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

As heatwave breaks, masks again required in public, at school

Masks are now again required to be worn by students in schools and by all Israelis outdoors.

The Health Ministry had lifted the requirement last week due to the severe heat wave affecting the country.

Israeli jailed in Peru over suspected drug smuggling released to house arrest

An Israeli woman jailed in Peru over allegations of attempted drug smuggling is released to house arrest.

The Ynet news site reports that Hodaya Monsonego has been transferred to the home of a member of Lima’s Jewish community.

Hodaya Monsonego, 24, is currently in jail in Lima, Peru for her alleged involvement in a suspected drug smuggling operation. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Monsonego, 24, was arrested approximately nine months ago in Lima for her alleged involvement in an attempt to smuggle a large amount of cocaine from Peru to Israel.

In a report aired February on Channel 12, her family said that Monsonego is mentally impaired and that she was likely exploited by a friend and the friend’s relative, who, according to the report, was the mastermind of the operation.


Rivlin welcomes release of Israeli jailed in Peru over suspected drug smuggling

President Reuven Rivlin welcomes the release to house arrest of Hodaya Monsonego, arrested approximately nine months ago in Lima for her alleged involvement in an attempt to smuggle a large amount of cocaine from Peru to Israel.

“Thank you to the Peruvian authorities for their response to my request regarding Hodaya Monsonego. I hope this is a step towards her full release soon,” Rivlin says in a tweet.

In February Rivlin wrote a letter to the president of Peru, Martín Vizcarra, asking him to grant clemency to Monsonego, who suffers from “medical issues and has been diagnosed with limited cognitive ability” which impairs her judgment, according to a statement sent out by the president’s office. Rivlin stressed that the young woman has no previous criminal record and that it is “reasonable to believe that her unique condition…led her to be involved in the alleged matter unintentionally.”

Iranian fuel shipment reaches Venezuelan waters

The first of five tankers carrying Iranian fuel and oil products entered Venezuelan waters on Saturday, a Venezuelan government official says.

“The ships of the sister Islamic Republic of Iran are in our exclusive economic zone,” Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami writes on Twitter after the arrival of the first tanker, named Fortune.

The fleet is carrying about 1.5 million barrels of gasoline according to media reports, and arrives amid tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and Iran.

Venezuela had said its navy and air force would escort the tankers after Tehran warned of “consequences” if the US stopped the ships from reaching their destination.


South Korea reports 25 new virus cases as small outbreaks continue

South Korea reports 25 additional cases of the coronavirus over a 24-hour period, amid a continuation of small-scale outbreaks in the country.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the additional figures take the country’s total to 11,190 with 266 deaths. The agency says 10,213 of them have recovered and been released from quarantine.

It says 17 of the 25 new patients were locally infected while the rest eight came from overseas.

South Korea eased much of its strict social distancing rules in early May before it saw a sudden uptick in the number of cases associated with nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district. Health authorities say they’ve confirmed a total of 225 cases linked to Itaewon cubs as of Sunday noon.

— AP

Lapid slams ministers planning to join protest outside PM’s trial

Opposition leader Yair Lapid slams the announcement by a number of Knesset members and ministers from the Likud party that they will join a protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial set to open this afternoon at the Jerusalem District Court.

“Ministers joining Netanyahu at court, including ministers responsible for law enforcement, is a national disgrace that will never be forgotten. This is the real coup attempt,” Lapid writes on Twitter.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, as well as several Likud MKs, have said they will attend.

The trial opens at 3 p.m.

Bringing back coronavirus supplies, El Al plane land in Turkey for first time in 10 years

An El Al plane lands in Turkey for the first time in 10 years as part of an operation to bring medical supplies to Israel.

The aircraft, a Dreamliner converted into a cargo plane, will deliver Turkish-made medical supplies from Istanbul to Israel as part of several flights planned over the next few days.

Knesset speaker Levin: Opening of PM’s trial ‘low point for the Israeli legal system’

Newly appointed Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin tears into law enforcement and the judiciary over the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set to start this afternoon.

“The day of the opening of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial will be remembered as one of the low points of the Israeli legal system,” Levin of Likud said in a statement.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attends a conference on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

“The charges against the prime minister are unprecedented in Western democracies. Their place, if at all, was in the ethical and non-criminal sphere, and not for the world’s top jurists,” he writes. “The State of Israel needs a fair, equitable and non-selective law enforcement system. Therefore, the trial that opens today is not just Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial, it is a trial of the future of Israeli democracy and the future of its law enforcement system.”

“I, like millions of Israeli citizens, stand with the prime minister today. Next to the truth. Alongside justice,” he concludes.

Creation of new ministries, office for Gantz dropped from cabinet meeting agenda

The first cabinet meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government will not discuss the founding of new ministries or a new office for defense minister and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz, Channel 12 news reports.

The meeting is to be held hours before Netanyahu is set to make history by becoming Israel’s first sitting prime minister on trial when he is scheduled to appear at the Jerusalem District Court for a plea hearing at which he will hear the charges read out against him: bribery, fraud and breach of trust in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in two others.

The cabinet meeting comes less than a week after the new government — with a record-breaking 34 ministers — was sworn in, ending over a year of political deadlock and sealing a coalition agreement between Netanyahu and his chief rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting: Government represents ‘all of the people of Israel’

Opening the first working cabinet meeting of the new government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated in Israel on Thursday and Friday, “received extra meaning” with US President Donald Trump’s “historic recognition of Jeruaslem as our eternal capital.”

Referring to the new unity government formed by his Likud party and Blue and White, Netanyahu says that “the government represents all of the people of Israel.”

He says the first two decisions of the new cabinet will be to form the security cabinet and a new “corona cabinet.”

“We have fought this virus and fought it well but we still have a lot to do,” he says.

Netanyahu: Threatening Israel puts Iran in ‘great danger’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns Iran not to threaten Israel with destruction, saying the Iranians “will put themselves in a great danger.”

Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu says, “You heard Khamenei threaten us with extermination. Everyone who threatens us puts themselves in great danger.”

During a speech marking Iran’s anti-Israel Quds Day, Khamenei said Israel’s establishment was an unequaled “crime against humanity,” repeated his characterization of the Jewish state as “a cancerous tumor” and said it was the creation of “Westerners and Jewish corporation owners.”

Netanyahu says Israeli is “constantly working to oppose Iran’s attempt to put weapons into Syria that could endanger the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu: Chief task now in coronavirus fight is economic comeback

Netanyahu, at the cabinet meeting, says the new government will “continue to face the danger of the coronavirus,” albeit adding that “the task we are currently dealing with is the economic task.”

“First and foremost, we want to work together to get people back to work. I discussed this with the finance minister several times last week,” he says. “I instructed him to increase the budget of the economic plan to NIS 100 billion.”

Without expanding, Netanyahu promises to “introduce programs that will bring jobs.”

Gantz at cabinet meeting: We must work toward reconciliation in Israeli society

Benny Gantz, the alternate prime minister and defense minister, speaking at the first working cabinet meeting of the new government, says that it must work toward healing fissures in Israeli society.

Referring to Jerusalem Day, celebrated last Thursday and Friday, Gantz says “there is nothing like Jerusalem Day to talk about unity in a government that is a unity government.”

“There is nothing like Jerusalem to symbolize the beating heart of the State. We need to take this model of Jerusalem, and to realize that sometimes we have to yield to achieve reconciliation and unity in Israeli society,” he says, referring to the unity government deal reached between his Blue and White party and Likud.

“We need to work for unity to expand and for reconciliation to increase,” he continues.

Gantz thanks Netanyahu for ‘restraining the virus’

Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz thanks Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu at the first cabinet meeting of the new government for his work in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is the opportunity, prime minister, to thank both you and the other members who have been active in dealing with the crisis and in restraining the virus,” Gantz says, addressing Netanyahu directly.

“We are now setting up the coronavirus cabinet and we need to see what can be done so that we can move forward, calm the economy and support the society,” he adds.

Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre reopens after 2-month virus closure

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopens to visitors after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The church, situated in Jerusalem’s Old City, is the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, entombed, and resurrected. The Christian authorities managing the site closed it to visitors in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but clerics maintained prayers inside the shuttered church throughout its closure.

Three Catholic nuns wearing face masks stand in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City as they await its reopening opening in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Church authorities are limiting entrance to 50 people at a time, and require that those entering the cavernous site maintain social distance and avoid touching any of the church’s stones, icons or other religious items.

A typical day before the virus outbreak would bring thousands of faithful who kissed or placed their hands along the church’s surfaces.

— AP

‘Hitler’s alligator’ who survived Berlin WWII bombing dies at 84

An alligator who survived a bombing raid on the Berlin zoo in 1943 and found himself east of the iron curtain after World War II has died of old age at 84, the Moscow Zoo says.

Saturn’s demise marked the “end of an era,” the zoo says in a statement, and 84 was “a respectable age” for a Mississippi alligator, a species that rarely makes it past 50 in the wild.

Born in the United States in 1936, he was moved to the Berlin zoo where he escaped on November 23, 1943, after a bombing raid that killed several of his fellow reptiles. In 1946, he was found by British soldiers who handed him over to the Soviet authorities.

His whereabouts during the intervening three years are “a mystery,” the zoo says.

When Saturn was brought to Moscow in July 1946, rumors began circulating that he had been part of Adolf Hitler’s personal collection, the zoo says.

“He came to us after the victory” over Nazi Germany, it adds, “and celebrated the 75th anniversary of that victory with us.”


Lapid says Netanyahu trying to ‘lead us to civil war’

Slamming comments made by several senior Likud ministers and lawmakers against the justice system, opposition leader Yair Lapid says the prime minister is inciting a civil war.

“Netanyahu’s incitement and that of his people against the justice system is false, dangerous, violent and has crossed every line. Netanyahu is trying to incite and lead us to a civil war to be saved from trial,” Lapid writes on Twitter.

Pro- and anti-Netanyahu rallies begin outside court, PM’s house

Some 500 protesters have so far gathered in Jerusalem at two opposing protests ahead of the opening of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial this afternoon.

Outside the Jerusalem District Court, where the opening hearing will begin at 3 p.m., pro-Netanyahu demonstrators are protesting against the judicial system that brought him to the defendant’s bench.

“Dreyfus Trial: Mandelblit Style,” reads one placard, referring to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who filed the indictments against Netanyahu.

“Resign, Mandelblit,” read others.

Organizers of the pro-Netanyahu rally say that 50 buses are on their way to Jerusalem.

Outside the prime minister’s house on Balfour Street, anti-Netanyahu protesters are calling for him to resign in light of the criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust being presented in court today.

They have spread the 50-foot “Crime Minister” banner that has been seen at many previous anti-Netanyahu rallies.

Both protests, however, are also facing rival protesters from the other side who have gathered at the opposing sites.

Police say they have closed several streets around both the court and the prime minister’s house and are making every effort “to allow freedom of expression for all sides.”

Likud activists protest ‘Mandelgate’ outside Jerusalem District Court

With an hour until the opening of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption hearing, some two hundred Likud activists have crowded near the entrance of the Jerusalem District Court to demonstrate support for their party leader.

Several dozen of the protesters are wearing white shirts with the word “Mandelgate,” in reference to what they have deemed as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s scandalous conduct in the Harpaz Affair.

Police stand by as the hundreds of flag-waving pro-Netanyahu protesters pack up closely against one another in violation of social distance guidelines. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The pro-Netanyahu protesters chant slogans against what they deem the injustice of the trial against Netanyahu.“This is a trial against our entire camp,” says Shir Nachmani, parroting a line used by Likud lawmakers in recent weeks.

They boo as one of the activists leading the protest shouts into a megaphone the names of some of the prominent reporters covering the trial, who they have deemed hostile to the prime minister.

— Jacob Magid

Minister Miri Regev hypes up pro-Netanyahu crowd outside court ahead of trial

“Soon Prime Minister Netanyahu will arrive. I want you to tell him: ‘You will never walk alone,’” shouts Transportation Minister Miri Regev to the protesters ahead of the premier’s arrival at the Jerusalem District Court.

— Jacob Magid

Anti-Netanyahu protesters decry ‘endless attacks on the judicial system’

Some two hundred anti-Netanyahu protesters have gathered outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem jeering the premier as he prepares to head to the opening of the corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court.

The Black Flag protesters are decrying what they deem to be attacks on the justice system that Netanyahu and his supporters have carried out in recent days.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters demonstrate outside the prime minister’s house in Jerusalem, opposite a pro-Netanyahu protest, May 24, 2020. (The Black Flag Movement)

“The endless attacks on the judicial system are the reason a black flag is being waved across the country today,” one of the activists shouts.

“A criminal defendant is not our prime minister,” he continues to cheers from the crowd.

— Jacob Magid

Public Security Minister Ohana arrives at court for Netanyahu’s trial

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, set to begin at 3 p.m.

Several other ministers are also reportedly set to sit in on the trial, including Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Minister David Amsalem.

PM convoy en route to court as criminal trial awaits

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has left his house in Balfour Street for the short drive to the Jerusalem District Court where his trial will begin at 3 p.m.

Channel 12 reports that he is set to deliver a statement to the press before the trial begins.

Regev: ‘We are here to demand a fair trial for someone whose blood has been spilled’

Likud MKs and ministers including Michal Shir, Tzipi Hotovely, Amir Ohana and Miri Regev head into the Jerusalem District courthouse to accompany Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of his corruption trial.

“We are here to demand a fair trial for someone whose blood has been spilled day in day out by the media and those always against him,” Regev tells the press before entering the court. “We are here to say we will stand by him.”

Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes is also at the courthouse for the opening of the Netanyahu corruption hearing in which he is also a suspect in Case 2000.

— with Jacob Magid

Bezeq owner Elovitch arrives at courthouse

Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant who is also a suspect in Case 4000, has arrived at the Jerusalem District Court. In that case, both Netanyahu and Elovitch are on trial for bribery.

— Jacob Magid

Arriving at court, Netanyahu demands ‘delusional trial’ be broadcast live; charges are ‘fabricated’; ‘my head is held high’

Arriving at the Jerusalem District Court for the opening hearing in his criminal trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rails against Israel’s justice system, accusing it of being riddled with internal corruption and conspiracies to bring him down.

“What’s on trial today is an effort to frustrate the will of the people — to bring down me and the right-wing camp,” he says.

“For more than a decade the left has failed to do this at the ballot box… In recent years they have found a new trick — police and prosecutors have joined the ‘Anyone but Bibi’ gang to fabricate these delusional and fabricated cases, this delusional trial.”

He says that “they aim to to bring down a strong prime minister from the right and to distance the right from power for many years.”

“A cooperative poodle from the right would be fine for them. But I’m not a poodle… I’m not prepared to uproot settlements… and so I must be removed by any means.”

“There are no limits to their efforts to bring me down,” he says of both the media and the justice system. He says they fear his right-wing policies and seek “to bring me down in any way possible.”

The investigations “were polluted and fabricated from the start… so no surprise that an absurd indictment” was ultimately filed.”

His accusers “did everything to ensure I would arrive here no longer as PM but as a beaten politician,” he says, “but people of Israel, you are far smarter… We won more votes than any party ever won…”

Accusing the media of being unable to properly cover the trial, which will be held behind closed doors but broadcast on a live feed only to journalists in the adjacent rooms, Netanyahu demands that the full trial be broadcast live.

“The public should hear everything and not through the prosecutor’s court reporters,” he says.

“I stand here with straight back and head held high,” he says.

He urges the release of the recordings relating to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Harpaz affair.

Relating to alleged intimidation of witnesses against him, he asks: “Is that the rule of law? Is that democracy?”

In 244 years of democracy worldwide, “there was never a prosecution for favorable press coverage. It’s absurd,” he says. “They invented a special clause for me that doesn’t exist in any law book in Israel or the world.”

“When you have to destroy me — a strong PM from the right — everything, but everything is possible.”

“How could the attorney general back up all these efforts and sign the indictment? Was he pressured? Does he have something personal to hide? Is that something, the [Harpaz] recordings in a Justice Ministry safe?… So publish all the recordings.”

“There is no better disinfectant than the sun.”

“If the public knows the whole truth, all these cases will fall apart.”

Netanyahu enters courtroom saying public recognizes this is ‘an attempted political coup’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is speaking at the Jerusalem District Court where his criminal trial will begin in a matter of minutes.

He says “the people recognize… This is an attempt at a political coup, against the will of the people… I want to reassure you all, with your help, and with God’s help, I’ll continue to fight; I won’t let them bring us down.”

“I’ll continue to lead the State of Israel.”

Closing his address with a word of thanks to his supporters, including those who are protesting outside the court, Netanyahu says “your incredible support warms my heart. I know that the people of Israel are behind me.”

Standing behind the prime minister as he speaks are several Likud MKs and ministers, all wearing face masks, including Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Ministers Israel Katz, Miri Regev, Yoav Gallant, Tzachi Hanegbi and David Amsalem.

All eyes on Courtoom 317

The Jerusalem District Court administration has spread out dozens of reporters in different rooms throughout the building, where TVs are set up to livestream the hearing slated to take place in Courtroom 317.

— Jacob Magid

Netanyahu enters Courtroom 317 for start of trial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into courtroom 317 for the opening of hearing of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court.

He is seen conversing with his lawyers as several photographers snap his photo from behind.

The courtroom chosen for the trial is particularly small, fitting no more than 20 people.

— Jacob Magid

Judges open trial, Netanyahu confirms he’s read and understood indictments

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into courtroom 317 for the opening of of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court.

He is seen conversing with his lawyers as several photographers snap his photo from behind.

Judges Rebecca Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham enter the courtroom as the attendants take their seats to start the trial of

Netanyahu refuses to take his seat on the defendant’s bench until the press has been ushered out of the room.

The judges open the trial. Netanyahu, Shaul and Iris Elovitch and Arnon Mozes have stood to confirm that they understand the charges against them.

— Jacob Magid

Lapid: PM’s response to trial proof he can no longer serve

Opposition leader Yair Lapid says that “Netanyahu’s wild and inciting aggression against his trial is final proof of why a criminal defendant cannot continue to serve as prime minister.”

Netanyahu’s lawyer says he needs 2-3 more months to prepare case

Netanyahu’s attorney Micha Fetman tells the judges that he needs additional time — roughly two or three months — to go over the scope of the case, as the exact makeup of the defense team in the various cases has yet to be finalized.

Jacob Magid

Gantz: Netanyahu has presumption of innocence; court will give him fair trial

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s coalition partner, says the prime minister is innocent until proven guilty.

“Like every citizen, the prime minister also has the presumption of innocence and I am certain the legal system will carry out a just trial,” he writes on Twitter. “I would like to emphasize that my colleagues and I have full faith in the legal system and law enforcement. At this time, more than ever, as a state and a society, we must seek unity and reconciliation, for the sake of the State of Israel and its people.”

Elovitch’s lawyer to judges: Bar prosecution witnesses from giving interviews

Shaul Elovitch’s attorney Zach Hen argues that recent interviews given by the prosecution’s major witnesses to the media are unacceptable and asks the judges to outlaw such interviews going forward.

Jacob Magid

Iris Elovitch’s lawyer says more time needed to go over evidence

Iris Elovitch’s attorney Michal Rosen-Ozer says the prosecution was given more time with the evidence against her client than she was, adding that she needs more time to prepare before moving forward with the trial.

Netanyahu’s lawyer has similarly asked for more time.

Jacob Magid

Wearing mask, his back to camera, Netanyahu’s face provides no clues as trial begins

As the various attorneys address the court, Netanyahu sits on the defendant’s bench.

His facial expression is not visible as in addition to the blue medical mask he’s wearing, the only camera in the courtroom is located in the back behind the prime minister.

Jacob Magid

Netanyahu backers stick to their places outside court

As the trial unfolds, music blares from the pro-Netanyahu rally taking place right outside the courthouse, with hundreds sticking it out for the entire hearing, despite not knowing what’s going on inside.

Jacob Magid

Prosecutor: Defense received materials over a year ago

Deputy state attorney Liat Ben-Ari dismisses the defense’s request for three to four months to go over the evidence before moving forward with the trial.

“If we had started today I would say we need 3-4 months [to study the materials], but this case was not born today. On February 28, 2019, the attorney general decided to file an indictment subject to the hearing. Since then, a year and four months have passed,” Ben Ari says.

Jacob Magid

Netanyahu’s first court hearing ends

The opening hearing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has concluded.

At the end of the session, deputy state attorney Liat Ben Ari says she does not have an issue with the defendants not being present at the next session on preliminary requests.

Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman says the court will notify the sides regarding the date of the next hearing.

Jacob Magid

Report: Cabinet restricts Shin Bet surveillance of virus carriers

The cabinet votes to approve curtailing the Shin Bet security agency’s powers of surveillance to track down coronavirus carriers and those exposed to them, according to the Ynet news site.

The agency will now only use surveillance in exceptional cases, when other means fail, the report says.

It says the proposal was introduced by Netanyahu and all ministers, except for Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, backed it.

The Shin Bet had previously been given the green light to monitor Israelis via phone tracking to curb the virus spread.

The decision to scale back comes amid a significant drop in the number of cases.

And it comes after the High Court of Justice ruled that the Shin Bet cannot continue unless the government anchors the controversial surveillance in law. The government began the process of legislating the move, but now appears to be abandoning it.

Meretz leader, protesting at Netanyahu trial, blasts his former allies

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz posts a photo of himself protesting against Netanyahu outside the courtroom, and slams Blue and White and Labor lawmakers for dropping their fight against corruption to join the Likud-led government.

“Those who should be standing with me, against the wild incitement in the courts, are [Blue and White leader Benny] Gantz, [Avi] Nissenkorn, [Labor leader Amir] Peretz and [Gabi] Ashkenazi,” he tweets. “But they, who were elected to fight corruption, are silent like fish. They are serving under the defendant, and giving him approval. Shameful.”

Meretz ran in the March election on a joint ticket with Labor and Gesher, both of which broke off to join the new government.

Austria’s president sorry for breaking virus rules for restaurants

Austria’s president apologizes after police find him at a Vienna restaurant later than restaurants are permitted to be open.

The Krone newspaper reports that police found President Alexander Van der Bellen and his wife in the Italian restaurant’s garden during a routine check after midnight on Sunday, with drinks on their table. Restaurants must close at 11 p.m. under rules that allowed them to reopen this month.

Police confirm Van der Bellen’s presence.

The Austria Press Agency reports that Van der Bellen expressed regret. He says: “I went to eat with two friends and my wife for the first time since the lockdown. We were talking away and unfortunately lost sight of the time.”

He adds: “I am truly sorry. It was a mistake.”

Austria’s president has a largely ceremonial role. The government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz sets the coronavirus rules.


UK lawmakers demand Johnson aide be fired for breaking lockdown rules

Lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservative party are joining opposition calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide to quit for traveling 250 miles (400 kilometers) to his parents’ home during a nationwide lockdown while he was coming down with the coronavirus.

The government has defended Dominic Cummings after the revelation that he had driven from London to Durham, northeast England, with his wife and son at the end of March. A lockdown that began March 23 stipulated that people should remain at their primary residence, leaving only for essential local errands and exercise.

The government said Cummings made the trip because he wanted to ensure his 4-year-old son was looked after while he and his wife were ill. But critics of the government express outrage that Cummings had broken stringent rules saying people should “Stay Home … Save Lives.”

Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker says Cummings must go for not “abiding by the spirit, at least, of the slogans which he has enforced on the rest of the country.” Another Tory legislator, Simon Hoare, tweets: “With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position.”


Netanyahu thanks backers, including Holocaust survivors who offered support

Netanyahu, in a tweet, thanks his supporters and doubles down on his claim that he’s being framed.

He also shares footage of Holocaust survivors who came out to support him, one of whom tells him: “I’m praying you are exonerated.”

Of the survivors, Netanyahu writes, “I was very moved. Love you.”

2nd Netanyahu court hearing said scheduled for July 19

The second court hearing in Netanyahu’s corruption trial is scheduled for July 19, according to Hebrew reports.

Cabinet earmarks another NIS 14b for virus relief

The cabinet backs a plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz to inject another NIS 14 billion into the economy to make up for the coronavirus losses.

The funds will help flagging businesses and are also earmarked for projects to encourage employment.

Decomposed bodies of 3 people, including Holocaust survivor, found

The Zaka emergency service says it has found three bodies in advanced states of decomposition today, in separate incidents.

In Petah Tikva, the body of an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor is located in her apartment, with her death apparently going unnoticed for some time.

In Beersheba, a 58-year-old woman’s remains are found “in a state of decay.”

In Ma’alot, another man’s body is found in his home, it says.

Another case, a 60-year-old man in Ashdod, was reported yesterday.

All apparently lived alone.

“We must stop this silent plague. Pay attention to your neighbors, at least once a day, to save their lives,” says Zaka.

Mandelblit says he won’t be cowed by Netanyahu’s ‘unfounded’ claims

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejects claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his corruption trial is an attempted “coup” by legal officials.

“Israel is a law-abiding state. Therefore, the court is the only place to hear the sides’ arguments, to present the evidence of the prosecution, and to carefully evaluate all the arguments of the defense. There, and only there, will the defendants’ verdict be determined,” he says in a Justice Ministry statement.

“We will continue to operate fearlessly, even in the face of the unfounded attempt to attribute to law enforcement ulterior considerations, an attempt which must be rejected in its entirety. We will continue to work fairly and under the principle that all are equal under the law. This is our obligation to the citizens of Israel.”

The statement is clearly a response to the prime minister’s remarks to reporters a few hours ago, ahead of the first hearing.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Trains to resume June 8

Trains will resume service on June 8, reports say.

In addition, buses will expand the number of passengers allowed to board to 75 percent capacity starting this coming weekend.

White House economist sees double digit jobless rate through US elections

US unemployment is likely to remain in double digits as Americans go to the polls in November, a top White House economic adviser says.

Kevin Hassett predicts that US economic growth will “skyrocket” in the third quarter but could fall short of a full recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 38.6 million people have lost their jobs since the US economy went into lockdown mode in March to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the latest US Department of Labor statistics released on Thursday.

Hassett, chairman of the council of economic advisers, warned Friday that the unemployment rate, which hit 14.7 percent in April, may rise to 22 to 23 percent in May and edge up a bit in June before falling back down.

Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether it was possible unemployment would be in double digits in November when US presidential elections are held, Hassett replies, “Yes, I do.”

“Unemployment will be something that moves back slower,” he says. “You’re going to be starting at a number in the 20s and working your way down.”

“But I think that all signs of economic recovery are going to be raging everywhere,” Hassett adds. “And the only thing we’re going to really be debating as economists is are we going to get back to where we were or will it be a long haul to get there.”


US likely to ban travel from hard-hit Brazil

The US government is expected to announce a ban on travel from Brazil due to the spread of coronavirus in Latin America’s hardest-hit country.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien says the US wants to take “every step necessary” to protect the American people.

US President Donald Trump already has banned travel from the United Kingdom, Europe and China, all of which have been hit hard by the virus. On Wednesday, Trump said he was considering barring entry to flights from Brazil.

O’Brien says on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he expects any ban would be temporary.

Brazil reported more than 347,000 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, second behind the US in the number of infections, according to a Johns Hopkins University count.

Brazil also has recorded more than 22,000 deaths, fifth-most in the world. There have been more than 96,000 US deaths.


Five dead in blast during Somalia Eid festivities

At least five people are killed and more than 20 injured in Somalia in a blast during festivities to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival.

“The initial information we have received indicates the dead bodies of five people were collected from the scene of the blast and more than twenty others have been wounded,” police officer Mohamed Muktar tells AFP by phone from Baidoa, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) west of the capital Mogadishu.

The Muslim world is celebrating the Eid al-Fitr festival which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.


US official ‘very concerned’ by Memorial Day gatherings

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx says she’s “very concerned” that people going outdoors for the Memorial Day weekend are not maintaining six feet of social distancing.

She is responding to reports showing people crowding at beaches.

Noting that people with no symptoms could unwittingly spread the coronavirus, Birx says people need to wear masks in public if they do not socially distance because “you don’t know who’s infected.”

As states loosen stay-at-home orders, Birx also declines to say whether the country may need to close down again if the US is hit by a second wave of infections in the fall. US President Donald Trump insisted last week “we are not closing” again.

On Sunday, Birx says: “We’re trying to understand during this period of coming out of the closure: How do we maintain openness and safety? And I think that’s what we’re going to be learning through May, June and July.”

She is speaking on “Fox News Sunday” and ABC’s “This Week.”


In reversal, nursing home resident diagnosed with COVID-19 tests negative

A resident of a nursing home in Beersheba tests negative for the coronavirus, a day after health authorities diagnosed the woman, 87, with COVID-19, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The woman was hospitalized after feeling ill. The initial test was positive for COVID-19, sparking fears of a renewed outbreak in the Mishan assisted living facility, where 14 people have died of the coronavirus.

But a second test Sunday has turned up negative.

According to Channel 12, all the residents are being tested as a precaution.

5 new virus cases reported in past 24 hours

The Health Ministry records five new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

The death toll remains steady at 279, with no additional deaths since May 20.

The ministry says that 2,285 people are actively sick with the virus. Forty-four of them are in serious condition, of whom 34 are on ventilators. Another 32 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild symptoms.

Testing has plunged, however, with just 704 tests conducted Saturday.


UK leader Johnson stands by aide who took 250-mile lockdown trip

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will not fire his chief aide for allegedly violating the national coronavirus lockdown rules that he helped to create.

Johnson defies a growing clamor for the dismissal of adviser Dominic Cummings, who drove 250 miles (400 kilometers) from London to his parents’ home in Durham, in northeast England, with his wife and son, as he was coming down with COVID-19 at the end of March.

Britain’s lockdown, which began March 23, stipulated that people should remain at their primary residence, leaving only for essential local errands and exercise. Anyone with coronavirus symptoms was told to completely isolate themselves.

Cummings says he traveled to be near extended family because his wife was showing COVID-19 symptoms, he correctly thought he was also infected, and he wanted to ensure that his 4-year-old son was looked after.

Johnson says he had held “extensive” conversations with Cummings and concluded he acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity.”

He tells a news conference that Cummings “followed the instincts of every father and every parent.”

But several lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservative Party joined the opposition in calling for Cummings to go.


Cultural events, live shows, to resume June 14

The culture and health ministries reach a deal to allow cultural events and live shows to reopen in mid-June.

As of June 14, events can be held, provided they limit the audience to 75 percent of the full capacity, sell tickets online, and require patrons to wear masks.

Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher fails to reopen as planned

Two months after it was closed as part of anti-coronavirus precautions, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher remains closed to the public on Sunday, despite an earlier official announcement of its reopening.

Millions of pilgrims visit the church each year, but it was closed on March 25, ahead of the Easter holidays, as part of measures imposed to combat the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Leaders of the three denominations that share the site had said in a joint statement on Saturday that it would reopen on May 24 “to the faithful for visits and prayers.”

The Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholic denominations share custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

They said that entry would be restricted to a maximum of 50 people at a time, “to those who have no fever or symptoms of infection and are wearing suitable face coverings.”

But on Sunday morning, worshipers are denied entry, to the disappointment of several seen by AFP journalists at the scene.

Religious officials say the reopening was postponed, but did not give a new date, hinting that there were difficulties in counting numbers in order to maintain social distancing.

One official tells AFP that 50 clerics from various churches had came to pray, leaving no room for the public.

Another official says it had been deemed preferable to wait for a further easing of Israeli restrictions, so that 100 people could enter at a time.


Gantz told Blue and White MKs not to attack Netanyahu — report

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz instructed his party lawmakers to respond “softly” to the opening of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, according to a report by Channel 13.

Most MKs from Blue and White, which recently joined the Netanyahu-led coalition, stayed silent on the first hearing.

The same was true for Labor, which has also become a partner in the new unity government.

State’s witness Filber was hauled in for more questioning last month

Israeli media reports that Shlomo Filber, state’s witness in the so-called Bezeq case against Netanyahu, was called in to supplement his testimony last month.

According to Channel 12, the summons had “no drama,” but was merely an effort by investigators to confirm that a memo attributed to Filber matched his handwriting. The network said the questioning has no bearing on Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

Italy records 531 new infections in the past 24 hours

The number of confirmed new infections in Italy rises by just 531 in the past 24 hours, with half of them in the populous northern region of Lombardy that has borne the brunt of Italy’s epidemic.

The civil protection agency reports just 50 deaths, but officials say that Lombardy has not updated its toll.

More than half of Italy’s regions reported new cases in the single digits — with the caveat that tests are being administered only to those who are hospitalized, have symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who is positive for the virus.

The number of people in intensive care drops to 553.

Italy is in the first full week of loosened restrictions, with bars and restaurants open as well as beaches and parks.

Mayors in many cities have complained about nightlife spilling out into streets and piazzas, with many showing a casual attitude toward physical distancing and lax mask habits.


‘Norwegian Law’ expected to come up for Knesset vote Wednesday

A bill that would allow ministers to resign their Knesset positions and enable a different member of their party slate to enter parliament is up for plenary votes on Wednesday, according to Hebrew reports.

It is meant to allow members lower down on the parties’ slates, who did not make it into parliament in the March 2 elections, to become lawmakers.

If passed, 13 ministers from various parties were planning to use the law to make way for an equal number of new MKs, Channel 12 news reported.

Critics and opposition lawmakers have accused the government of wasting taxpayer money with the measure. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the prime minister, the new government launched with 33 cabinet ministers. There are also 16 deputy ministers. The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million).

Netanyahu: I won’t accept a plea bargain

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an interview with the right-wing Channel 20, says he will not accept a plea bargain in his corruption trial.

“No, no way,” he says in response to a question on whether he would sign a plea deal.

He speaks hours after the legal proceedings against him begin.

Netanyahu also addresses his remarks outside the court to reporters, in which he alleged that he was being framed.

“I think it was important. You know why? Because for the first time, Israel’s citizens heard the truth. What I said outside the courtroom was the truth. It’s time to tell the truth.”

He says he wants the trial broadcast live, “because I have nothing to hide, I want it all to be revealed.”

With 32 new deaths, Turkey’s virus toll rises to 4,340

Turkey’s health minister announces 32 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death to in the countryl to 4,340.

Fahrettin Koca also tweets that there were 1,141 new infections confirmed in the past 24 hours. The total number of infections has reached 156,827.

Turkey ranks ninth in a global tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts believe the number of infections could be much higher than reported. More than 118,000 people have recovered, according to the health ministry statistics.

The Muslim holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, traditionally a time of gathering, was marked by a nationwide lockdown, the first of its kind in Turkey to combat the coronavirus. Previous weekend and holiday lockdowns affected a maximum of 31 out of 81 provinces.

Senior citizens above 65 are allowed out for a few hours for a third time Sunday. People under 20 and above 65 have been under full lockdown, but days and times outside have been allotted according to age groups, as part of easing efforts.


Activist hosted by PM was grilled on suspicion of inciting violence against AG

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted an activist who was questioned by police last week on suspicion of incitement to violence against the attorney general, Channel 12 reports.

The woman, Orly Lev, was among a handful of the prime minister’s supporters invited into the Prime Minister’s Residence on Sunday, after his corruption trial opened.

She is suspected of distributing the attorney general’s telephone number in WhatsApp groups, writing, “we must erase this smile.”

She also called Supreme Court President Esther Hayut “the biggest bitch judge in Israel,” the TV report says.

Lev, along with several others, was interrogated by police last week before being released to her home.

Yemen’s gravediggers overwhelmed amid spike in virus deaths

At a cemetery in Yemen’s largest southern city, dozens of fresh graves are a testament to a spike in deaths amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The cemetery workers who bury the newly deceased do not know what killed them. But there is no denying that there’s been an increasing number of people getting sick in the port city of Aden — likely from the coronavirus.

Many are buried with few precautions and only a small number of attendees. Workers wear masks or cover their faces with a cloth.

Mohammed Ebeid, a gravedigger in Aden, says there’s been five times the normal traffic, with 51 burials in the last week at the cemetery where he works.

“This is something strange, we’ve never seen it before,” he told The Associated Press late last week.

The international aid group Doctors Without Borders has reported a spike in deaths and infections from coronavirus, including health workers at a facility it runs in the city. Residents of Aden had previously said several hospitals shut their doors, as health care workers feared contracting the virus while lacking protective equipment.

The spike has also exposed the extent of the virus’s spread in the war-torn country.


Jerusalem kindergarten teacher contracts COVID-19 — report

A kindergarten teacher in Jerusalem is diagnosed with COVID-19, sending dozens of children into precautionary quarantine, according to Army Radio.

The report says 60 children at five different schools are sent into isolation until Sunday after exposure to the teacher.

The schools are not identified in the radio report.

Virus hospitalizations in France rise slightly

The number of people hospitalized with the virus in France rises slightly Sunday, the first daily increase since mid-April when France’s infections peaked.

The rise — from 17,178 people hospitalized Saturday to 17,185 Sunday — comes almost two weeks after France started gradually relaxing its confinement measures.

The number of people in intensive care with the virus drops again for the 46th consecutive day to 1,655, down from more than 7,000 in mid-April.

The figures are released by the national health agency, DGS, which does not release an updated death toll on Sundays.

France is one of the hardest-hit nations by the virus, with some 28,000 deaths in hospitals and nursing homes.

Protests are planned Monday at nursing homes accused of mishandling the virus crisis.


Global virus death toll rises to 343,211

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 343,211 people since the outbreak first emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT on Sunday.

At least 5,362,160 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 2,079,300 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only symptomatic cases or the most serious ones.

Since 1900 GMT on Saturday, 3,441 new deaths and 99,827 new cases have been recorded worldwide.

The countries that registered the most deaths were Brazil with 965 followed by the United States with 951 and Mexico with 190.

The US, which registered its first case of the virus in early February, is the worst-hit country, with 97,430 deaths and 1,633,076 cases. At least 361,239 are now considered recovered.


Ditching mask, Brazil’s president rallies with backers as virus surges

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro hits the streets for a rally with his supporters, ditching his face mask and breaking social distancing measures, even as coronavirus cases surge in Brazil.

The far-right president arrives at the rally outside the presidential palace in Brasilia in a white surgical mask, but soon takes it off to greet the cheering crowd, shake hands and embrace supporters, at one point even hoisting a young boy onto his shoulders.

The rally comes as Brazil emerges as a new flashpoint in the pandemic.

With nearly 350,000 confirmed cases, Brazil now has the second-biggest caseload in the world, after the United States. It has registered more than 22,000 deaths.

Experts say under-testing means the real figures are likely far higher.

Bolsonaro has famously compared the virus to a “little flu” and argues that stay-at-home measures are unnecessarily hurting the economy.

He grins as flag-waving supporters shout “Legend!” and “The people support you, Bolsonaro!”

But although Bolsonaro has a solid core of support — about 30 percent of voters, according to recent polls — he faces mounting criticism for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, as well as a potentially explosive probe into whether he obstructed justice to protect his family from police investigations.


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