry to allow children who live outside Germany to enter the country for a Mother’s Day visit.

The country’s pandemic restrictions currently forbid entry into the country except for “compelling reasons” such as work. This would have prevented families that live across the border from visiting today on Mother’s Day.

But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer approved a decision by border police to include filial visits on Mother’s Day to the list. Like cross-border commuters, they will also be exempt from the rule that requires people entering Germany to quarantine for two weeks.

The number of workers who tested positive for COVID-19 at a slaughterhouse in western Germany has risen to 205.

Authorities in Coesfeld county near the Dutch border say they have so far received results for half of the 950 staff at the slaughterhouse. Most of the workers are migrants from Eastern Europe and living in shared accommodation.

The outbreak in Coesfeld, at a sister plant in a neighboring county and a separate slaughterhouse in norther Germany, have contributed to a spike in new cases in Germany.

The country’s public health agency said 1,251 new infections had been recorded over the past 24 hours. It said the so-called reproduction rate that reflects the number of people each person with COVID-19 infects has risen to 1.1 from 0.65 on Wednesday.

— AP

Poll: Israelis back assisting Diaspora amid pandemic, but split on offering cash

Most Israelis believe the Jewish state should offer assistance to Jewish communities worldwide to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey.

The poll finds that while a large majority (85%) believe Israel should offer emergency training and know-how to communities, 63% said it should offer medical equipment and food aid, while 49% said Israel should give money to Jewish institutions such as schools and synagogues (47% opposed).

The survey of 505 adults, with a margin of error of 4.5%, is commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation.

“As the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect the Jewish world, it is heartwarming to see the support of the Israeli public towards Jewish communities around the world,” says Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Israel has come a long way understanding its role towards the American Jewish community, and this crisis provides an opportunity to further strengthen the important relationship between the sides.”

Man accused of setting dog on bus driver to remain in custody

A Jerusalem man suspected of setting his dog on a Palestinian bus driver in northern Jerusalem last week and assaulting him will remain in custody for another three days, police say.

The suspect, 28, is a resident of Jerusalem. The incident took place near Pisgat Ze’ev last week, when the driver asked the passenger to get off the bus with his dog. The driver was hospitalized and treated for light wounds.

Tax Authority to allow online filing amid pandemic

The Tax Authority says it will allow Israelis to file their taxes or request returns online, rather than in person, from now through the end of June.

This is part of government efforts to prevent crowding and the spread of the virus.

China’s Wuhan reports first virus case in over a month

China reports the first case of coronavirus in over a month in Wuhan, the city where the outbreak first started in December last year.

China’s National Health Commission also reports the first double-digit increase in countrywide cases in nearly 10 days, saying 14 new infections had been confirmed.

Two of the cases were imported into the country from overseas, the commission says.

The virus first emerged in Wuhan, a major industrial and transport city in central China, in December.

It has since infected nearly four million people worldwide — claiming more than 270,000 lives — and crippled the global economy.

The total number infected in China is 82,901, with an official death toll of 4,633.

No new deaths have been reported for nearly a month.


Education Ministry: 60% of preschool, kindergarten kids back in school

The Education Ministry says 60% of preschool and kindergarten children showed up at school today as the pandemic restrictions were eased.

Long-haired tots in Mea Shearim join protest against Meron closure

Demonstrators in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim rally against the government’s closure of the Meron pilgrimage site in northern Israel over the Lag B’Omer festival, which begins Monday night.

One of the features of the holiday among Haredim is mass haircuts at the tombsite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for three-year-olds, the first for the toddlers.

The protest spotlights numerous long-haired fuming toddlers.

Ultra-Orthodox men and their three-year-old children take part in a protest against the government restrictions that prevent them from reaching Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer tomorrow night, in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, on May 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and their three-years-old children take part in a protest against the government restrictions that prevent them from reaching Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer tomorrow night, on May 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men and their three-years-old boys take part in a protest against the government restrictions that prevent them from reaching Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim on May 10, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Seoul sees new virus cluster linked to 29-year-old party-goer; over 50 infected

South Korea’s capital urges the closure of all clubs and bars after a burst of new cases sparked fears of a second coronavirus wave.

The nation has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus, but the order from the Seoul mayor on Saturday followed a new infection cluster in Itaewon, one of the city’s busiest nightlife districts.

More than 50 cases so far have been linked to a 29-year-old man who tested positive after spending time at five clubs and bars in Itaewon last weekend.

“Carelessness can lead to an explosion in infections,” says Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, adding the order will remain in effect indefinitely.

Gyeonggi province — which surrounds Seoul with a population of around 12 million people — also ordered more than 5,700 entertainment facilities to suspend operations for two weeks starting Sunday.

With around 7,200 people estimated to have visited the five establishments, health authorities have warned of a further spike in infections and have asked those who went to any of the venues to get tested.

Of the 34 new infections reported on Sunday, 24 were tied to the Itaewon cluster, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We cannot but feel sorry to see the emergence of the new infection cluster surrounding the Itaewon clubs,” KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong tells reporters.


Only 12% of those who lost their jobs in April were fired

Twelve percent of applicants for unemployment benefits in April — the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel — have been fired from their jobs, according to the Employment Service.

That’s nearly twice as many as those laid off in March, or 6.3%.

But still, the vast majority of applicants were put on unpaid leave, rather than fired, it says.

Over a million Israelis have sought unemployment benefits since March.

70-year-old man stabbed at hairdresser in Bat Yam

A 70-year-old man has been stabbed at a hairdresser in the central Israel city of Bat Yam, according to initial reports.

The man is said to be in serious condition. The motive is unclear.

Police say Bat Yam stabbing being investigated

Police confirm a man in his sixties has been seriously injured in a stabbing attack on Balfour Street in Bat Yam.

The victim has not been identified.

Police say the motive is likely criminal, rather than terror-related, and say they’re investigating.

There is no word on the assailant.

After 2 staffers get virus, Trump adviser says it’s ‘scary to go to work’

US presidential adviser Kevin Hassett says it’s “scary to go to work” in the White House after two employees tested positive for the new coronavirus in the past week.

Hassett says the West Wing of the White House “is a small, crowded place. It’s, you know, a little bit risky.” The West Wing is where the Oval Office and other work space is located in the executive mansion.

Hassett says he wears a mask when necessary and practices “aggressive social distancing.”

He says any fears are tempered by frequent testing, access to an excellent medical team and his belief that this is a time “when people have to step up and serve their country.”

Hassett is an adviser to US President Donald Trump and the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”


Russia accuses US of downplaying Soviet role in WWII

Russia accuses the United States of downplaying the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II, with Moscow seeking “a serious conversation” on the matter with US counterparts.

“We are extremely indignant at the attempt to distort the effect… of our country’s decisive contribution,” Russia’s foreign affairs ministry says in a statement.

A White House statement on Facebook this week, to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, only mentioned the United States and Britain as victors over the Nazis.


Bennett: Netanyahu will regret breaking up the right-wing bloc

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett tells his party members Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely regret turning on his right-wing allies, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“Netanyahu decided to break up the right-wing bloc. In my opinion, he’ll regret it,” Bennett is quoted as telling his political partners.

The meeting came hours after the national religious Yamina party, a long-time ally of Netanyahu, announced that it will be heading to the opposition after its talks with the Likud party aimed at joining the “emergency” government fell apart over the weekend.

“In light of the composition of the [incoming] government and its emerging policies that appear to make it a left-wing government headed by Netanyahu, and in light of the prime minister’s blatant disrespect for Yamina and its voters, the Yamina party has decided to serve the public during the upcoming term from the opposition, where it will fight on behalf of the nationalist camp,” Yamina said in a statement.

Bat Yam stabbing victim dies of wounds

The man who was stabbed in Bat Yam earlier today has died of his injuries, according to Hebrew media reports.

He is not immediately identified.

Judges decide against live broadcast of Netanyahu’s trial

The judges in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which is to begin in two weeks, will not permit a live broadcast of the beginning of the trial.

The first hearing on May 24 will see the charges against him — bribery, fraud and breach of trust — in three cases read out in court.

All students to return to school next week – report

Students in grades 4-10 will return to school next week as the virus wanes, according to Channel 12.

The report is not immediately confirmed by the Education Ministry.

Children in grades 1-3, and teenagers in 11th and 12th grades resumed studies last week, under health restrictions.

Amid spike in virus cases, top Egypt doctor urges full lockdown

The head of Egypt’s Doctors’ Union calls for a full lockdown across the country to help fight the new coronavirus pandemic. It comes amid a spike in infections in the Arab World’s most populous country.

Dr. Hussein Khairy tells local media Sunday that he sent a letter to Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly last week, urging for the proposed lockdown to last for two weeks or until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

He argues that the lockdown would deal a “swift and massive blow” to the virus and “flatten” the curve of infections.

Egypt has halted international air travel and shuttered schools, universities, mosques, churches and archaeological sites, including the famed Giza pyramids. A curfew is in place from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The partial lockdown is to continue until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The country of 100 million people has experienced a surge in infections in the past couple of days, with the daily reported new cases around 500.


US public health expert warns coronavirus still has a long run

A public health expert says the new coronavirus still “has a long way to run,” despite US President Donald Trump’s claim last week that it will go away without a vaccine.

Dr. Tom Inglesby says it is likely that only a small portion of the country has been infected, “so most of us are still susceptible to this virus.” Inglesby is the director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

He says the nation does not have sufficient testing or tracing the contacts of people who do test positive for what he described as a “really nasty virus.” Inglesby says the danger is that as businesses reopen and Americans start to resume normal activities “with increased social interaction, we will again see increased transmission and rising number of cases.”

Reacting to Trump’s assertion that the virus simply will disappear, Inglesby says, “No, this virus isn’t going to go away. Hopefully, over time, we’ll learn to live with it and we’ll be able to reduce the risk of transmission. But it’s going to stay as a background problem in the country and around the world until we have a vaccine.”

Inglesby made the comments on Fox News Sunday.


NYC mayor sounds alarm over potentially COVID-linked rare syndrome in kids

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio voices “tremendous concern” over an uptick in cases of a pediatric syndrome that scientists suspect could be linked to COVID-19.

The mayor says there have been 38 cases of pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome detected in New York City, with an additional nine suspected cases awaiting confirmation.

There have been three deaths linked to the syndrome statewide, Governor Andrew Cuomo had said over the weekend, with one in the city.

Symptoms of the syndrome include persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain, and vomiting.

“What it does is, basically, in a child’s body triggers an intensive, almost overwhelming immune system response. And that actually causes harm to the body,” de Blasio says.

The mayor says all children with associated symptoms would now be tested for COVID-19 as well as antibodies.

So far, of the confirmed cases, 47 percent tested positive for the coronavirus and 81% had antibodies, indicating exposure to the fast-spreading virus at some point.

De Blasio urged all parents whose children exhibited the symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

Britain’s National Health Service first sounded the alarm last month, warning about a small rise in children infected with the coronavirus that have “overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease.”

France has also reported several cases.

Though frightening, most recover without serious issues.


France records lowest daily death toll since March 17

France reports 70 more deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, its lowest daily toll in recent weeks, just ahead of the first easing of an almost two-month lockdown.

The new deaths brought the total toll in hospitals and nursing homes from the pandemic in France to 26,380, the health ministry says.

It is the lowest daily toll announced since March 17, the day the lockdown in France began.


Italy sees lowest number of deaths in 24 hours since lockdown began

Italy registers its lowest total of daily new COVID-19 cases since the start of the nationwide lockdown in early March.

According to Health Ministry data, 802 coronavirus infections were confirmed in the 24-hour period ending Sunday evening.

It is also the first time daily new cases have dropped below the 1,000-mark since very early in the country’s outbreak. Italy now totals 219,070 known cases.

There were 165 deaths because of the virus since Saturday evening, raising the number of known deaths of infected patients to 30,560.

Authorities say the real total is surely much higher, as deaths at home or nursing care facilities or personal residence are not counted if COVID-19 testing is not done, although many of those deceased may well have had the illness.

Helping to account for such a lower daily new case total was Lombardy, Italy’s most stricken region. That northern region registered 282 infections in the 24-hour period. In recent days, it had registered several hundred fresh cases daily.


Edelstein tells Netanyahu he wants to be Knesset speaker

During a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud’s No. 2, Yuli Edelstein, asks him to pressure Blue and White to remove its objections to his re-assuming the position of Knesset speaker.

The position was held by Edelstein from 2013 until earlier this year, when he defied the High Court of Justice on convening the parliament. The post was then taken up by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

As part of the coalition agreement, Blue and White demanded Edelstein not be given the position again.

Police said to bust prayer gathering of hundreds in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim

Police are dispersing an illegal prayer gathering of hundreds of worshipers in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, the Ynet news site reports.

The gathering is in violation of the health regulations on the coronavirus.

With five more deaths, virus death toll rises to 252

The death toll from the coronavirus climbs to 252, with five additional deaths Sunday, according to Health Ministry data.

There is no information provided on the fatalities.

There have been 24 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed Sunday, bringing the number of those currently sick to 4,795.

Seventy-four people are in serious condition from the virus, 65 of them on ventilators. Another 47 are in moderate condition.

Sunday sees a sharp drop in tests, to 2,982.

World’s COVID-19 death toll tops 280,000

More than 280,000 people have now died from the new coronavirus, most of whom were in Europe and the United States, according to a tally by AFP from official sources at 1635 GMT on Sunday.

In total, 280,011 deaths have been registered throughout the world, of which 156,095 were in Europe, the most-affected continent. The United States is the country that has recorded most deaths, at 78,862. It is followed by Britain (31,855), Italy (30,560), Spain (26,621), and France (26,380).


Treasury said to offer $400 million loan to bail out El Al

The Finance Ministry has offered a $400 million loan to Israel’s national carrier El Al, to help keep the airline afloat amid the pandemic, Channel 12 reports.

The loan is contingent on efficiency measures, according to the report.

The airline has yet to respond to the offer.

Two suspects arrested over fatal Bat Yam stabbing

Two suspects have been arrested in connection with the fatal stabbing of a man in Bat Yam earlier today.

One of the suspects turned himself in to police, according to reports.

Recently discharged lone soldiers to get grant

The Prime Minister’s Office and Finance Ministry approve grants of up to NIS 4,000 ($1,140) for recently discharged “lone” IDF soldiers, whose families live abroad.

The grants are designated for those who have finished their army service and joined the workforce in the past year.

Gantz seeks to appoint MK Yankelevich as minister, report says

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz intends to appoint MK Omer Yankelevich a government minister, despite being 23rd on the party list, according to Channel 12.

Fellow party member Miki Haimovich, the highest placed female Blue and White MK, may only get to head a Knesset committee, it says.

UK extends lockdown measures until at least June 1

Britain’s coronavirus lockdown will stay in place until at least June 1, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says, as he unveils cautious plans to lift restrictions imposed seven weeks ago.

“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week,” he says in a televised address, but added that some primary school children could return and shops re-open from June 1.


Republican Jewish Coalition will support primary challenger to Rep. Steve King

The political action committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition is supporting a primary challenger to Rep. Steve King of Iowa, whose record includes inflammatory comments condoning white supremacists and anti-Semites.

Supporting a challenger to a sitting Republican member of Congress is a “rare step” for the Republican Jewish Coalition, the group points out in announcing the move. But it says it stopped backing King years ago.

King was removed from two House committees in 2019, after he told a New York Times reporter that he wondered why the term “white supremacist” had become offensive. The previous year, he met with members of the far-right Freedom Party, founded by a former SS officer, in Austria, after participating on a trip to Poland sponsored by a Holocaust education group. And Jewish leaders in Iowa condemned King for expressing anti-immigrant rhetoric similar to that of the shooter who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018.

“We have made it clear for some time that Rep. King does not represent the values of the Republican Jewish Coalition or the Republican Party,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks says in a statement. “We commended the January 2019 decision by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and the House Republican Steering Committee to remove Rep. King from his committee posts.”

Instead, the group will support Randy Feenstra in his bid to unseat King, who first entered Congress in 2003. Feenstra, who is serving his third term in the Iowa State Senate, “is a staunch conservative who supports President Trump’s policies,” Brooks says in his statement.

The Republican Jewish Coalition endorsed a challenger in a different primary earlier this spring. But it withdrew its support after it emerged that the challenger in the Kentucky Congressional race had posted racist comments on Twitter.


ADL protests New York Times’ description of Israeli defense

The head of the Anti-Defamation League pens a letter to the New York Times over its description of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

“It’s really unfortunate that your otherwise legitimate and important story about how Israel’s military is developing innovative responses to the Covid-19 pandemic starts out with language accusing the Defense Ministry of being ‘best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up.’ Wow. That’s sensationalist, degrading and demonizing language. Would The Times use the same verbiage to describe the US Department of Defense?” writes Jonathan Greenblatt.

“The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research and defense arm is in fact critical to Israel’s defense and security. In the face of murderous regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and a reign of terrorism from Palestinian suicide bombers, tunnels and homemade rockets targeting civilians, Israel’s military has unfortunately had no choice but to innovate again and again over the years to protect its people from harm.

“This gratuitous opener not only diverts attention from this unique story, but also seems to call into question Israel’s legitimate defense needs. The Times can do better.”

Ukrainian police official requests list of Jews in western city Kolomyya

A Ukrainian Jewish group accuses the nation’s police force of “open anti-Semitism,” after a high-ranking police official requested a list of all Jews in the western city of Kolomyya as part of an inquiry into organized crime.

The official request to the head of Kolomyya’s Jewish community is dated February 18, 2020, according to a photograph of the document that Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, shares on Twitter on Sunday.

“Please provide us the following information regarding the Orthodox Jewish religious community of Kolomyya, namely: The organization’s charter; list of members of the Jewish religious community, with indication of data, mobile phones and their places of residence,” reads the letter.

The letter is signed by Myhaylo Bank, a high-ranking officer in the national police force who handles organized crime. The letter did not explain his unit’s particular interest in Kolomyya’s Jews.

The head of the city’s Jewish community, Jacob Zalichker, declined on February 25 to provide the requested information, adding that his community would comply only when presented with a court-ordered warrant.

“It’s a total disgrace and open anti-Semitism,” Dolinsky tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It’s especially dangerous when it comes from a law enforcement agency — that we have to fight the very thing it is perpetrating.”

Kolomyya and its environs, located about 500 miles southwest of Kiev, is home to several hundred Jews.


Bennett: Arrivals from abroad may now self-quarantine at home

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett says travelers from abroad will now be permitted to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, rather than being forced into an isolation hotel for two weeks upon landing in Israel.

He announces the change on Twitter. The cabinet was set to vote on whether to lift the mandatory two-week stays at the hotels for all arrivals, but no official announcement has been made.

Cabinet eases quarantine rules for arriving travelers, opens parks

Hebrew media is now reporting on the cabinet vote to end the forced stays at the isolation hotels for all those arriving in the country.

Travelers will be permitted to self-quarantine at home.

The official government regulations are not immediately publicized.

But reports say the ministers also vote to reopen parks and public playgrounds.

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