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In recordings, Shaked calls Netanyahus ‘dictators’ with ‘lust for power’

Yamina MK says PM only cares about his criminal trials, predicts he’ll pivot more to the right, but says she still seeks to form government with Likud

Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

Israel’s ban on travel to 7 countries over COVID variants enters effect

The government regulations banning travel to seven countries over fears of importing COVID-19 variants go into effect.

Effective today, Israelis cannot travel to India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Turkey unless they receive special permission. Israelis may take connecting flights through those countries, provided the connection is shorter than 12 hours.

For Israelis returning from the seven countries, even those vaccinated or recovered from the virus must enter 10 days of isolation with two negative tests, or 14 days with one test taken upon arrival in the country. The vaccinated or recovered do not need to self-isolate if they merely took a connecting flight through those countries, provided the layover was shorter than 12 hours.

 

US officials in Mideast to reassure jittery Arab allies over Iran

Top Biden administration officials and US senators crisscross the Middle East, seeking to assuage growing unease among Gulf Arab partners over America’s re-engagement with Iran and other policy shifts in the region.

The trips come as the US and Iran, through intermediaries in Vienna, discuss a return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that former president Donald Trump abandoned three years ago. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies, excluded from Obama-era nuclear negotiations, have repeatedly pressed for a seat at the table, insisting that any return to the accord must address Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies.

Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat of Delaware and a key Biden ally dispatched on overseas diplomatic missions, tells reporters in the UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi that he hopes to allay the sheikhdom’s “understandable and legitimate concerns” about the return to the landmark deal and to create “broader engagement” with Gulf partners.

US Sen. Chris Coons questions Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, May 15, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Coons says “close consultation” with the UAE about the ongoing talks in Vienna was “important, expected and happening,” adding that he hopes the Emiratis “may not just be notified, but actually help.”

What that means remains unclear, as Gulf states now watch with resignation as negotiations gain traction in the Austrian capital. When asked to elaborate, Coons balks at the suggestion that the UAE’s input had acquired any greater significance in talks with Iran over the last five years.

“I did not in any way mean to suggest that there was some deal in the works where the Emiratis would be securing anything,” he says. “Vienna is the place where the United States government, the administration, is negotiating.”

In a tour intended to boost “long-standing political, economic, cultural, and security ties,” several senior Biden administration officials are touring Arab capitals, with Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department, among others, stopping in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Amman and Cairo this week.

Smotrich digs heels in, says no to government backed by Ra’am

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich says he will prevent a right-wing government that relies on the Islamist Ra’am party.

“I hate to be a killjoy, but I have no intention of quitting,” he says after meeting with top religious Zionist rabbis. Smotrich says he will “prevent the collapse of Zionism with the establishment of a government that relies on terror supporters who deny our existence as a Jewish state.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not appear able to form a government without the far-right Religious Zionism and the support of Ra’am.

According to Hebrew media reports, the rabbis present at the meeting bolstered Smotrich’s position opposing a government supported by Ra’am.

Rabbi Haim Druckman, in a video, says: “Our position has not changed — we cannot rely on a government that depends on Ra’am.”

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 4, 2021. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu confirms he’s willing to step aside, let Bennett be PM for year

Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press coneference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press coneference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms he’s agreed to step aside and let Yamina leader Naftali Bennett be appointed prime minister first in a rotation agreement, for a year.

The statement comes a day before Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires.

“I told Naftali Bennett I am willing to accept his demand for a rotation deal in which he will serve first as prime minister for one year. Yamina party members will enter the government and Knesset with important roles,” writes Netanyahu on social media.

“I urge him [Bennett] to sign a deal today on the formation of a right-wing government, and to commit that he won’t join any other government,” adds Netanyahu. “In a post 10 days ago, Bennett wrote that a right-wing government could be formed if I move aside for the first year. So I moved aside. Now it’s your turn.”

Liberman urges Deri, Gafni, Litzman to resign over Meron disaster

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says the so-called “change bloc” of parties opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could clinch a government in a single night.

“There are no major gaps in the formation of the government. We can seal it in one night. Let’s get together tonight and form a government,” he tells a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset.

Israel Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman visits the Assuta Hospital in Ashdod on February 23, 2021. (Flash90)

The bloc of right-wing, left-wing and centrist parties, however, is divided on who would lead such a government. It also needs the support of the Arab parties.

Liberman, in his remarks, also addresses the Meron disaster, in which 45 people were killed last week.

He calls for ultra-Orthodox party leaders Aryeh Deri, Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman to resign over the disaster.

He also calls for a state commission of inquiry into the tragedy and says the next government will form one.

EU executive branch proposes easing travel restrictions for vaccinated

The EU’s executive branch proposes easing restrictions on travels to the 27-member bloc as vaccination campaigns keep gathering speed.

Travel to the EU is currently extremely limited except for a handful of countries with low infection rates. But with the summer season looming, the European Commission hopes that the new recommendations will help dramatically expand that list.

“The Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for nonessential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation, but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorized vaccine,” the EU’s executive arm says.

EU officials believe the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns will soon be “a game changer” in the fight against the deadly virus, especially within the bloc and the border-free Schengen zone. Its proposal will be discussed with member states’ ambassadors this week and the Commission hopes it could enter into force by June,

Under the EU’s executive arm’s proposal, EU countries should allow travelers from third countries into the EU if they have been vaccinated with serums approved for use in the region. Member states could also individually decide to accept travelers immunized with vaccines listed by WHO for emergency use.

The Commission also proposed to raise the threshold related to the number of new COVID-19 cases used to determine the list of countries from which all travel should be permitted.

“Non-essential travel regardless of individual vaccination status is currently permitted from seven countries with a good epidemiological situation,” the Commission says, proposing to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate per 100,000 inhabitants from 25 to 100.

“This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420,” the Commission said.

It was unclear which countries would actually make the cut but an EU official who was not authorized to be quoted because the proposal has yet to be adopted says Israel would definitely be on the list.

“The UK, question mark, the US, for the time being, not quite,” he says. “But we see how quickly the situation in the US evolves, notably for the rate of vaccination.”

Bennett: I didn’t ask to be PM, Netanyahu still has no government

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett responds to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer that he become prime minister first in a rotation deal.

“I heard Netanyahu’s offer now, but it’s unclear. I didn’t ask for the premiership, but for a government — and this, unfortunately, he doesn’t have, because [Religious Zionism leader] Smotrich burned the bridges leading to a right-wing government,” says Bennett, referring to the far-right leader’s refusal to enter a government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party.

Bennett says he still prefers to form a right-wing government over a coalition with centrist and left-wing parties and is willing to make compromises to reach that goal.

But he says Netanyahu is seeking to pin his own failure to form a government on Yamina.

And he refuses to commit, per Netanyahu’s ultimatum, to not forming a coalition with the Likud leader’s rivals.

“If Netanyahu doesn’t manage to form a government, we will form a unity government,” he says, referring to a coalition with centrist, left-wing and right-wing parties. “The most destructive thing for Israel is more elections.”

Lapid says he, not Bennett, must be given mandate to form government

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid says he’s unwilling to relinquish the presidential mandate to form a government to Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett.

Lapid says he expects President Reuven Rivlin will task him with forming a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate expires. The deadline for Netanyahu to establish a coalition is tomorrow night, though he can request an extension. Lapid has received 45 endorsements to form a coalition.

“I will not give up the mandate to Bennett. I see the tricks that are being done and I hope the president doesn’t enable it,” he says, seemingly referring to Netanyahu’s offer to Bennett of a premiership rotation deal. “We will go with Bennett and try to form a government.”

Lapid confirms he’s still willing to let Bennett be first in a premiership rotation deal.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks at a weekly faction meeting in the Knesset on May 5, 2021 (Courtesy)

“The foundations are ready. We can form a government. In one more day, if nothing surprising happens, we will be faced with two options: an Israeli national unity government, solid, decent and hard-working. Or fifth elections,” he says.

“There is a historic opportunity. To break down the barriers at the heart of Israeli society. To unite religious and secular, left and right and center. It’s time to choose. Between a unity government or ongoing division. Between unity and rule by the extremes.”

Lapid also addresses the weekend disaster at the Mount Meron pilgrimage site.

“The tragedy was preventable. With proper management, with basic security measures. If the state had behaved like a state. Just like Netanyahu left the airport open, he left Mount Meron open. Thousands of people died during the Covid pandemic. 45 people died in the tragedy on Mount Meron. When the management fails – people die.”

He continues: “Israel is in a dangerous place. We don’t have a functioning government. Instead of taking responsibility they’re running away from it. Instead of forming a state commission of inquiry – everyone is blaming everyone else. It’s time for a new government.”

Smotrich says willing to head to opposition ‘with our heads held high’

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich reaffirms that his far-right party won’t support a right-wing government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party under any circumstances.

“If we need to pay a price for this and go to the opposition, we will do so with our heads held high,” Smotrich tells a faction meeting in the Knesset. “We won’t sell out our values.”

New Hope indicates it won’t join government even if Bennett PM first

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar indicates his right-wing party won’t join a government with Likud and Yamina, even if Benjamin Netanyahu allows Naftali Bennett to be prime minister first, for a year, as part of a rotation agreement.

Netanyahu’s proposal to Bennett “is not what New Hope voters voted for. New Hope voters voted for change,” says Sa’ar at a Knesset faction meeting.

Sa’ar’s rejection of the plan means Netanyahu still does not have sufficient support to form a right-wing government.

New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meretz, Labor chiefs say government of anti-Netanyahu bloc can be swiftly formed

The heads of the dovish Labor and Meretz parties project confidence that a government of the so-called “change bloc” opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu could be swiftly formed, if Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is tasking with building a coalition.

Labor’s Merav Michaeli and Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz separately say such a government could be created in days.

But the proposed coalition of centrist, left-wing, and right-wing parties would require the backing of Arab parties, who are likely to oppose the pro-settlement Naftali Bennett being appointed prime minister as part of a rotation deal with Lapid.

11-year-old badly hurt in Meron disaster discharged from hospital

An 11-year-old boy who was seriously injured in the Meron crush on Friday has been discharged from the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

The boy, who was unconscious and on a ventilator immediately after the disaster, has woken up and his condition has rapidly improved, reports say.

AG: Transitional government can form state inquiry into Meron disaster

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says there is no legal obstacle preventing the transitional government from forming a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster.

His opinion comes amid growing calls for an independent probe into the fatal crush of 45 people, including over a dozen children and teenagers, during the Lag B’Omer festival. The Israel Police, fire department, Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, and state comptroller have opened their own probes into Israel’s deadliest civilian disaster.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is among those backing a state probe, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Israeli television reports, fears the political repercussions of such an inquiry.

Israeli rescue forces and police at a mass fatality scene, after a fatal crush in a packed walkway, during celebrations of the holiday of Lag B’Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Top cop says he won’t let police be ‘scapegoated’ in Meron disaster

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai defends the police handling of security at the Mount Meron pilgrimage site, following the fatal crush last week that left 45 dead.

“I will not let the Israel Police become the scapegoat for the misconduct over the years by many authorities,” he says.

Following the disaster during Lag B’Omer celebrations, a picture has emerged of a facility caught in a years-long tug of war between various authorities, religious sects, and interest groups that left it bereft of proper, unified state oversight, even as constant warning bells were being sounded regarding its potential for catastrophe.

Rescue forces and police stand on the stairs where a mass of people were crushed to death and injured during the celebrations of the Lag B’Omer holiday on Mount Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Since the disaster, several former police chiefs have characterized Meron — Israel’s second-most visited Jewish holy site after the Western Wall — as a kind of extraterritorial facility. It was administered by several ultra-Orthodox groups, while the National Center for the Protection of Holy Places, part of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, apparently had some responsibility over it as well, as did the local authority, and the police. But ultimately, no single state body had full responsibility.

Some eyewitnesses have said police set up a checkpoint at the exit of the narrow walkway where the tragedy occurred, a claim contested by police.

US condemns shooting at Tapuah Junction: ‘Terror and violence solve nothing’

The United States’ Palestinian Affairs Unit, part of the Jerusalem embassy, condemns a Palestinian shooting attack at Tapuah Junction in the West Bank on Sunday, which left three Israelis hurt, two of them seriously.

Fatah’s Nablus branch to Palestinians: Wipe footage that might lead to terrorist

Fatah’s Nablus branch, in a Facebook post, urges local Palestinians to erase camera footage that could lead Israel to the Palestinian gunman who shot three teenagers in a drive-by shooting Sunday at the West Bank’s Tapuah Junction.

“Our lauded people, honored members of our people, we call on you to get rid of the contents that were stored in the [security] cameras of your homes or your businesses today, and not to transfer any media content among yourselves,” the post says, according to the Palestinian Media Watch organization.

Knesset holds memorial for Meron victims

The Knesset plenum is holding a memorial for the 45 victims of the Meron disaster.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the special session.

“We all mourn the terrible blow,” says Netanyahu.

The prime minister says he was moved by his hospital visit to the injured from the crush. He says Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, have shown “mutual responsibility and a huge heart” in their response to the tragedy.

“The families are not alone and this is the most important thing,” he says, vowing the government will help them.

Netanyahu says the incident will be investigated from every angle, without specifying whether he means a state commission of inquiry.

The session begins with a moment of silence for the casualties of Israel’s deadliest peacetime disaster.

Car used in West Bank drive-by shooting found — Palestinian social media

Pictures circulate on Palestinian social media showing the car that is believed to have been used in a drive-by shooting attack yesterday after it was found by Palestinian security services.

According to the reports, the vehicle was found in the village of Aqraba, just outside of Nablus, near where the attack took place.

The photos show that the car was hit by at least two bullets, one of which shattered the back windshield and the other hit the trunk door. This matches the claims by soldiers at the scene, who said they returned fire at the vehicle after the driver shot and gravely wounded two Israeli teenagers, and a third lightly.

Lapid, Sa’ar said meeting in the Knesset

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is meeting New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar in the Knesset, amid ongoing coalition talks, according to Hebrew media reports.

Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa’ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz: Meron tragedy underlines dangers of ‘autonomies’ within Israel

Speaking at the Knesset memorial for the Meron victims, Defense Minister Benny Gantz suggests the tragedy underlines the dangers of ultra-Orthodox “autonomy” within Israeli society.

“It it our obligation to transform this national tragedy into change,” says Gantz. “The State of Israel cannot allow itself to break into autonomies in which people do whatever they please.”

He adds that in Israel, “there is one law for all and everyone has the right to practice their faith and traditions under the auspices of the state.”

“Therefore, at this time, we don’t need criticism, but rather to draw conclusions. Not self-flagellation, but a national and personal embrace while looking ahead.”

Planned overhaul of government rehab of wounded vets halted in budget fight

Plans to reform the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department to provide better care for wounded veterans came to a halt this week as political rivals Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz fought over the source of funding for the NIS 350 million ($108 million) proposal.

Earlier this month, the Defense Ministry unveiled its plans to improve the treatment for wounded veterans, dubbed “One Soul,” which would entail internal changes of its protocols, as well as require government approvals and some new legislation.

The cabinet was due to discuss the proposal last week, but this was postponed due to a fight within the government over the illegal appointment of a justice minister. It was rescheduled to Sunday, but this was also delayed as the cabinet canceled its meeting out of respect for the 45 people who were killed in the Mount Meron disaster last week.

According to Gantz, his ministry had been meeting with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Ministry and the Justice Ministry over the past few weeks and had reached a number of agreements on how the plan would proceed, when suddenly Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz “reneged on their agreements… and refused to bring the proposal for a hearing in the government” on Monday.

Gantz’s office says he has therefore submitted the plan with the cabinet secretary for discussion himself and calls for Netanyahu and Katz to approve the measure.

The Prime Minister’s Office blames the holdup on the Defense Ministry, saying it should be responsible for providing at least NIS 75 million ($23 million) of the funding for 2021 and NIS 150 million ($46 million) for 2022 from its existing budget.

The One Soul plan calls for a significant increase in the number of staff working for the Rehabilitation Department as well as a major overhaul of the mechanisms for recognizing injuries caused by military service and funding their treatment, especially for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Deri: Government must assume full control over Mount Meron

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri urges the government to assert full control over Mount Meron, following last week’s devastating crush at the haphazardly run holy site.

Speaking at a Knesset memorial for the 45 victims, Deri says: “I was silent for several days until the funerals ended. This terrible tragedy is a decree from heaven, but this does not absolve us from a thorough examination and investigation to ensure that no additional tragedies like this occur.”

“It’s time to deal with the root [of the problem], to take responsibility, to offer sizable funding and build infrastructure at the site, as is fitting for a holy site,” says Deri.

Deri, who is the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, also rebuffs criticism after it emerged that he pushed for the Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to go ahead without COVID-19 restrictions. He says the discussions preceding the event were about the health risks of the gathering, which he dismissed, rather than general overcrowding.

In London, Blinken to discuss Iran with his British counterpart

Issues related to Iran are set to feature in talks later Monday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his host in London, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

The bilateral talks come a day ahead of the first face-to-face discussions in two years of foreign and development ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations and other invited representatives. The UK holds this year’s presidency of the G-7.

Blinken’s visit to London, his first since being appointed by US President Joe Biden, comes amid mounting speculation of a prisoner exchange deal with Iran. Prisoner exchanges are not uncommon and were a feature of the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and leading powers. Biden has indicated that he is looking to restart nuclear talks with Tehran after his predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled the US out of the agreement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)

In Britain, there’s particular interest in the wellbeing of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was last week sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government is doing what it can amid reports in Iran that Britain would pay a 400 million pound ($550 million) debt to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.

“We of course make sure that we do everything we can to look after the interests of Nazanin and all the very difficult dual national cases we have in Tehran,” he said.

Bennett to receive security detail, have house secured

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett will receive personal bodyguards and his house will be secured, the Knesset Guard says, according to Hebrew media reports.

No reason is immediately given. Bennett has been engaged in coalition talks that could see him ultimately appointed prime minister.

Yamina chair Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

2 balloons from Gaza carrying suspected explosives land in south

Two balloons carrying suspected explosive devices that were apparently launched from the Gaza Strip land in southern Israel, local authorities say.

A balloon from the Gaza Strip, carrying suspected explosive devices, lands near Kfar Aza on May 3, 2021 (Courtesy)

According to the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council, the balloons were found in agricultural fields in the community of Kfar Aza, east of Gaza City.

Police sappers have been called to remove the suspected explosives.

This apparent airborne attack comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Palestinian groups over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to indefinitely postpone elections planned for later this month.

Palestinians said to torch car used in drive-by shooting

Palestinians are torching a car believed to have been used in Sunday’s drive-by shooting at Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, according to footage posted on social media.

Denmark removes Johnson & Johnson COVID shot from its vaccine program

The single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been taken out of Denmark’s vaccination program to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots, Danish health authorities say.

Denmark has already taken the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine out of its vaccination program. The J&J and AstraZeneca shots are made with similar technology.

In a statement, the Danish Health Authority says it “has concluded that the benefits of using the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson do not outweigh the risk of causing the possible adverse effect.”

A man receives a dose of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine rollout targeting elderly people in Ronda, Spain, on April 23, 2021. (JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

At least 17 dead, 800 injured in days-long Colombia protests

At least 17 people died and more than 800 were injured in clashes that broke out in Colombia during five days of protests against a proposed government tax reform, authorities say.

The Ombudsman’s Office says 16 civilians and one police officer died in violence during the protests that began throughout the country on April 28, and 846 people, including 306 civilians, were injured.

Faced with the unrest, the government of President Ivan Duque ordered the proposal be withdrawn from Congress where it was being debated.

Demonstrators make a vigil for fellow demonstrators who died, disappeared or were wounded in the past days’ protests against a tax reform bill launched by President Ivan Duque in Cali, Colombia, on May 2, 2021. (Luis ROBAYO / AFP)

Amid Jerusalem unrest, Temple Mount said closed to Jewish visitors

The Temple Mount will be closed to Jewish visitors until further notice, amid unrest in the capital, Army Radio reports.

The reported move comes as Muslims celebrate the month-long Ramadan holiday.

Palestinians have clashed with Israeli security forces in recent weeks around the Old City.

A Palestinian woman raises her arms in prayer as she takes part in the first Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, outside the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 16, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP/File)

Israel confirms first cases of Brazilian, Chile variant

The Health Ministry says it has detected the first two cases of the Brazilian coronavirus strain among travelers entering Israel from abroad.

A vaccinated man and a baby were found to be carrying the variant.

The ministry also detects the first case of the Chile strain among a vaccinated adult who entered Israel.

It does not specify if the carriers were symptomatic.

It also says another 19 travelers have been diagnosed with the Indian strain of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases of the variant to 60.

Israel sending respirators, medicines to COVID-battered India

Israel’s Foreign Ministry announces that it is sending planeloads of medical equipment, including respirators, oxygen generators, and medicines to India.

The first shipments will be sent tomorrow and the rest throughout the week, the ministry says.

“India is one of Israel’s closest and most important friends. Especially in this difficult period that India is going through, we stand by it and are sending life-saving equipment to our Indian brethren,” says Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

A shipment of medical equipment from Israel to India. (Courtesy of the Foreign Ministry)

India’s medical system has been severely strained by the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.

India reported 368,147 new coronavirus cases and 3,417 deaths on Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

The health ministry says it has confirmed 19.9 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, behind only the United States, which has counted more than 32.4 million. It says more than 218,000 people have died.

AP contributed to this report.

Lapid’s offer to Bennett vs. Netanyahu’s offer to Bennett

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has offered Yamina chief Naftali Bennett to become prime minister first in their power-sharing agreement for 2 years and three months, after which Bennett would be appointed foreign minister and Lapid would assume the premiership, Channel 13 reports.

Lapid is also promising a senior portfolio for Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked (either interior or public security), and two or three additional portfolios for members of the seven-MK right-wing party, if a government is formed.

Lapid is also willing to give Bennett’s right-wing bloc within a prospective unity coalition wide veto powers, the network says.

Netanyahu, by contrast, has offered that Bennett become prime minister first in a rotation deal, but only for a year; a senior portfolio for Shaked; and for Yamina to be eventually merged with Likud in a future election race.

In bombshell recordings, Shaked calls Netanyahus ‘tyrants’ with ‘lust for power’

Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 broadcasts bombshell recordings of Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, in which she terms Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, “dictators” and “tyrants” with a “lust for power,” and says he cares only about his ongoing corruption trial.

The recordings come as Netanyahu has attempted to draw Yamina into a right-wing coalition, with his deadline for forming a government set to expire tomorrow night.

“Because of his trial, he’ll move even further to the right,” Shaked is heard saying of Netanyahu.” It’s the opposite of [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon [who moved from right to center as prime minister]. It’s true that the only thing he cares about now is his trial. He absolutely does not care about anything else. It’s true… all his considerations, his behavior, his management, all revolve around his trial,” Shaked is heard saying in the Channel 12 excerpts.

“It’s true that he [Netanyahu] has to go. He has to go. But I said to Gideon [Sa’ar], there is a country [to run]. So what now? You’ll build this absurd coalition, with this and that [party], because he has to go?” she continues, referring to negotiations to establish a coalition made up of right-wing, centrist, and left-wing parties in a bid to replace Netanyahu.

Former justice minister and Yamina lawmaker Ayelet Shaked speaks at the Maariv conference in Herzliya, on February 26, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Shaked emphasizes that she is seeking to prevent such a government from being formed. But she indicates that Yamina will ally with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and establish a coalition if the only alternative to doing so would be the fifth round of elections in barely two years.

Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“He [Netanyahu] has 30 seats. Look, he’s afraid to go for a pardon and a plea bargain process, because he’s scared of it. He’s scared that ultimately he’ll have to plead guilty and it won’t work out… After all, he’s a very paranoid man. So he’s afraid of it,” Shaked is heard saying.

“As for the presidency, he wants to remain in power. He has a lust for power — he and his wife. They’re like tyrants. Like dictators. They’re not prepared to move aside. We’re not like that.”

Shaked further asserts that if Bennett receives endorsements from right-wing lawmakers to form a government, “he won’t go left.” She also expresses confidence that if Bennett gets the mandate, he will be able to get Sa’ar and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz into a right-wing government.

Shaked indicates Yamina is seeking to secure a deal with Netanyahu whereby Bennett will become prime minister for 1.5 years, rather than the one year offered by the Likud leader.

New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

She also describes alleged attempts by Likud to strong-arm New Hope’s Sa’ar into a government.

“The Likud has offered to pay Sa’ar’s debts.. they really pressed him. I’ve sat with him [Sa’ar] for hours. First of all, he’s right: Netanyahu must go. He’s correct about that, but what can you do? So I tell him [Sa’ar], there’s a framework whereby he won’t have a year [as prime minister at the start of a new coalition], and we’ll limit his term [later in the coalition]… It’ll be his last term. So live with one more term…. Gideon and Yvet [Liberman] truly think that Netanyahu is a danger to the State of Israel. They’re convinced of it… We don’t think so.”

She also says Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, if he truly cared about the state, would work with Yamina to avoid a government reliant on the Islamist Ra’am. Smotrich pays less heed to the rabbis than Yamina, she says.

Also, now that Netanyahu has ‘koshered’ the Arabs, nobody will have any issues forming a government with them. That’s the great damage that has already been done,” she says, apparently referring to Netanyahu’s willingness to rely on Ra’am’s support.

Bennett said meeting Ra’am chief in Knesset

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett is meeting Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

It is the second meeting between the right-wing leader and the Islamist politician.

Cross-examination of Walla CEO to start Tuesday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers will begin their cross-examination of Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua on Tuesday.

Yeshua is a key witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have abused his powers, when he served as both premier and communications minister from 2014 to 2017 to illicitly and lucratively affect the business interests of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch. In exchange, Elovitch allegedly provided Netanyahu with positive coverage of the prime minister and his family by the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case, while Elovitch and his wife Iris were also charged with bribery. All three defendants deny wrongdoing.

Former Walla news CEO Ilan Yeshua arrives to testify at a Jerusalem court on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
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