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Israel finally gets a gov’t; Netanyahu promises to hand over power Nov. 17, 2021

PM says new coalition will focus on fighting coronavirus, reviving economy, combating Iran, fending off ICC, and annexing parts of West Bank

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into the Knesset after presenting the 35th government of Israel to the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into the Knesset after presenting the 35th government of Israel to the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

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

Netanyahu appoints Likud MK Yoav Galant as education minister

Prime Minister Netanyahu taps Likud MK Yoav Galant, the outgoing immigration and absorption minister, to serve as education minister in the new government. He will also serve on the security cabinet.

“Minister Galant has worked extensively for the security of Israel in his various positions in the IDF and is currently a member of the security cabinet. He also strengthened and promoted the issue of housing in Israel in his role as minister of housing and construction, and worked extensively to encourage immigration to Israel in his role as minister of immigration and absorption,” Netanyahu says in a statement announcing the appointment.

“The State of Israel has many challenges and together we will continue to work to improve [its] strength and security.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud Minister Yoav Galant at the Knesset on January 9, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Galant says he is taking on the role “while understanding the responsibility and importance of our children’s future.” He adds that “education of the young generation in Israel is the best and most important investment in the future of Israel.”

The announcement of the appointment comes as Netanyahu meets with Likud lawmakers to finish giving out ministerial posts ahead of today’s scheduled swearing in of the new government.

Israeli students returning to school as education system kicks into full gear

Israel begins to fully reopen its education system this morning with private daycares, kindergartens and grades 1-3 resuming full-time classroom activities and grades 4-12 starting to return to lessons in various municipalities.

The reopening comes after over two months in which Israeli children spent most of their time at home in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country. Grades 1-3 and 11-12 previously resumed partial studies.

The Education Ministry says that all pupils (except in areas that have been centers of outbreaks in the last two months) will be back in school by Tuesday, with grades 4-12 set to return fully over the next two days.

After-school programs, which stretch the school day to approximately 4:30-5 p.m. are also returning across the country.

Outgoing Health Ministry chief reportedly set to run PMO

Outgoing Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who announced last week that he will step down from his post following the appointment of a new health minister, is reportedly on his way to the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to a report in Maariv, Bar Siman-Tov, who has as been one of the most prominent figures leading Israel’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, frequently giving media interviews and appearing alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be appointed as the PMO’s director-general shortly after the new government is sworn in.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, at a press conference about the coronavirus, at the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The report says that Bar-Siman Tov’s announcement last week was made in coordination with Netanyahu.

As the Health Ministry’s top bureaucrat, Bar Siman-Tov was responsible for leading many of the tough early steps to restrict Israel’s public life, and was initially credited in spearheading the country’s efficient response that prevented mass infection.

Snubbed in ministerial handouts, Sa’ar says ‘great privilege’ to serve as an MK

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, February 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hands out final ministerial posts to members of his Likud party ahead of today’s government swearing in ceremony, MK Gidon Sa’ar, skipped over by the premier, says he is happy to serve the country as a backbencher.

“It is a great privilege to serve the people of Israel and the State of Israel as a Knesset member,” Sa’ar tweets.

Sa’ar unsuccessfully challenged Netanyahu in the Likud leadership primary in December and is considered the prime minister’s top rival in the party.

South Korea reports 13 virus cases in waning new outbreak

South Korea reports 13 new cases of the coronavirus over a 24-hour period, raising hopes that a new outbreak linked to nightclubs in Seoul may be waning.

The additional figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bring the national tally to 11,050 with 262 deaths.

The agency says 9,888 of them have recovered and that 17,660 were under tests to determine whether they’ve contracted the virus.

After weeks of a slowdown of new cases, South Korea’s daily jump marked an average of about 30 for several days, mostly associated with nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district. But the daily increase marked 19 on Saturday.

The disease control agency didn’t immediately say how many of the 13 new cases were linked to nightlife spots in Itaewon.

— AP

Netanyahu makes Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin minister of higher education and water resources

Prime Minister Netanyahu taps Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, the outgoing environmental protection minister, to serve as the newly created positions of “minister of higher education minister” and “minister of water resources” in the new government.

According to a statement from the Likud party, the higher education portfolio includes responsibility for universities and all additional educational programs outside of the framework of regular schooling previously under the auspices of the Education Ministry. The water resources portfolio includes “all water issues that were the responsibility of the Ministry of Energy.”

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Zeev Elkin (left) presents Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a First Temple-period seal impression discovered in the Temple Mount Sifting Project on June 2, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

Elkin will also sit on the high profile security cabinet. In a year and a half, he will take over the Transportation Ministry from Likud MK Miri Regev who will then be appointed foreign minister (when Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi moves from the foreign ministry to the defense ministry, which will be vacated by Blue and White chair Gantz who is set to become prime minister in the rotation deal), the statement adds.

“Minister Elkin led a revolution in environmental protection and in reducing air pollution from transportation. It has also contributed greatly to the development of the city of Jerusalem to unprecedented scale,” Netanyahu says.

“I thank the Prime Minister for the trust and continue to serve the public faithfully in the various roles of the new government in higher education and complementary education and water resources in the first half of the term, and in the second half,” Elkin responds.

— Raoul Wootliff

Chinese ambassador to Israel found dead in Herzliya residence

Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirms that Chinese Ambassador to Israel has been found dead in his official residence in the coastal town of Herzliya.

No further details were provided.

Police are at the scene, the foreign ministry says.

Ambassador Du Wei, 57, was appointed to serve in Israel in February.

Paramedics said to suspect heart failure caused death of Chinese ambassador

Magen David Adom paramedics report no signs of violence on Chinese ambassador Du Wei, who was found dead overnight in his Herzliya residence, according to Channel 12 news.

They are reportedly treating the death as a result of heart failure.

Netanyahu reneges, keeps MK Yuval Steinitz at helm of Energy Ministry

Prime Minister Netanyahu announces that he will reappoint Likud MK Yuval Steinitz as energy minister in the new government, despite previously having ruled him out.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2019. (Flash90)

After turning down other positions offered by Netanyahu, Steinitz had not been expected to join the government set to be sworn in this afternoon.

“I am pleased to announce that Minister Steinitz will continue to be a key partner in the government in his position as Minister of Energy,” Netanyahu, however, says in a statement.

Steinitz, who has served as a minister since 2009, says in a statement that he is “happy to continue to serve the State of Israel on important energy issues.”

Churches in Greece open doors after 2 months

Churches throughout Greece are opening their doors to the faithful after two months.

They are limiting the number of congregants and dispensed disinfectant outside, but communion is being given using the same spoon.

Those who flock to churches for today’s Sunday Mass will sit three chairs apart and observe social distancing of at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) from each other. The number of people attending is limited to 1 per 10 square meters (108 sq ft). With many left outside, and churches are using loudspeakers to broadcast Mass.

Greece is gradually easing strict quarantine measures which were imposed in March and have helped limit fatalities from COVID-19 to 162. There have been fewer than 3,000 confirmed cases.

— AP

Russia records under 10,000 new virus cases

Russia records under 10,000 new cases for the third time this week, but fluctuating figures since the start of May suggest it is too early to detect a clear downward trend.

The country has the second highest number of infections in the world at 281,752.

The Russian health authorities confirm a total of 9,709 new cases. The country also announces 94 new deaths, slightly down from Saturday’s figure of 119 that was the highest daily toll yet.

Medical workers move a coronavirus patient at an intensive care unit of the Filatov City Clinical Hospital in Moscow, Russia, May 15, 2020. (AP/Pavel Golovkin)

Russian health officials say one of the reasons the count is lower is that only deaths directly caused by the virus are being included.

Authorities also say that since the virus came later to Russia, the country had more time to prepare hospital beds and launch wide-scale testing to slow its spread.


IDF cancels exercises, tryouts amid crushing heat wave

The Israel Defense Forces cancels all exercises and tryouts through Tuesday in light of the risks posed by a heatwave sweeping through the country.

The army also issued various instructions to troops to prevent them from unnecessary work in the heat.

Temperatures are expected to rise and could reach 46°C (114.8°F) in some parts of Israel.

Yesterday, the Health Ministry issued a warning to the elderly and people with health conditions, instructing them to stay indoors, avoid unnecessary physical exertion and drink plenty of fluids as temperatures rise.

Temperatures could reach up to 41°C (105°F) in Afula and Beersheba, 43°C (109°F) in Beit She’an, 36-37°C (96.8°F) in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and 34°C (93.2°F) in Safed.

The high temperatures are expected to persist, with Beit She’an reaching up to 46°C (114.8°F) and Tiberias 45°C (113°F) by Tuesday.

Nir Barkat after government snub: ‘I’m a long distance runner’

Likud MK and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat says in a tweet that he welcomes the new government set to be sworn in this afternoon despite not receiving a ministerial position from Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I applaud the establishment of the new government and I am glad that I have done my part for the cause, even if I will not serve as minister. I’m a long distance runner and will continue to work hard for our beloved state in the Knesset,” Barkat says.

Netanyahu earlier said in a statement that Barkat “deserves senior positions in both Likud and the government” but that “unfortunately, this will not happen before the inauguration.”

Netanyahu adds that he “will make a big effort to integrate MK Barkat into a senior government position down the road. “

Watch: Israel’s 35th government is sworn in

The swearing-in ceremony of the 35th government is about to begin. You can watch it here, in Hebrew of course.

Netanyahu: ‘The public wants a unity government, and that’s what the public will get’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opening the swearing-in ceremony for Israel’s 35th government, says that a unity government is not only the only option, but is what the public voted for.

“The public wants a unity government, and that is what the public will get,” Netanyahu tells the Knesset, explaining that fourth elections would cost the country more than the new government, set to be the largest in Israel’s history with 34 ministers.

“I am sure that we will work for the good of the people,” the prime minister says.

Explaining that both he and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have decided to put differences aside for the sake of the country, he says, “We chose to serve the people together.”

Netanyahu: Government needed to fight coronavirus

Netanyahu says he is sure he and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz will work successfully together in the government like they did in the 2014 Protective Edge military operation in Gaza, when Gantz was IDF chief of staff.

Netanyahu says anything other than the immediate establishment of a government “will damage the fight against the coronavirus.” Israel has had a transitional government for over 500 days.

Saying that the fight against the virus “will not be over until a vaccine is found,” Netanyahu says the country needs “strong leadership” to get through both the ongoing health risks and the ensuing financial crisis.

Netanyahu says new government will pass budget of ‘hope’

Netanyahu hails Israel’s response to the pandemic and says a “special cabinet” will be formed in anticipation of a potential second wave of infections.

He says the government will pass a budget of “hope” that would help workplaces recover from the financial toll.

PM is heckled

Opposition lawmakers make several interruptions during the premier’s speech, and several of MKs to receive multiple warnings.

“Bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” is heard as a refrain listing the charges against Netanyahu, for which he will go on trial next week.

“There is an illusion by new Knesset members that confronting me will help them over time. From my experience I can say that doesn’t work,” Netanyahu retorts.

Netanyahu: Israeli law should be extended to West Bank

Netanyahu says the new government will fight the International Criminal Court’s attempts to prosecute Israel for “building a kindergarten in [the Jerusalem neighborhood of] Gilo and homes in [the settlement of] Shilo.”

“Such hypocrisy,” he chides.

He says Israel’s law should be extended over the West Bank, saying such a move would bring peace closer.

“There will be no peace with occupation and apartheid,” interrupts Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen before being removed from the plenary after receiving three warnings.

Netanyahu continues and praises the support for the move by the United States, but adds that Israel should rely only on itself to defend itself.

Netanyahu reaches out to Yamina in government inauguration speech

Alluding to the Yamina right-wing party, which is currently heading to the opposition, Netanyahu says he hopes “another party” will join the coalition.

Netanyahu announces date for Gantz to take over as PM

The date for Benny Gantz becoming prime minister has been set for November 17, 2021, Netanyahu says in his speech at the inauguration of the new unity government.

Gantz says new government brings end to ‘worst political crisis’ in Israel’s history

Benny Gantz, speaking after Netanyahu, says the swearing-in of the government ends the “worst political crisis in its history,” calling for an end to “the era of incitement” and a start to an “era of reconciliation.”

Repeatedly heckled by his former allies, now in the opposition, Gantz says the alternative to the government was “the brink of civil war.”

He says that the new coalition also brings an end to “government of just half of the people.”

This is “a government of all the people,” he says.

Gantz says Netanyahu made ‘brave, important’ decision to accept unity government

Gantz says that Netanyahu had made the right move by cooperating with him and setting a date for their rotation in the leadership.

“After 11 years at the helm, you accepted the decision of he voters that said they want unity,” Gantz says, addressing Netanyahu. “That was a brave and important decision.”

Addressing his former Blue and White allies Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, who refused to join the government with him, he says: “You know I wanted you to be with me.”

“I hear your attacks, but I still respect you. I’m saddened that at the moment of truth, the partnership couldn’t be maintained,” he says repeatedly interrupted by shouting from Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy, who was sent out of the plenum.

Gantz says he is open to dialogue also with those in the opposition.

And, in an apparent reference to attempts by Netanyahu and his loyalists to push reforms in the justice system, Gantz says that as alternate prime minister and as prime minister, he will “back the rule of law in Israel.”

Lapid at government inauguration: ‘Israelis deserve better’

Yesh Atid-Telem chair and presumed opposition leader Yair Lapid attacks the new government in his speech at the Knesset following addresses from Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.

“Today, this building has lost the trust of the Israeli public. People hate politicians, they hate politics. They don’t believe politics represents values. They definitely don’t believe that it’s relevant to their lives. They’re right. Politics takes their money and gives them nothing back. There is no connection between politics and the real lives of real people,” Lapid says.

Slamming the size of the government, the largest in Israel’s history, Lapid says, “Coronavirus is an excuse for a corrupt party at the expense of the taxpayer.”

“After all the empty talk of an ’emergency government,’ the government being formed today is the largest and most wasteful in the history of the country. 36 ministers, 16 deputy ministers. You call that an emergency government? 52 offices. There are fewer than 50 coronavirus patients on ventilators in Israel; we have more ministers and deputy ministers than patients on life support. We could put a minister or deputy minister next to each bed and still have two left over,” he mocks.

Lapid says that “Israelis deserve better.”

He promises that the opposition “will be here to remind them that it can be different. There is an alternative, a different leadership. Not a leadership that cares only about its own jobs and seats. A leadership committed to values, to the change we want to lead. To love Judaism but to fight religious coercion. To stand against racism. To fight corruption. To protect our democracy from those who seek to destroy it.”

Government weighing reopening of synagogues

Under pressure from Orthodox groups and the Chief Rabbinate, the Israeli government is set to deliberate the reopening of the synagogues, which were shuttered in late March in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, with a decision possibly coming as soon as Monday.

According to a report in ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabbat, the National Security Council is slated to discuss the issue on Sunday afternoon.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate confirms the deliberations, saying that chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef have called on public health authorities to set guidelines to enable the safe resumption of public prayer.

“The chief rabbis have requested the reopening of all the synagogues but of course this will be according to the guidelines of the Health Ministry. This is a complex topic,” the spokesman says.

Iran officials say ‘minor damage’ caused by fire at Tomb of Mordechai and Esther

Iranian officials confirm that a fire broke out early Friday morning at the site of an ancient shrine revered by Iranian Jews as the burial place of the biblical Esther and Mordechai. But they stress that no damage was done to the hall housing the tomb itself.

An investigation has revealed that a person was caught in CCTV footage trying to enter the holy site through an adjacent bank and “perform a series of actions” but “failed,” opposition news sites say, citing a report in the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

The report says the cameras had registered the person’s face, but “information about the person’s motives and identity cannot be provided until they are arrested.”

The attack came on May 15, a day after the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, raising widespread suspicion that it was a hate crime against Jews and the Jewish state.

Government grows even bigger as Netanyahu announces 19 ministers from his bloc

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a list of 19 ministers to sit in Israel’s 35th government, despite a deal with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party that Likud would receive 18 portfolios.

According to Channel 12 news, Gantz has agreed that Tzachi Hanegbi would serve as a minister without portfolio for a few months until Tzipi Hotovely departs for her ambassadorship in London, at which point he will replace her at the Settlements Ministry.

Blue and White would not immediately confirm the report.

Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government will initially have 34 ministers, which were supposed to be divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs, before swelling to 36 in six months in what would be the largest government in Israel’s history.

Gantz, however, chose not to fill his quota of ministers due to a lack of MKs after the Yesh Atid and Telem factions split away from Blue and White due to the deal with Netanyahu, and also due to the high financial cost of having a large number of ministries.

Channel 12 reports that only the votes of 16 ministers from each bloc will count, maintaining the equal power-sharing principle of the new coalition.

Tel Aviv launches LGBT hotline for complaints about ‘conversion therapy’

The Tel Aviv municipality and the Israeli Medical Association announce the creation of a new hotline for reports and complaints of so-called conversion therapy.

Gay conversion therapies, also called reparative therapies, have been strongly discouraged in Israel, the US and elsewhere with major health organizations criticizing what they term its pseudo-scientific methods and its treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness.

Though discouraged by the Health Ministry, it remains legal in Israel, and is still accepted in some conservative and Orthodox circles.

According to Army Radio, callers will be directed to welfare services and the police if necessary and will receive help in dealing with the authorities if they wish.

IDF shoots at man crossing border from Lebanon

Israeli troops shoot a man who crossed the border from Lebanon into Israel for as yet unknown reasons, the military says.

The Israel Defense Forces says the suspect has been flown to the hospital for his injuries.

The military says the suspect crossed the border near Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms.

“The incident is being investigated,” the IDF says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Remand extended for Ramat Gan man suspected of murdering girlfriend

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court extends the remand of a Ramat Gan man suspected of choking his girlfriend to death and stabbing her mother.

He will remain in custody for another 8 days.

Hong Kong hamster study shows masks reduce coronavirus spread

Tests on hamsters reveal the widespread use of face masks reduces transmission of the deadly coronavirus, a team of leading experts in Hong Kong say.

The research by the University of Hong Kong is some of the first to specifically investigate whether masks can stop symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers from infecting others.

Led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, one of the world’s top coronavirus experts, the team placed hamsters that were artificially infected with the disease next to healthy animals.

Surgical masks were placed between the two cages with air flow traveling from the infected animals to the healthy ones.

The researchers find non-contact transmission of the virus could be reduced by more than 60 percent when the masks were used.

Two-thirds of the healthy hamsters were infected within a week if no masks were applied.

The infection rate plunged to just over 15 percent when surgical masks were put on the cage of the infected animals and by about 35 percent when placed on the cage with the healthy hamsters.

Those that did become infected were also found to have less of the virus within their bodies than those infected without a mask.

“It’s very clear that the effect of masking the infected, especially when they are asymptomatic — or symptomatic — it’s much more important than anything else,” Yuen tells reporters.

“It also explained why universal masking is important because we now have known that a large number of those infected have no symptom.”

Yuen was one of the microbiologists who discovered the SARS virus — a predecessor of the current coronavirus — when it emerged in 2003, killing some 300 people in Hong Kong.


British PM: There may never be a COVID-19 vaccine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says there might never be a vaccine for COVID-19 despite the huge global effort to develop one.

The British government is giving 93 million pounds ($110 million) in funding to speed up the opening of the new Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Center. Johnson said Britain also is supporting research into drug treatments to help people recover quickly from the virus.

Johnson writes in the Mail on Sunday newspaper “there remains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vaccine might not come to fruition.”

Johnson says “we need to find new ways to control the virus,” including testing people who have symptoms and tracing contacts of those infected people.

The British government relaxed some restrictions on outdoor activities in England last week and plans to continue easing rules over the next few months.

Johnson says “I know this will not be easy — the first baby steps never are.”


Madagascar announces 1st virus death,

Madagascar on Sunday announces the first death of a patient suffering from the novel coronavirus, nearly two months after it was first detected in the country.

The 57-year-old hospital worker died on Saturday and had underlying diabetes and high blood pressure before he was infected, an official from the anti-coronavirus task team said.

“It is with great sadness that we have to share with all our compatriots, that there is an individual, aged 57, who died from COVID-19,” professor Hanta Vololontiana says on public television.

He was a car park attendant at a hospital in the eastern city of Toamasina.


Construction worker falls to his death in Givat Shmuel

A worker at a construction site in Givat Shmuel in central Israel has plunged to his death from the eighth story of a building, medics say.

The man, in his forties, is not immediately identified.

Blue and White: Only 16 of Netanyahu’s 19 ministers will have cabinet vote

The Blue and White party confirms to Times of Israel that it agreed to Netanyahu announcing 19 ministers from his bloc and that only the votes of 16 ministers from each bloc will count in the cabinet, maintaining the equal power-sharing principle of the new coalition.

Raoul Wootliff

Likud MK Yariv Levin appointed Knesset speaker in parliamentary vote

The Knesset votes in favor of appointing Likud’s Yariv Levin as parliamentary speaker.

The nomination is confirmed with 71 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers in favor.

7 Iran-backed fighters killed in late-night Syria strikes

Late-night strikes on a position held by Iranian militias and their allies in eastern Syria killed seven fighters, a war monitor says.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the strikes on “a base” controlled by Iranian forces and their proxies near the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Albu Kamal on Saturday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The attack killed seven Iran-backed paramilitary fighters,” the monitor says, also reporting material damage.

The Observatory adds that military reinforcements for Iranian militias and their allies had arrived in the area days before the attack.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from Hezbollah.

It rarely confirms details of its operations in Syria, but says Iran’s presence in support of President Bashar Assad is a threat and that it will continue its strikes.


Accepting post, Levin says legislature allowed to criticize High Court

In his maiden speech as Knesset speaker, Yariv Levin vows to keep the legislature strong but says the judiciary is not above criticism.

“The mutual criticism between the three powers is natural, and it is not a problem with democracy but one of its greatest advantages. We must respect the judiciary,” he says.

Netanyahu thanks former speaker Edelstein

Netanyahu returns to the Knesset podium ahead of the official vote swearing in the government.

He thanks Likud’s former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, who served in the position for seven years before resigning after defying a High Court of Justice order to convene the parliament.

New government officially sworn in with parliamentary vote

The new government, Israel’s 35th, is sworn in by Knesset vote.

The vote is 73-46 in favor of the new coalition.

Netanyahu and Gantz sworn in as PM, alternate PM

Now ministers are being sworn in, one at a time.

Netanyahu is first, renewing his tenure as prime minister.

Gantz is then sworn in as defense minister and alternate prime minister, to replace Netanyahu in 18 months.

Likud’s Gilad Erdan snaps selfie with ‘two prime ministers’

Likud MK Gilad Erdan snaps a selfie with Netanyahu and Gantz.

“How many opportunities will I have to get a selfie with two prime ministers together?” he writes on Twitter. “An exciting moment. Congratulations to the prime minister and alternate prime minister. And despite the cynicism, [congratulations] to the State of Israel.”

Erdan is set to be appointed Israel’s ambassador to the US and UN.

The swearing-in of the ministers is continuing, with Aryeh Deri, Gila Gamliel, Yoav Gallant, and others taking the podium.

All ministers sworn in

All 34 cabinet ministers have now been sworn in.

They include the first female ultra-Orthodox minister, Omer Yankelevich (Diaspora affairs), and the first Ethiopia-born minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata (Immigration and absorption), in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu says government to work on reviving economy

Netanyahu acknowledges criticism of the numerous cabinet posts on the taxpayers’ dime, but says it is essential to avert another, fourth round of elections.

“This cost is much lower than the 2 billion that another elections would have cost,” he tells Army Radio, immediately after the swearing-in ends.

“Stability is acquired with broad governments,” he says.

Netanyahu says he hasn’t shut the door to Yamina, indicating he will continue to try and bring the right-wing party into the coalition.

He says he offered Yamina the Jerusalem affairs and education portfolios, and deputy minister on settlement issues, but was spurned.

Netanyahu also denies he offered the UN ambassadorship to Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar.

And, addressing the coronavirus, he warns “no one knows if this is a respite that will be renewed in a second wave, or not.”

“No one knows… we need to prepare for a second wave.”

He says the new government will focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” and reviving Israel’s economy amid the pandemic.

He also pledges, in his efforts to revive the economy, “to slash bureaucracy with an ax” and says he does not want to raise taxes.

As the 35th government is sworn in, Netanyahu is asked if he will also seek to form the next coalition. “No more than the 37th,” he says, seemingly joking.

PM laughs off the suggestion that the Netanyahu era will be over 18 months from now

Netanyahu is asked to address threats against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, ahead of the start of his corruption trial next week.

“I don’t want to see threats against anyone, including my family members,” he tells Army Radio.

Relating to Iran, he says “they haven’t halted their efforts to obtain nuclear weapons…. So long as I am prime minister, Iran will not get nuclear weapons.”

And moving back to the coronavirus, he says: “We saved thousands of lives.”

“I understand that there’s… a desire to believe it’s over. It’s not over.”

Asked if he can confirm that 18 months from now, the Netanyahu era will be over, he says: “If I had to count all those who eulogized that the Netanyahu era is over… well, some of them are still alive.”

Netanyahu’s agenda: Virus, economy, Iran, annexation, fighting ICC

The newly sworn-in cabinet is beginning its first meeting in the Knesset.

The ministers are seated six feet apart in accordance with the coronavirus guidelines.

Netanyahu opens the meeting and congratulates them all. He thanks partner Gantz for their collaboration.

He says the pandemic tops the government’s agenda.

“The first mission is the coronavirus and the health” crisis, says Netanyahu.

“So long as the virus is here and there is no vaccine, it can come back overnight,” he says.

“The fact that we managed to prevent it doesn’t mean we can prevent” another wave, says Netanyahu. He stresses the “coronavirus routine” will last for a long time, “I don’t want to say how long,” but adds that he hopes to be proven wrong.

The second mission is reviving the economy and passing a state budget, but acknowledges it may not quickly be restored to pre-coronavirus flourishing.

The third item is combating Iran, he says.

The fourth is fighting the war crimes probe in the International Criminal Court. “This is a troubling development.”

“This is a strategic threat” to Israel and the IDF, he says, adding that he rarely uses that language.

The fifth is the diplomatic issue of West Bank annexation.

“I don’t hide my intention to bring it quickly to the cabinet,” he says.

He says that the government will defy predictions and last longer than expected.

Gantz, addresses cabinet, admits working together will be ‘challenging’

Gantz addresses the first cabinet meeting.

“We all faced public attack for our choices,” he says, and will continue to be criticized.

Gantz says that “in a normal world,” when ranking his priorities, he would begin with education, infrastructure, law enforcement, and welfare and health and then security.

“But we live in a not-normal time,” he adds.

“We face a health crisis with economic repercussions… and we haven’t really started feeling it. It will come.”

He defends the decision to appoint a large cabinet.

“Working together, in my view, will be challenging,” he acknowledges, referring to the Likud and Blue and White blocs.

“I believe the alternative [a fourth round of elections] would have made Israel a chaotic place, in terms of its social [fabric], and an economic catastrophe.”

Netanyahu thanks him and adds: “And now, to work.”

Pompeo, Friedman congratulate Israel on new government

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman congratulate Israel on its new unity government.

Bennett meets with Gantz in the Knesset

Naftali Bennett, who served as interim defense minister during the transitional government, meets with Benny Gantz in the Knesset.

Gantz was sworn in earlier today as defense minister for the next 18 months, after which time he will become prime minister.

The meeting comes ahead of the official changing of the guard on Monday.

Bennett and his Yamina party is now in the opposition after failing to reach agreements on ministerial portfolios with Netanyahu.

Egypt tightens measures during celebrations marking Ramadan’s end

Egypt announces a lengthening of its night-time curfew and other measures to prevent large gatherings during Eid al-Fitr holidays marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“All shops, malls, restaurants, entertainment facilities, beaches, and public parks will be closed for six days from May 24-29,” says Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli.

Public transportation will be halted and the nationwide curfew in force from 5 p.m. during that period, he tells a Cairo press conference.

During the fasting month of Ramadan, the curfew ran from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Eid al-Fitr is normally marked by mass morning prayers, visits of family and friends, and large gatherings in public spaces and parks.

Egypt has since late March banned prayer gatherings and suspended air traffic among other steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus among the country’s 100 million people.

The health ministry has so far recorded 11,719 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 612 fatalities.


US successfully launches unmanned reusable drone for secretive space mission

The US Air Force successfully launches its high-tech drone X-37B, placing the reusable vehicle into orbit for its sixth secretive mission in space.

The drone, which resembles a smaller version of the manned space shuttles retired by the US space program in 2011, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the Air Force says.

It will spend months in orbit, remotely conducting a series of experiments.

“Congratulations on the 6th mission of the X-37B reusable spacecraft,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper tweets shortly after the launch.

The huge Atlas V launch vehicle took off with an earth-shaking roar at 9:14 am (13H14 GMT) to loft the drone, also known as an Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), into space.

The drone in turn will deploy a small research satellite dubbed FalconSat-8, to carry out additional experiments, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett explained earlier this month, elaborating on what up to now has been a highly secretive project.

“This X-37B mission will host more experiments than any prior missions,” said Barrett, who also heads the recently created US Space Force.

Among the experiments: testing the effect of radiation on seeds and other materials, and transforming solar power into radio-frequency microwave energy that could be transmitted to the ground.

The X-37B is 29 feet long (nine meters), with a wing span of 15 feet (4.5 meters).

The Pentagon has published photos of the drone, but up to now had revealed few details about its missions and capabilities.

On each of its successive flights — the first took place in 2010 — the solar-powered craft has remained in orbit for longer periods.

Its last flight ended in October 2019, after 780 days in orbit. That brought the craft’s cumulative time in orbit to 2,865 days.


Tel Aviv man arrested, suspected of inciting violence against Netanyahu

A Tel Aviv man, 39, has been arrested for allegedly inciting violence against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu online, Hebrew reports say.

No further details are immediately available on the case.

Daily deaths in Italy lowest since lockdown

The number of people in Italy who died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours sinks to 145 on Sunday — the lowest number since Italy’s lockdown went into effect.

That brings to 31,908 the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Italy.

The contagion in the first country in Europe to be hit by the virus also has slowed significantly, with just 675 confirmed new cases, according to the country’s civil protection agency.

The true scope of the pandemic in Italy is believed to be much higher, as testing is still restricted mostly to people showing symptoms who need to be hospitalized.

The number of currently infected people drops under 70,000, while more than 125,000 have recovered from the virus.

Pressure on hospitals continues to ease, with 13 fewer patients in intensive care and 89 fewer people hospitalized — important milestones as Italy prepares to open bars, restaurants, shops and other activities on Monday.


60-year-old man dies of heatstroke in Dimona

A 60-year-old man is found dead in the southern town of Dimona after apparently suffering heatstroke.

The man collapses outdoors. Medics are forced to pronounce his death.

Israel is enduring an unseasonable heatwave, with temperatures in Dimona hitting 41°C (106°F) on Sunday.

World leaders congratulate Israel on new unity government

Several world leaders congratulate Israel on the formation of a new government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a message to old-new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, writes that she is looking forward to continue working together with him. “Germany will continue to stand up for Israel and for peace in the Middle East. I wish you and all Israeli citizens strength, determination and success in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.”

Her foreign minister, Heiko Maas, sends three tweets — from his personal and professional accounts — to congratulate his new counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. “The close partnership and friendship between Germany and Israel are very dear to me personally. Therefore, I am looking forward to our future cooperation!” he writes.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issues tweets in both English and Hebrew, wishing “Mazel Tov my friend Netanyahu for forming your fifth government in Israel. I wish you and [Gantz] success and look forward to continue working closely with your government to further strengthen India-Israel strategic partnership.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz expresses “sincere congratulations” to Netanyahu, vowing to further deepen the “excellent relations” between Vienna and Jerusalem. “We’ll continue our efforts to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism in all its forms,” he writes.

Kurz also sends his best wishes to the freshly sworn-in alternate prime minister. “As I have stressed in the past, Israel’s security is not negotiable for Austria,” he says.

Austria’s foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, says he is looking forward to working with Ashkenazi, as does Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.

Raphael Ahren

Will ministers wear masks, stand apart for cabinet photo?

The President’s Residence is seeking the Health Ministry’s input on how to stage the traditional cabinet photograph in accordance with the coronavirus social distancing regulations.

The photo shoot is to be held Monday at the residence.

“This is an important ceremonial event that comes after the formation of every Israeli government and we hope to hold it in exactly the same way,” writes the director of the President’s Residence, Harel Tubi.

“The event includes 36 ministers, the president and two prime ministers in rotation, all together for the photograph in the hall of Beit HaNasi [President’s Residence], with a large number of media,” he adds, asking for health guidance.

Virus death toll rises to 272; just 10 new cases

The coronavirus death toll rises to 272, with four deaths today.

The Health Ministry says the number of overall cases stands at 16,617. Nearly 13,000 have recovered, leaving 3,403 active cases. Ten cases have been diagnosed since last night.

It says 55 people are in serious condition, 44 of them on ventilators. Another 37 are in moderate condition, with the rest showing mild symptoms.

Testing numbers have plummeted, with just 1,521 conducted on Saturday.

5 Iran tankers carrying millions worth of gasoline sailing to Venezuela

Five Iranian tankers likely carrying at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela, part of a wider deal between the two US-sanctioned nations, amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The tankers’ voyage come after Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolás Maduro turned to Iran for help in flying in chemicals needed at an aging refinery, during a gasoline shortage, a symptom of the wider economic and political chaos gripping Latin America’s one-time largest oil producer.

For Iran, the tankers represent a way to bring money into its cash-starved Shiite theocracy and put its own pressure on the US, which under President Donald Trump has pursued maximalist campaigns against both nations.

But the strategy invites the chance of a renewed confrontation between the Islamic Republic and America both in the Persian Gulf, which saw a series of escalating incidents often involving the oil industry last year, and wider afield.

“This is like a new one for everyone,” says Capt. Ranjith Raja, an analyst who tracks oil shipments by sea at the data firm Refinitiv, of the gasoline shipments. “We haven’t seen anything like this before.”

All the vessels involved belong to Iranian state-owned or state-linked companies, flying under the Iranian flag. Since a pressure campaign on Iranian vessels began, notably with the temporary seizure of an Iranian tanker last year by Gibraltar, the country’s ships have been unable to fly flags of convenience of other nations, a common practice in international shipping.

The ships all appear to have been loaded from the Persian Gulf Star Refinery near Bandar Abbas, Iran, which makes gasoline, Raja says. The ships then traveled around the Arabian Peninsula and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea, according to data collected from the ship’s Automatic Identification System, or AIS, which acts as a tracking beacon.


Body of missing 91-year-old woman found in Haifa

The 91-year-old mother of actor Zachi Noy is found dead in Haifa.

Sarah Novobruder had been missing since early this month.

Spain’s daily virus death toll drops below 100, for 1st time since March

Spain has registered its first daily death toll of fewer than 100 confirmed fatalities since declaring a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus two months ago.

Spain’s health minister says regional authorities have reported 87 new deaths, the lowest daily count since March 16. Spain reported over 900 deaths a day at the height of the outbreak.

The country of 47 million has had 27,650 deaths and 277,719 infections from COVID-19.

Spain is easing its strict lockdown measures that succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus, but have also brought its economy to a halt.


All New Yorkers with flu-like symptoms now eligible for COVID-19 tests

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets tested for coronavirus on live TV Sunday as he announces all people in the state experiencing flu-like symptoms are now eligible for tests.

Any New Yorkers experiencing flu-like symptoms or those who will be returning to work as part of phased reopenings across the state can now get tested, Cuomo says.

The state is expanding eligibility as it deals with a surplus of testing capacity. Cuomo says drive-thru and walk-in testing sites are performing about one-third of the 15,000 tests they are capable of each day.

In all, the state is testing about 40,000 people per day.

An agreement with CVS will allow samples to be collected at more than 60 pharmacies across the state, Cuomo says. Testing in New York City is being expanded to 123 CityMD walk-in clinics.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also makes an urgent appeal Sunday for blood donations, saying coronavirus-related blood drive cancellations have led supplies to dwindle to about two days’ worth, which could mean postponing some surgeries.


Report: China to send investigative team to Israel to probe ambassador’s death

The Chinese government will dispatch investigators to probe the death of its ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, the Haaretz daily reports.

Wei died at his home in Herzliya on Sunday, apparently from natural causes, a statement from Beijing has said.

A statement from China’s foreign ministry earlier said: “The preliminary verdict is that Ambassador Du Wei died unexpectedly of health reasons. The details await further confirmation.”

According to Haaretz, the special team will also arrange flying arrangements to bring Wei’s body to China for burial. A family representative will be joining, the report says.

with AFP

TV: Likud’s Barkat rejected PM’s offer to run Intelligence Ministry

Likud MK Nir Barkat turned down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer for the intelligence, cyber and technology, or higher education ministerial portfolios, according to Channel 12.

The television report says Barkat, a former Jerusalem mayor, objected to running an office invented for the new government, which will have the largest number of cabinet members in Israel’s history.

“I won’t take a portfolio that will harm the government’s work and waste public funds during the coronavirus [pandemic],” he told Netanyahu, the report says.

Barkat asked for the education or energy ministries, but was rejected.

The Intelligence Ministry eventually went to Likud’s Eli Cohen, while Ze’ev Elkin will oversee higher education, along with several other issues.

Incoming Defense Minister Gantz meets IDF chief

Incoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, the Blue and White party confirms.

The meeting on Israel’s security comes a day before Gantz officially takes over as defense minister for the next 18 months, at a ceremony at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Outgoing health minister accuses director of fear-mongering on virus

Outgoing health minister Yaakov Litzman appears to suggest the Israeli government overreacted to the coronavirus.

“I also thought so, that the panic was overblown, and when the director [of the Health Ministry] said he fears tens of thousands would die, I yelled at the cabinet meeting, in his presence and in the presence of the ministers, that it wouldn’t be. It’s just exaggerated,” Litzman tells the Kan public broadcaster.

“But it doesn’t matter. The prime minister accepted this hyperbole and responded to the fears of the [Health Ministry’s] director [Moshe Bar Siman-Tov], and operated according to that — and I can’t say I have many claims against him, because overall the situation is excellent,” he says, but stresses that just 272 died rather than the tens of thousands predicted.

Litzman himself contracted and recovered from COVID-19. He is now set to take over the Housing Ministry. Bar Siman-Tov has resigned from the Health Ministry.

Falafel seller who became symbol of virus’s economic toll suffers heart attack

Yuval Carmi, the falafel seller who became a symbol of the economic toll of the pandemic, has been hospitalized after undergoing a heart attack, Channel 13 reports.

Carmi arrived at the Kaplan Medical Center with chest pains and was taken for emergency treatment shortly before the heart attack.

“Thank God, they made a new man of me. They saved me,” he tells Channel 13. It was not immediately clear when he was hospitalized.

While Carmi was thankful for the outpouring of support for his business since he told his story to the network, he also told of negative reactions.

Yuval Carmi, a falafel store owner in Ashdod who has been hit hard by the pandemic, April 19, 2020. (screen capture: Channel 13)

“I came to the ER. Someone came up to me, his wife recognized me and said ‘Hello.’ Her husband came up and asked her, ‘Do you know him?’ She said, ‘Yes, it’s the crybaby from the television.’

“It hurt me. My heart exploded.”

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