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Knesset panel approves restrictions on protest, prayer during lockdown

Rules will reportedly go into effect within hours; Aryeh Deri claims ultra-Orthodox keeping virus rules ‘far more than general public’

Protestors outside the headquarters of the Tel Aviv District Israel Police, on September 29, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Protestors outside the headquarters of the Tel Aviv District Israel Police, on September 29, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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

Deputy AG: No conflict of interest for Netanyahu to rein in protests

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can legally make health decisions restricting weekly demonstrations against him.

She says there is no conflict of interest, according to Hebrew media reports.

Warning of a slippery slope, Zilber writes in response to an organization’s query on the issue that since the protests are targeting the government, it could likewise be argued that all ministers must therefore be banned from dealing with the demonstrations.

The weekly demonstrations against Netanyahu’s corruption cases have been scaled back amid the pandemic lockdown, sparking an outcry.

Health Ministry worker suspected of accepting bribes to waive quarantine

A worker at the Health Ministry is suspected of accepting bribes in exchange for waiving quarantine requirements for those exposed to the coronavirus.

The employee, who works in the appeals unit, has been arrested and is being questioned, police say.

Body of baby found near Haifa cemetery

The body of an infant has been found near a cemetery in the northern city of Haifa.

Police are investigating.

Russia accuses poisoned opposition leader of working with CIA

Russia accuses opposition leader Alexei Navalny of working for the CIA and making “groundless and unacceptable statements” after he claimed President Vladimir Putin had orchestrated his poisoning.

“We believe that such charges against the Russian president are absolutely groundless and unacceptable,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says. He also claims that the Central Intelligence Agency was “currently working” with Navalny.

AFP

Police find woman dead in her Ashkelon home

Police find the lifeless body of a woman in her home in the southern city of Ashkelon.

The circumstances of her death aren’t clear.

The woman’s husband has been taken in for questioning, according to the Ynet news site.

Virus czar: 40% of recent virus cases are among ultra-Orthodox

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu says the surge in virus cases today is still catch-up from the weekend and Yom Kippur, when most testing centers and labs were closed.

“The 9,000 new cases didn’t surprise me, since it was taken after Yom Kippur. This is a total from Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We can assume we’ll see these numbers continue today,” he tells reporters.

Gamzu says the number of cases among the ultra-Orthodox community is on the rise.

“Forty percent of the confirmed [cases] are ultra-Orthodox,” he says, referring to recent diagnoses.

The ultra-Orthodox make up some 12% of the population.

He says the number of virus cases among the elderly in the ultra-Orthodox community is also climbing.

 

Health official: Outgoing flight ban due to ‘equality,’ not virus concerns

The head of Public Health Services, Dr. Sharon Elari-Price, says Israel’s outgoing flight restrictions are more about “equality” than genuine coronavirus concerns, in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

“It is hard to tell people in the State of Israel that they have restrictions and they cannot move, but those who have money can buy a plane ticket,” she says.

She clarifies that there is a health risk to flying, but says the epidemiological risks alone don’t justify the ban.

The Israeli government slapped restrictions on outgoing flights on Friday as part of a slew of measures to bolster the virus lockdown. In doing so, the government stopped the sale of airline tickets, while allowing those who previously bought tickets to depart the country.

Gamzu: Lockdown is ‘effective’ but we won’t lower rates like in April

Gamzu, in remarks to reporters, says the second lockdown appears to be “effective.”

“It’s effective, but will we get to lowered rates as during Passover? No, we’re not there,” he says.

He says predictions on how long the lockdown will last are “not final.”

“Next week will be fateful,” the coronavirus czar says.

Gamzu also addresses Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s call that he remain in the position after November. He says he’ll consider it, but prefers to go back to running the Ichilov Medical Center.

Gamzu says Moshe Bar Siman-Tov would be a worthy successor

Gamzu says former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov would be a worthy successor to his post as the country’s top official on the virus response, which he is expected to vacate in November.

Bar Siman-Tov is “a friend,” he says.

“If they decide he’s the next candidate, I would welcome it. He’s a worthy” choice, he says, a day after the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that Bar Siman-Tov was offered the position.

 

UK study: 1 in 200 people in England infected with coronavirus

British scientists are reporting that the rate of coronavirus infection across England has jumped four-fold in the last month and even higher in regions like northwest England and London.

That’s according to a large government-commissioned study that randomly tested tens of thousands of people in the community. But the researchers also say the epidemic does not appear to be growing exponentially at the moment.

“There is some evidence of a deceleration,” says Paul Elliott, chair of epidemiology at Imperial College London, who led the study. Elliott says some of the recently imposed measures in the UK, including banning gatherings of more than six people, may have helped slow the spread of COVID-19.

Elliott says about 1 in 200 people across England are infected with the coronavirus, an increase from about 1 in 800 people in early September.

“We need to get on top of this now so we don’t have an exponential increase,” he says.

Elliott and colleagues note that the steep rise in cases began in August — when the UK government launched a month-long promotion offering people steep discounts to eat out at restaurants.

The study also notes that rates of infection are increasing among all age groups in England, with the highest prevalence among 18- to 24-year-olds. The scientists reported that Black people and those of Asian descent were twice as likely to have COVID-19 as white people.

AP

Leader of Karlin-Stolin Hasidic sect said hospitalized with COVID-19

The leader of the Karlin-Stolin Hasidic dynasty, Boruch Meir Yaakov Shochet, is hospitalized with COVID-19.

He has been taken to the Laniado Medical Center in Netanya, the Behadrey Haredim news site says.

The community message urges all to follow the health restrictions. The Hasidic group has closed all of its synagogues and learning centers amid the pandemic, with its religious leader ordering all to strictly follow the rules and wear masks, according to the Haredi site.

Lebanon confirms US-mediated talks with Israel over maritime borders

Lebanon and Israel will hold UN-mediated talks on their disputed land and maritime borders, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announces.

The United States will act as a facilitator during the talks, which are due to be held in the southern Lebanon border town of Naqoura, Berri tells a news conference without providing a date for the negotiations.

AFP

Iran’s currency sees a new record low amid biting sanctions

Iran’s currency drops to its lowest value ever at 300,000 rial for each dollar amid severe US sanctions against the country.

The rial has tumbled from a rate of around 262,000 in mid-September, a 12% drop.

Iran’s currency was at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

US sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply.

Following US President Donald Trump’s decision more than two years ago to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal and reimpose crippling trade sanctions on Iran, the currency unexpectedly rallied for some time.

Iranian officials for months have warned exporters to bring their foreign earnings home from abroad or face having their export licenses revoked, and the central bank has warned it would publish the names of violators.

In June, the central bank reported that Iranian companies export more than $40 billion in non-oil products per year, and officials say some 50% of that remains abroad. Traders blame the sanctions for sparking a failure in returning export earnings.

AP

Putin, Trump, Macron urge ‘immediate’ ceasefire in Karabakh

The presidents of Russia, the United States and France call for a ceasefire in the Nagorny Karabakh region, urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to commit to talks without delay or preconditions.

“We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the relevant military forces,” French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump of the US say in a statement released by the Elysee.

“We also call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to commit without delay to resuming substantive negotiations,” say the leaders, whose countries are the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group that has sought a solution to the conflict since the 1990s.

The statement says such talks should be “in good faith and without preconditions” and be held under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

The Minsk group, which was created by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1992, has on occasion overseen summits between Armenian and Azeri leaders but has failed to find any lasting resolution to the conflict.

AFP

US cheers ‘historic’ Israel-Lebanon talks on borders

The US State Department welcomes the talks between Lebanon and Israel over the maritime borders and disputed land border, calling it “historic.”

“The agreement between the two parties on a common framework for maritime discussions will allow both countries to begin discussions, which have the potential to yield greater stability, security, and prosperity for Lebanese and Israeli citizens alike. Today’s announcement is a vital step forward that serves the interests of Lebanon and Israel, of the region, and of the United States.

“Recognizing the positive experience of the Tripartite mechanism, the United States also looks forward to separate expert-level talks to define unresolved issues related to the Blue Line, which offer the promise of another positive step for regional stability,” it says.

21,000 Haredim sick with coronavirus, official says

Roni Numa, an Israeli major general who is serving as the liaison to the ultra-Orthodox community on the virus, says there are 21,000 COVID-19 cases among Haredim.

He says 5,000 are recovering in coronavirus hotels.

Numa says most yeshiva students who are sick with the virus are under observation.

“Nearly all of the confirmed yeshiva students are in the yeshivas, in hotels, and in… [other facilities] where they are receiving assistance,” he says. “The sense that there are thousands of confirmed cases [among yeshiva students] wandering around the community is simply incorrect.”

5 serious virus patients cured in experimental trial in Jerusalem

Enlivex Therapeutics says five coronavirus patients have recovered from the virus within days after being administered the Allocetra immunotherapy in a clinical trial at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital.

“The clinical trial included five COVID-19 patients, three in severe condition and two in critical condition. All five patients had complete recovery from their respective severe/critical condition and were released from the hospital after an average of 5.5 days (severe) and 8.5 days (critical), following administration of AllocetraTM, at which time they were all COVID-19 PCR negative,” a statement says.

“There were no reported severe adverse events relating to the administration of AllocetraTM in the patients, and the therapy was well-tolerated,” it says.

Foreign minister hopeful Lebanon talks will boost region’s stability

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi thanks the United States for three years of intensive diplomatic efforts that yielded direct talks between Israel and Lebanon, brokered by Washington, over disputed borders.

Ashkenazi, in a tweet, says: “I believe that success in the talks will significantly contribute to the stability of the region and promote prosperity for the citizens of both Israel and Lebanon.”

 

France to hand back paintings looted by Nazis

The French government agrees to hand back three looted paintings to the heirs of a Jewish collector who died in a German concentration camp.

The canvases by Fauvist Andre Derain were once owned by the renowned Parisian gallery owner Rene Gimpel, who was denounced by a rival dealer after joining the Resistance to fight against Nazi occupation and France’s collaborationist Vichy government.

The decision comes after an appeals court in Paris on Wednesday overturned a lower court’s decision not to hand back the works.

They are housed at the modern art museum in Troyes and the Cantini museum in Marseille.

The works, painted between 1907 and 1910, were taken as spoils when Gimpel was arrested.

The lower court had found there were doubts about the authenticity of the paintings, but appeals judges said there were “accurate, serious and consistent indications” that the works were the same ones taken from Gimpel.

“This is great,” says Corinne Hershkovitch, a lawyer for Gimpel’s heirs, who are still trying to recover other works in his collection.

“The court agreed on the points we put forward and we are very happy to be recognized,” she says.

Gimpel, who was of Jewish descent, was a prominent art collector in the early 20th century. Active in the Resistance, he fled Paris early in World War II and headed for the French Riviera.

He was arrested in 1944 and deported to Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, Germany, where he died the following year.

AFP

Official: Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas won’t reopen in late October

Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas won’t reopen in late October, says the IDF general who is coordinating the government’s virus response with the Haredim.

Roni Numa says the schools will only reopen when the government allows all students over the age of 10 to go back to class.

UN peacekeeping force says ready to assist Israel-Lebanon talks

The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon says it is prepared to assist in the proposed direct talks between Israel and Lebanon over the country’s maritime border.

“The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon welcomes today’s announcement of a framework agreement to launch negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on maritime and land border demarcation between the two countries,” a spokesman for the organization says.

“UNIFIL stands ready to extend to the parties all the support at its disposal and facilitate efforts towards a resolution of this upcoming negotiations and move forward with Blue Line demarcation,” he adds.

UNIFIL is technically charged with ensuring the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and called for the removal of Hezbollah and all other armed groups from southern Lebanon, but due to limitations of its mandate often serves instead as a mediator between Israel and Lebanon, which do not have official ties.

Judah Ari Gross

Meretz says Haredi politicians have ‘blood on their hands,’ then deletes post

A campaign poster shared on social media by the Meretz party accuses ultra-Orthodox politicians of having “blood on their hands.”

It is deleted a short while later.

The poster, which features images of Shas leader Aryeh Deri and United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, is a criticism of their coronavirus policies and comes amid a huge surge in virus cases among Haredim and in the entire country.

The poster is condemned by opposition leader Yair Lapid, who calls it “unbearable and illegitimate.”

“This is not what the State of Israel and the people of Israel need. I strongly condemn this statement. This is not how we’ll get out of the crisis,” he tweets.

Lapid commends Meretz for erasing the post.

Macron says Syrian jihadists operating in Karabakh

French President Emmanuel Macron says Syrian jihadist fighters are operating in Nagorny Karabakh, where Armenia and Azerbaijan are engaged in heavy fighting.

Macron says he had evidence that militants had traveled through the Turkish city of Gaziantep on their way to the conflict in the Caucasus, where the fiercest clashes in years have left nearly 130 people dead.

“We have information today that indicates with certainty that Syrian fighters from jihadist groups have transited through Gaziantep to reach the theatre of operations in Nagorny Karabakh,” Macron says as he arrives for a summit with EU leaders in Brussels.

“This is a very serious new fact, which changes the situation.”

AFP

EU agency begins reviewing Oxford coronavirus vaccine

The European Medicines Agency has begun its first review process for the experimental COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

The EU regulator says it had started a “rolling review” process it hopes will expedite any eventual approval.

The EMA has begun analyzing the preliminary information from scientists on the Oxford vaccine, which suggest the vaccine “triggers the production of antibodies and T-Cells,” referring to immune system cells that target the virus. The agency says it was waiting for data from ongoing late-stage tests of the vaccine involving thousands of people, which it hopes will be shared in the coming months.

A similar process was used to approve remdesivir, one of the only licensed drugs to treat COVID-19. That approval was issued in just over one month; the standard process can take nearly seven months.

The Oxford vaccine is proceeding with a large trial in the UK even though a similar study has been halted in the US while the FDA examines a report of a serious neurological side effect in a British trial participant.

AP

IDF will operate two new coronavirus wards in Haifa hospital

The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to open and run two coronavirus wards in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center amid concerns that the number of patients requiring hospitalization will skyrocket in the coming weeks, a military spokesperson says.

This would appear to be the first time in the country’s history that the military was formally charged with providing medical treatment to civilians, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman tells reporters.

Though the military has completed its planning for the measure — working with the Health Ministry and the medical center to work out the details — the matter will require final approval from the government before it goes forward. Zilberman says the military expects to begin opening the wards in the next two to four weeks.

In understated, but unmistakable criticism, the Zilberman indicates the military is not in favor of loaning troops to the police to assist in enforcement of the national lockdown.

“It’s not one of our most effective missions,” Zilberman says.

Judah Ari Gross

629 Israelis died of the coronavirus in September

According to Health Ministry data, 629 Israelis died of the coronavirus in September.

The death toll from the virus stands at 1,571.

A worker from ‘Hevra Kadisha,’ Israel’s official Jewish burial society, prepares a body before a funeral procession at a special morgue for COVID-19 victims in Holon, September 23, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Mossad chief visited Bahrain, met security chiefs — report

Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, visited the kingdom of Bahrain yesterday, according to the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA).

Cohen met with Bahraini security chiefs Lieutenant General Adel bin Khalifa Al-Fadil and Sheikh Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Khalifa during his visit.

“The two sides discussed issues of common interest and stressed the importance of the declaration in support of peace signed between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel, and the role that it will contribute in a significant way towards promoting stability, upholding peace values in the region, and opening horizons for cooperation between the two countries,” according to BNA.

Aaron Boxerman

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at the Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Small protests against Netanyahu held across country

Israelis around the country continue to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — within a kilometer of their homes, and in small groups, in accordance with the lockdown rules — after Knesset legislation curtails mass demonstrations due to soaring virus rates.

Netanyahu’s lawyers buy more time to respond to charges, likely delaying trial

The Jerusalem District Court gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s until November 29 to respond to the criminal indictment against him, pushing back the original October 18 date, according to Hebrew media reports.

The delay comes as Netanyahu’s lawyers seek to obtain additional evidence from the investigation into the premier.

The 40-day delay is likely to push off the evidentiary stage of the trial, which is scheduled to begin in January, with three hearings per week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) talks with attorneys Micha Fettman (L) and Amit Hadad (R) inside the court room as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020 (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

NYC school district to test monthly for virus

The New York City school district is rolling out a monthly plan to test students and staff for the coronavirus.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city plans to do more than 100,000 virus tests on students a month, at a cost of between $78 and $90 per test.

The nation’s largest school district will test 10% to 20% of students and staff in every building monthly, beginning Thursday, the same day the final wave of the district’s more than 1 million students began returning to brick-and-mortar classrooms.

De Blasio announces the plan as part of an agreement with the teachers’ union to avert a strike. At least 79 Department of Education employees have died of COVID-19.

Los Angeles public schools launched a similar $150 million testing program.

The CDC says coronavirus in school-age children in the US has been rising since early September, when many returned to classrooms.

AP

US official: Israel-Lebanon border talks to begin in mid-October

US envoy David Schenker says the border negotiations between Israel and Lebanon will start in the week of October 12.

Lebanon and Israel said earlier they will hold US-brokered negotiations on their disputed land and maritime borders, in what Washington hailed as a “historic” agreement between two sides, who are technically still at war.

with AFP

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with David Schenker, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, September 10, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

US won’t tolerate attacks by Iran-backed militias in Iraq, US official says

Washington warns that it will not tolerate attacks on US interests in Iraq by Iran-backed militias, as Baghdad worries about a possible US withdrawal.

“We can’t tolerate the threats to our people, our men and women serving abroad,” says David Schenker, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

Schenker did not officially confirm a reported US threat to withdraw its troops and close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks against them stop.

AFP

Donald Trump is the biggest driver of Covid-19 misinformation — study

US President Donald Trump has been the world’s biggest driver of COVID-19 misinformation during the pandemic, a study from Cornell University says.

A team from the Cornell Alliance for Science evaluated 38 million articles published by English-language, traditional media worldwide between January 1 and May 26 of this year.

The database it used aggregates coverage from countries such as the United States, Britain, India, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and other African and Asian nations.

The team identified 522,472 news articles that reproduced or amplified misinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic, or what the World Health Organization has called the “infodemic.”

These were categorized into 11 main sub-topics, ranging from conspiracy theories to attacks on top scientist Anthony Fauci to the idea that the virus is a bioweapon unleashed by China.

US President Donald Trump gestures to supporters as he arrives at Minneapolis Saint Paul International Airport, September 30, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

But the most popular topic by far was what the study authors termed “miracle cures,” which appeared in 295,351 articles — more than the other 10 topics combined.

The authors found that comments by President Trump drove major spikes in the “miracle cures” topic, led by his April 24 press briefing where he mused on the possibility of using disinfectants inside the body to cure the coronavirus.

Similar spikes were seen when he promoted unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine.

“We conclude therefore that the president of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic,'” the team writes.

Sara Evanega, who led the study and is director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, says: “If people are misled by unscientific and unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may be less likely to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the virus.”

Co-author Jordan Adams, a data analyst at Cision Insights that provided the database, adds: “One of the more interesting aspects of the data collection process was discovering the staggering amount of misinformation coverage directly linked to the public comments of a small number of individuals.”

After miracle cures, the second-most prevalent misinformation topic was that the pandemic was created to advance a “new world order.”

Next came the claim that the pandemic was a hoax for political gain by the US Democratic Party, followed by conspiracies alleging the virus was a bioweapon released by a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

Conspiracy theories linking the pandemic to philanthropist Bill Gates came next, then the hoax that COVID-19 symptoms are caused by 5G phone networks, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and the notion that the virus is a form of population control.

Attacks on US government scientist Fauci, references to the debunked “Plandemic” video, and blaming the virus on Chinese people consuming bat soup rounded off the list.

The study authors also tracked how the stories were shared on social media, finding that the posts elicited 36 million engagements, three-quarters of them on Facebook.

The research was partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

AFP

Over 9,000 new virus cases Wednesday; death toll rises to 1,600

In an updated tally, the Health Ministry says over 9,013 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday, with over 70,000 tests conducted.

It’s the first time the number of daily cases has surpassed 9,000, though some of the cases are said to be part of a backlog from Yom Kippur, when most testing was halted and labs were closed.

Over 13% of tests came back positive on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, of the 71,956 active cases, 817 are in serious condition, 186 of them on ventilators. Another 277 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

The death toll rises to 1,600, with 48 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Netanyahu: Government will decide Monday whether to tighten or ease rules

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the government will decide Monday whether to tighten the lockdown rules.

“On Monday we’ll make a decision on the continuation of the lockdown — tightening or release,” he says in a Facebook Live video.

Erdogan: We support Palestinians because ‘Jerusalem is our city’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proclaims that “Jerusalem is our city,” in a tweet.

“The issue of Jerusalem is not an ordinary geopolitical problem for us. Our ancestors showed their respect for centuries by keeping this city in high esteem,” he says. “Jerusalem is our city, a city from us.”

That’s why Turkey will continue supporting the Palestinians, he says.

“With this understanding, we will follow both the Palestinian cause, which is the bleeding wound of the global conscience, and the Jerusalem case to the end.”

Over 1,000 small anti-Netanyahu protests held across Israel

Over 1,000 small, scattered protests calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation are taking place across Israel in compliance with coronavirus restrictions, according to The Black Flags anti-Netanyahu protest organization.

The Knesset passed a law yesterday morning preventing travel over a kilometer from one’s place of residence to attend a demonstration. The legislation comes as part of the government’s efforts to curb coronavirus infections while Israel is under its second pandemic lockdown.

Organizations involved in the anti-Netanyahu protest movement of the past three months have vociferously opposed the new regulations, saying that they violate their freedom to protest. The Black Flags, along with several other anti-Netanyahu groups, have vowed to continue demonstrating in compliance with the restrictions.

“These are dark days for the State of Israel. No country has legislated to limit the right to protest, for a simple reason: There is no public health logic behind it. There is only the logic of a criminal — of a criminal defendant attempting to flee in fear of punishment,” the Black Flags says in a statement.

Aaron Boxerman

Deri: Haredim keeping virus rules ‘far more than general public’

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri claims the ultra-Orthodox community is following the virus rules more strictly than the general population, amid a huge uptick in virus cases among Haredim.

“The vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox are observing the rules, far more than the general public. There is no other community that is as disciplined,” he tells Channel 12.

“If I am to blame it is for failing to convince [the public] that the Haredim are keeping the rules. They are doing an injustice against the Hasidim,” he adds, noting the Gur Hasidic sect, the country’s largest, has closed its synagogues amid a wide outbreak.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri arrives at the Knesset for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

TV: Health Ministry official warns some Haredi groups seeking ‘herd immunity’

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy has warned that some fringe groups among the ultra-Orthodox are seeking to deliberately get infected with the coronavirus, in a bid to create “herd immunity” in their communities, according to Channel 12.

“This is not our health doctrine and we aren’t adopting herd immunity, with the infections and deaths that it entails. I am very pained by this behavior, and this a moment of truth for advocacy and for the leadership of the community,” Levy is quoted saying.

Experts warn against allowing gatherings in ‘half open’ sukkahs

The Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians warns the Health Ministry not to approve a loophole to allow gatherings of up to 20 people in “half open” sukkahs, Army Radio reports.

The Health Ministry is considering whether to make the exception for the makeshift booths built for the holiday which are more than 50 percent open, according to Hebrew media reports. Experts fear the move would pave the way for mass gatherings that would increase coronavirus infections.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri tells Channel 12 the exception would allow for prayer of up to 20 in the sukkahs, but not eating. Under the lockdown rules, gatherings are capped at 20 outdoors, 10 indoors.

The government said earlier that people who visit sukkahs that are not their own household’s will be fined.

Ultra-orthodox Jews from the Vishnitz dynasty attend an event in a sukkah in Bnei Brak on October 12, 2014 (Dror garti/FLASH90)

Armenia said to recall Israel ambassador over weapon sales to Azerbaijan

Armenia has recalled its ambassador to Israel, a day after an Azeri official boasted of using Israeli weaponry in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the Walla news site.

In an interview with Walla on Wednesday, the assistant to the president of Azerbaijan said that his country has used Israeli drones, including loitering munitions, or “kamikaze drones,” in the recent round of fighting and lauded their effectiveness.

“Hats off to the engineers who designed it,” Hikmet Hajiyev said. He also said that the Azeris “very much appreciate the cooperation with Israel, especially the defense cooperation.”

Ashkenazi speaks to Kosovo’s top diplomat

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to his Kosovan counterpart, Meliza Haradinaj Stublla, for the first time since Jerusalem recognized the state last month.

Israel’s recognition of Kosovo is part of a three-way deal announced on September 4 by the White House. According to the announcement, Serbia, which claims ownership of Kosovo’s territory and has fought against international recognition of its declaration of independence in 2008, has agreed to cooperate on some economic issues with the government of the breakaway region.

The deal stipulates that both countries will open embassies in Jerusalem — a development that Israel and the United States are advancing, despite opposition by the Palestinians and the European Union.

Ashkenazi says in a statement that he thanked Stublla for agreeing to open a Jerusalem embassy, for recognizing Hezbollah as a terror group, and for her personal efforts to have the government adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

The two agreed a delegation from Kosovo would visit Israel to discuss the establishment of diplomatic ties, Ashkenazi says.

with JTA

Knesset panel signs off on demonstration restrictions during lockdown

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approves the restrictions on demonstrations during the lockdown, which will limit protests to 20 people within a kilometer of their homes.

The panel also green-lights government regulations shutting synagogues and banning people from visiting others’ sukkahs over the upcoming Sukkot holiday, according to Army Radio.

The rules are now set to go into effect at midnight, Hebrew reports say.

3,000 said protesting in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu

In addition to over a thousand small protests being held around the country, demonstrators are rallying against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square.

Army Radio says some 3,000 demonstrators have congregated there.

Hamas deputy political chief contracts COVID-19

Terror group Hamas announces that deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri has been infected with the novel coronavirus.

Al-Arouri, who lives in Beirut, met last week with a number of senior Palestinian officials, including Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

It remains unknown whether any other senior officials in Hamas or Fatah are entering quarantine.

Aaron Boxerman

Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, August 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)

Paris police launch probe into anti-Semitic graffiti at kosher restaurant

PARIS — An investigation has been opened after anti-Semitic graffiti was found in a kosher restaurant in the French capital, the Paris prosecutors’ office says.

A video posted on social media by the Union of Jewish Students of France shows the restaurant in the 19th district of Paris with anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas painted on the wall, broken windows and destroyed tables and chairs.

The probe was opened yesterday into “racist degradations,” the prosecutors say.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo condemns “with the utmost firmness this hateful act of anti-Semitic vandalism.” She expressed on Twitter her “full support” to the Jewish community. “We will not tolerate this,” she says.

Prime Minister Jean Castex also tweets his “solidarity with our Jewish compatriots,” saying he shares their “emotion and outrage.”

“The Republic will stand united against hatred and will fight against those who promote it,” he says.

French police registered 687 anti-Semitic acts last year, from vandalism to threats to physical attacks — a 27% rise from the year before. Reports of anti-Muslim and other racist acts also rose.

— AP

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