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Netanyahu, Gantz trade accusations about allegedly secret F-35 talks

Prime minister dismisses as ‘baseless’ claim that he hid negotiations on US-UAE arms deal, but defense minister does not back down

Illustrative: US Air Force F-35A Lightning II’s at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, on November 16, 2019 (Joshua Williams/US Department of Defense)
Illustrative: US Air Force F-35A Lightning II’s at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, on November 16, 2019 (Joshua Williams/US Department of Defense)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they occured.

Yamina’s Bennett says he is gunning to become prime minister

The Likud and Yamina parties are trading barbs ahead of a second bid by the opposition to bring down the government by presenting an alternative coalition, a move known as a “constructive no-confidence motion.”

Seemingly responding to a report that the bid could draw the support of Yamina, the party says it has no interest in trading one bad thing for another (literally, a trief animal for a carcass.)

Instead it announces that it is seeking to replace Netanyahu with its own leader Naftali Bennett, marking a major challenge from the right to the Likud.

Likud responds not by attacking Bennett, but by saying it is “saddened and shocked by Bennett’s use of the term ‘treif’ to describe the prime minister.”

The statement calls on bennett and MK Bezalel Smotrich to support unity and not “divisive politics.”

According to a Channel 12 report, Yamina would have been brought into the fold with the nomination of Moshe Ya’alon, a right-wing former defense minister, as prime minister, as part of the no-confidence bid.

Oman next in line for normalization — report

Channel 12 news reports that Oman is the likeliest next candidate to announce normalization with Israel.

The report, sourced to unnamed officials, expresses doubts over whether the deal will come together before US elections.

The channel also reports that a peace deal with Sudan will include Khartoum’s agreement to repatriate some or possibly all Sudanese asylum-seekers who fled to Israel.

Italy sees renewed outbreak worsen

Italy’s one-day tally of coronavirus cases has crept closer to 20,000 on Saturday.

That is despite fewer swab tests than normal being performed, according to the Italian Health Ministry.

Lombardy, where the outbreak has been most devastating, registers more than double the number of daily cases than any other region.

The nation’s confirmed death toll, second highest in Europe after Britain’s, has risen to 37,210, after 151 more deaths.

— AP

Coronavirus death toll jumps as infection figures slide

The Health Ministry announces 37 new COVID-19 fatalities over the weekend, bringing the death toll to 2,366.

According to Health Ministry figures, the number of active cases further declined to 15,876, out of 309,374 infections confirmed since the pandemic began.

A man rides a bike with a child in Tel Aviv, on October 22, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Only 692 new cases were recorded Friday, out of just under 27,000 tests, for a positive test rate of just 2.6%. So far Saturday, there have been only 157 confirmed infections, as of 5:30 p.m.

There were 552 people in serious condition, with 218 on ventilators.

Protesters march across Jerusalem toward Paris Square

Jerusalem’s Paris Square has yet to fill with anti-Netanyahu protesters, with many of them still making their way via four separate marches through the city.

Overhead video of the scene shows the square about half full, with around 1,000 people waving flags or posters calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down, or blowing vuvuzelas.

Thousands of protesters are also reported to be in Tel Aviv for a protest organized by the Movement for Quality Government anti-corruption watchdog.

UAE welcomes Sudan-Israel deal

The UAE is welcoming Sudan’s decision to normalize relations with Israel.

In a statement carried by the Emirate’s official WAM news agency, Abu Dhabi’s Foreign Ministry expresses “hope that this step will have a positive impact on the environment of peace and regional and international cooperation.”

It also calls it “an important step to enhance security and prosperity in the region.”

Netanyahu hints at Israeli role in Sudan bombings, predicts more deals

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised address, focusing first on Friday’s announcement of Israeli-Sudan piece, and hints at confirmation that Israel carried out bombing raids in Sudan several years ago to stop Iran from smuggling weapons to Hamas via the country.

Israel reportedly carried out bombing raids in Sudan in early 2009, before Netanyahu took office, and in 2012 and 2014.

He praises the normalization deal with Sudan, and namechecks Uganda’s president for his role in brokering a meeting between him and Sudanese leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in February.

“We brought three peace deals in six weeks; it’s not luck; it’s not coincidence but the result of clear policy, and our efforts,” he says, predicting that other countries will follow suit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses Israel’s new accord with Sudan, with Israeli, Sudanese and American flags behind him, October 24, 2020 (Channel 13 screenshot)

Iran used to utilize Sudan to transfer weapons to Hamas, he says, “and that required me to order steps” to prevent it.

Sudan was an enemy state that fought against Israel (in 1948) and hosted the Khartoum “3 No’s” summit in 1967 that rejected all dealings with Israel, he notes.

“But all our relations with them have started to change in recent years — secretly, openly and now with the normalization agreement.”

He says an Israeli delegation will head to Khartoum “in the coming days” to finalize the accords.

He thanks “President Trump and his team above all — together with him we are changing history.”

The new accords are being reached “despite all the experts and commentators who said it was impossible.” It’s peace, he says, “without withdrawals” and “without uprootings” — a reference to settlements.

Netanyahu: Israel is ‘changing the map,’ connecting to the whole world

With Israel’s new accords, Netanyahu says “we are changing the map of the Middle East.”

He then highlights on a map that Israel can fly directly to India and the Far East thanks to the deals with the UAE and Bahrain, and to the west, to Brazil and South America, via Sudan and Chad — “with which we also established diplomatic relations.”

Overflying Sudan was agreed upon even prior to Friday’s announcement, he says.

“It’s an immense change” for Israel, he says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explains Israel’s new overflight options in the wake of its normalization accord with Sudan, October 24, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter/PMO)

“Israel was completely isolated and they told us we were heading into a political tsunami. What’s happening is the absolute opposite. Israel is now connecting to the whole world.”

He says he is certain “there will be more countries” to make peace with Israel in the near future.

Netanyahu says higher virus fines coming

Netanyahu warns that he will support significantly upped fines for coronavirus restriction violations at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has been pushing for the move as a deterrent against schools and businesses opening against regulations.

“I’ll bring up a dramatic rise in fines,” he says.

He later adds that Israel’s has been successful with the virus, so “we should not waste that success.”

PM denies claims of furtive F-35 agreement

Netanyahu presents a map of flight paths opened up by the Sudan and Gulf deals, which will significantly shorten trips to South America and Southeast Asia and the Far East.

“We are redrawing the map of the Middle East,” he says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explains Israel’s possible future overflight options in the wake of its expected normalization accord with Sudan, October 24, 2020 (Channel 13 screenshot)

He denies claims that there had been a secret part of the UAE deal in which he agreed to the US selling the UAE F-35 fighter jets.

He calls claims of talks held behind the back of Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which Gantz himself alleged, “baseless.”

Netanyahu says Israel did not agree to pull its objections from the arms sales until Gantz returned from meetings in Washington on Friday.

Hitting back at PM, Gantz hints keeping F-35 deal secret harmed process

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is doubling down on his accusation that Israel’s defense community was in the dark about talks regarding sales of advanced arms to the UAE, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls the claims baseless.

“As defense minister I state that the defense establishment did not know about and was not told by the prime minister about the negotiations for the supply of high-quality weapons systems to the United Arab Emirates,” he says in a tweeted statement.

“If the defense establishment had been given this information, that would have enabled the correct and responsible management of the process,” he charges.

He adds that he is “proud of our quick and fundamental work that led to the agreement I signed on Thursday with the US defense secretary, which will ensure the qualitative edge of Israel’s defense system and of the IDF for decades to come.”

Thousands pack Paris Square for anti-Netanyahu protest

The crowd at Paris Square outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem has swelled, with some reports putting the number of people there at 10,000.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his official residence in Jerusalem on October 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The protest is a dogs breakfast of musical instruments, flags, posters and chants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Tel Aviv, several hundred protesters who did not make it to Jerusalem are marching from Habima Square.

 

France recalls Turkey ambassador after ‘mental’ Macron jibe

France says it is recalling its envoy to Turkey after comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggesting French counterpart Emmanuel Macron needed a mental health check-up that Paris condemned as unacceptable.

A French presidential official says that the French ambassador to Turkey is being recalled from Ankara for consultations and will meet Macron to discuss the situation in the wake of Erdogan’s outburst.

“President Erdogan’s comments are unacceptable. Excess and rudeness are not a method. We demand that Erdogan change the course of his policy because it is dangerous in every respect,” the official tells AFP.

The Elysee official, who asked not to be named, also says that France had noted “the absence of messages of condolence and support” from the Turkish president after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty outside Paris.

France and its NATO ally are at loggerheads over a range of issues including maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Syria and the escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

— AFP

Delivery man held for allegedly attacking protesters, possibly for second week

A bike rider working for food delivery firm Wolt has reportedly been detained for attempting to run over protesters in Tel Aviv.

This is the second week a deliveryman for the company has been detained for attacking protesters, and it may have been the same person.

A Twitter account called “Mothers Against Police Violence,” says one of its members called police after identifying the bike rider as the same man who pepper-sprayed protesters last week. When she tried to block him from leaving, he tried to run over her kids, she says,

According to a Ynet reporter, a second Wolt driver has been detained elsewhere in the city, also on suspicion of hitting protesters.

Former top defense official urges state probe into approval of F-35 sale

Amos Gilead, a former top defense official, is criticizing Israel’s decision to okay advanced arms sales to the UAE and calling for a state commission of inquiry into how the decision was made.

US Air Force F-35A Lightning II’s at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates on Nov. 16, 2019 (Joshua Williams/US Department of Defense)

“Who can predict coups in the Middle East?” he asks at an anti-corruption rally in Tel Aviv, according to Ynet. “The prime minister has again made a decision, which he denies. I think it’s wrong to allow the UAE to be equipped with F-35s. Abu Dhabi is not a danger, but tomorrow others will get the plans and they’ll be turned on us. We can’t have that.

“We need a state commission of inquiry, so the same mistakes won’t be repeated,” he says, referring to the submarine bribery scandal, which allegedly included a secret Israeli okay for nuclear submarine sales to Egypt.

Despite bulging virus infection rate, pope and Spanish PM eschew masks at meet

Pope Francis has met with the Spanish prime minister at the Vatican, but neither man wore a mask during the public part of their meeting.

That’s despite 13 Swiss Guards and someone staying at the same Vatican City guest house where Francis lives recently testing positive for the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wore a mask when he arrived in a Vatican courtyard, but everyone sat unmasked immediately before and after his closed-door talks with Francis.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, center, leaves the San Damaso courtyard after his meeting with Pope Francis, at the Vatican, Saturday, October 24, 2020. (AP/Alessandra Tarantino)

Spain this week became the first country in Western Europe with more than 1 million confirmed virus cases.

The Vatican says Sanchez also spoke with the Holy See’s foreign minister, discussing matters including “the current health emergency, the process of European integration and migration.”

In his speech, Francis calls politics “an act of charity, nobility” and says the mission of a politician is to help a nation to progress. The pontiff also says it’s “very sad” when ideologies drive the destiny of a nation.

— AP

Hundreds of Muslims protest outside French envoy’s residence in Jaffa

Hundreds of people are protesting in Jaffa outside the French ambassador’s residence against France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who has sparked ire across the Arab and Muslim world for his crackdown on Islamists and vow to not “give up cartoons” depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

Protesters hold aloft banners with the Muslim declaration of faith in flowing calligraphic strokes: “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his Prophet.”

Arab-Israeli protesters gather outside the residence of the French Ambassador to Israel, in Tel Aviv-Jaffa on October 24, 2020, in response to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron defending cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

A small child also holds a homemade construction-paper sign, reading “God’s messenger, I love you,” referring to Mohammad.

Macron’s comments, on Wednesday, came in response to the beheading of a teacher, Samuel Paty, outside his school in a suburb outside Paris earlier this month, after he had shown cartoons of the Muslim prophet during a class he was leading on free speech.

— with AFP

Protest organizers say 170,000 at rallies, cops try to block marches

The Black Flag protest movement estimates in a statement that 170,000 people showed up to demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday evening.

The number, which is impossible to verify, is lower than previous turnout estimates they have given for past protests.

In Jerusalem, the main protest has begun to disperse as a rain storm moves in, though many protesters are continuing to rally by marching elsewhere in the city.

Police, trying to contain the marches, scuffle with protesters in some places, videos show.

Islamic Jihad in ‘state of alert’ over deteriorating health of security prisoner

Islamic Jihad’s military wing has announced “a general state of alert” for its fighters in response to the deteriorating health situation of security detainee Maher al-Akhras, who has been on a hunger strike in protest of his detention by Israel for the past 90 days.

“The Al-Quds Brigades have announced a state of alert for its fighters following the deteriorating health situation which threatens the life of the hunger-striking prisoner Maher al-Akhras,” a commander in the Palestinian terror group’s military wing says in a statement.

The Brigades uploaded the statement, erased it, and uploaded it again, according to the Kan Public Broadcaster.

Maher al-Akhras, a 49-year-old security prisoner, while on hunger strike in Kaplan hospital in Rehovot, October 8, 2020 (Aaron Boxerman/Times of Israel)

Human rights groups warn that al-Akhras is at risk of dying from his protracted hunger strike, in a move which could reignite confrontations along the Gaza border.

Al-Akhras has been detained since mid-July by Israel’s security services, who allege that he is a member of Islamic Jihad. Al-Akhras denies the accusation. The Palestinian terror group, which occasionally fires rockets and explosive balloons at Israeli civilian areas, has previously threatened retaliation should al-Akhras die in Israeli custody.

— Aaron Boxerman

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