The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Ministers warned hospitals could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients

A new report by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem warns the health system could be overwhelmed due to the rising number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.

The report, which is presented to the so-called coronavirus cabinet, also warns there could be 600 people in serious condition in two weeks, up from 426 as of this morning.

“The present danger requires decisive action,” the report urges.

The presentation of the report to ministers comes as the Health Ministry reported this morning that yesterday over 3,000 new cases were recorded in one day for the first since the pandemic began.

Coronavirus death toll in Asia passes 100,000

Asia has registered more than 100,000 deaths linked to the new coronavirus since it first emerged in December, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.

A total of 100,667 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus in the region out of 5,420,803 officially declared cases, with 4,255,760 people considered to have recovered.

In terms of fatalities, India is the most affected country with nearly three-quarters of total deaths in the region — 67,376 deaths from 3,853,406 cases.

It is followed by Indonesia with 7,616 deaths from 180,646 cases and Pakistan (6,328 deaths, 297,014 cases).

The continent, which had successfully contained the virus after its discovery in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, has faced an increase in the daily number of cases and deaths since August.

Nearly 90,000 infections and 1,200 fatalities have been reported on average every day for the past week.

This represents an 11 percent increase in the number of cases and a six percent rise in the number of deaths over the previous week.

The region also had the most cases in one week at 618,000 and the second highest number of deaths at 8,600, a figure topped only by Latin America, which still records more than 16,000 deaths weekly.

As well as being the worst-hit country in Asia, India has also reported the biggest surge in the world in a week, with more than half a million new cases (up 15 percent in seven days) and more than 6,800 new deaths (up five percent).


16 Iran-backed fighters killed by presumed Israeli strike in Syria — monitor

Presumed Israeli airstrikes on eastern Syria killed 16 Iran-backed fighters, a war monitor says, hours after Damascus said it intercepted Israeli missiles fired at a central air base.

Those killed were “Iraqi paramilitary fighters loyal to Iran, seven of whom were killed outside the city of Mayadeen,” Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says.

The other nine were killed in strikes south of the city of Albu Kamal, on the Iraqi border further east.

Abdul Rahman says Israel was “likely” responsible for the attack, which if confirmed, would mark the second such strike in less than 24 hours and the third this week.


98 new coronavirus cases recorded in Gaza

The Gaza Strip records 98 new coronavirus cases today, raising the number of active infections detected outside quarantine centers to 463, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

There are currently 500 active cases in Gaza.

For seven months, Gaza managed to fend off the coronavirus by subjecting new arrivals to strict quarantine procedures and intensive testing. The coastal enclave’s first coronavirus cases were detected early last week.

Hamas health officials have warned the situation is likely to get worse, saying Gaza’s fragile health infrastructure cannot handled than 2,000 active cases. As of last week, the Strip had only 87 ventilators available to coronavirus patients.

“The increasing number of injuries heralds the danger of the coming days,” Hamas health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said last night, adding “the situation is not yet under control. If we cannot work together, the consequences will be grave.”

Four Gazans have died from coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

— Aaron Boxerman

PA health officials to visit Gaza, bring coronavirus aid

Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila will lead a delegation of health officials from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip tomorrow, the PA Health Ministry in Ramallah announces.

The delegation will arrive along with some 20 trucks bearing coronavirus-related medical aid, al Kaila-says.

Such public coordination between the Fatah-dominated PA and Hamas is relatively rare, as there is little love lost between the two rival Palestinian governments. In 2007, Hamas expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip after a bloody struggle for control of the coastal enclave. Several attempts at reconciliation since then have failed to end the schism in Palestinian politics.

An offer by Hamas earlier this summer to provide medical aid to the West Bank as the virus raged in PA-controlled areas was declined.

— Aaron Boxerman

Netanyahu to be grilled by MKs on his ‘disgraceful failure in managing the crisis’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be grilled by MKs next week during a session on “the prime minister’s disgraceful failure in managing the economic and health crisis,” after opposition lawmakers gather enough signatures to require the premier to appear before the Knesset plenum.

“The coronavirus crisis isn’t being managed. The economic situation of Israeli citizens isn’t improving and the morbidity figures in Israel are only growing. The government is losing the public’s trust,” Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen is quoted saying by Hebrew media.

Facebook says it’ll ban new political ads week before US elections

With two months left until the US presidential election, Facebook says it is taking more steps to encourage voting, minimize misinformation and reduce the likelihood of post-election “civil unrest.”

The company says today it will restrict new political ads in the week before the election and remove posts that convey misinformation about COVID-19 and voting. It also will attach links to official results to posts from candidates and campaigns declaring premature victories.

“This election is not going to be business as usual. We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says in a post. “That means helping people register and vote, clearing up confusion about how this election will work, and taking steps to reduce the chances of violence and unrest.”

Facebook and other social media companies are being scrutinized over how they handle misinformation, given issues with US President Donald Trump and other candidates posting false information and Russia’s interference in the 2016 White House elections and ongoing attempts to interfere in US politics.

Facebook has long been criticized for not fact-checking political ads or limiting how they can be targeted at small groups of people.

With the nation divided, and election results potentially taking days or weeks to be finalized, there could be an “increased risk of civil unrest across the country,” Zuckerberg says.

Under the new measures, Facebook says it will prohibit politicians and campaigns from running new election ads in the week before the election. However, they can still run existing ads and change how they are targeted.

— AP

Businesses warn of major economic fallout if lockdown imposed over High Holidays

Business leaders warn of widespread economic fallout if ministers decide to impose a nationwide lockdown over the High Holidays as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“A lockdown during the holidays will result in an additional 2,000 businesses not reopening their doors,” Shai Birman, who heads an organization of restaurant and bar owners, is quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

Noam Levi, who leads a group of event halls owners, tells the network he expects his industry will “totally collapse” if there’s a lockdown over the holidays.

The hotels union calls lockdowns a form of “collective punishment” and warns many hotels may not reopen until Passover if they’re forced to shut down during the High Holidays, which begin this year on September 18 and run through October 11.

EU ‘standing by’ ICC after US sanctions top prosecutor

BRUSELLS — The European Union will defend the International Criminal Court against attempts to undermine it, a spokesman for the bloc says after Washington slapped sanctions on the Hague-based tribunal’s top prosecutor.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions yesterday against ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and another senior court official, Phakiso Mochochoko, over a war crimes probe into US military personnel in Afghanistan.

Washington has long rejected the ICC’s jurisdiction over US citizens, but the court’s investigation into allegations of atrocities in Afghanistan has seen US President Donald Trump’s administration turn low-level opposition into a concerted campaign against the institution.

“The International Criminal Court is facing persistent external challenges and the European Union stands firm against all attempts to undermine the international system of criminal justice by hindering the work of its core institutions,” Peter Stano, spokesman for EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, tells reporters.

“We are committed to strengthen our support to the ICC because this is key factor in fighting against impunity. We are standing by the ICC and we are not happy to see steps which are going against the activities of the ICC.”

Pompeo has dismissed the ICC as a “kangaroo court” and the US insists it has its own procedures for investigating allegations against its troops.


Drone drops sacks of marijuana over Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square

A drone flying over Rabin Square in Tel Aviv drops dozens of sacks of marijuana from the air, many of which are snapped up by passersby.

Many of the plastic bags fall onto Ibn Gabirol Street, after the drone’s operator apparently misjudged the wind.

The initiative was reportedly the work of a marijuana delivery service called “the Green Drone.”

Statistics bureau: No significant excess death from virus through July

There was no significant excess death in Israel from the start of the year through July, the Central Bureau of Statistics say, despite the fatalities from COVID-19.

“In the first months of the year mortality was particularly low, but since the start of the pandemic and particularly during the months of April-June, mortality was similar to previous years, with fluctuations between weeks,” a CBS statement says.

It adds: “From a statistical calculation of excesses deaths by week it was found that excess mortality in the months of March-July was some 300 people out of 19,000 during the same period.”

According to Health Ministry statistics, there were 562 coronavirus deaths through July. There have been a further 414 deaths since then, with the national toll at 976 as of this morning.

El Al announces first cargo flight to Dubai

Israel’s national carrier El Al announces a first cargo flight to Dubai, days after its groundbreaking passenger trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Following on the heels of a deal to normalize Israel-UAE ties, the cargo flight is scheduled to take off from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on September 16, the airline says in a statement.

Unlike the direct passenger flight, the cargo service will fly via Liege in Belgium before continuing to Dubai, El Al says, without explaining the roundabout route.

The Boeing 747 aircraft will be carrying “agricultural and high-tech equipment” from Israel to the Emirates, El Al says, with the route set to become a regular Wednesday fixture in the future.

“The weekly El Al cargo flight to Dubai will enable Israeli companies connectivity in import and export from and to Dubai, as well as Asia in transfer from Dubai,” El Al says.


Police arrest 2 suspects for dropping marijuana from drone in Tel Aviv

Police have arrested two male suspects in their 30s for operating a drone that dropped sacks of marijuana in Tel Aviv.

A police statement says officers seized the drone, its controller and “dozens of bags identical to those distributed” in the city’s Rabin Square.

Police say distributing a controlled substance amounts to selling one.

Ministers said to okay lockdowns in 30 cities with high infection rates

The so-called coronavirus cabinet has decided to impose a lockdown on 30 “red” cities that have COVID-19 infection rates, according to Hebrew media reports.

The lockdowns are set to take effect on Monday, the reports say.

It isn’t immediately clear what the lockdowns will entail.

Israeli shoe chain to open 5 stores in UAE

Israeli shoe chain Scoop tells Channel 12 news it’ll open five stores in the United Arab Emirates, including what would be the first Israeli shop in Dubai.

Lockdown measures reportedly to include restrictions on movement, closures of shops and schools

Among the restrictions that will take effect in “red” cities next week are banning people from traveling more than 500 meters from their homes, closing nonessential businesses and shuttering all schools except kindergartens and special education institutions, according to Hebrew media reports.

Netanyahu: Decision on lockdowns due to recent increase in infection rate

Prime Minister Netanyahu releases a video statement confirming the so-called coronavirus cabinet’s decision to impose lockdown measures on “red” cities with high infection rates.

Netanyahu says over the past month, the morbidity rate has been high — “even very high” — but has remained stable.

“In recent days a rise began and [there was] a very dramatic rise yesterday,” he says.

He adds: “Today we made a decision to make an immediate blocking effort against this rise in morbidity. We made a decision to apply lockdowns on red cities.”

The prime minister urges Israelis to work with authorities “to block this morbidity.”

High Court rejects petition to put IDF colonel on trial for shooting Palestinian stone-thrower

The High Court of Justice has rejected a petition to put IDF Col. Yisrael Shomer on trial for the 2015 deadly shooting of a Palestinian minor who threw stones at his vehicle close to the Palestinian town of A-Ram.

According to court filings, Shomer arrived at the scene shortly after receiving information about stone throwing in the area. A Palestinian minor, identified in the court’s ruling as Muhammad, hurled a large stone through the windshield of his car, lightly wounding one of the soldiers with Shomer. Shomer pursued Muhammad on foot, attempted to arrest him, and eventually shot him.

While Shomer testified that Muhammad was facing him as he attempted to arrest him, a sergeant present for the incident said that Muhammad was running away with his back turned when he was shot.

The High Court rules that some deference needed to be allowed to soldiers operating in such ambiguous security circumstances, which Justice Hanan Melzer calls “the kingdom of uncertainty.”

“Stones can kill,” Meltzer writes in an opinion for the court, adding that “judicial rulings in such cases must be sensitive to operational circumstances, and to the immediacy that characterizes events… in which the plaintiffs make fateful decisions in a fraction of a second.”

— Aaron Boxerman

Virus czar: Designation of cities with high infection rates not a ‘mark of Cain’

After today’s meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, the official leading Israel’s response to the pandemic says the infection rate has risen “another level.”

During a briefing, Prof. Ronni Gamzu says the designation of cities with high infection rates as “red” isn’t a “mark of Cain.”

“These are places in which we want to increase [our] involvement to help them get out of the cycle of morbidity,” he says.

He also says the decision to impose lockdown measures in “red” cities was made with a “heavy heart” and warns there are further “tough decisions” ahead.

Haredi minister: We won’t allow lockdown over High Holidays

Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman slams the so-called coronavirus cabinet’s decision to impose lockdown measures on localities with high infection rates, many of which have populations that are mostly ultra-Orthodox or Arab.

“The decision to impose a lockdown at this stage is part of an arranged plan of some elements to bring a lockdown during the holidays and close synagogues on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, which we won’t allow in any way” Litzman, who heads the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, says in a statement quoted by Hebrew media.

Gamzu has faced calls to resign from Litzman and other prominent ultra-Orthodox figures for opposing a Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Ukraine and rebuking a top rabbi for reportedly calling on yeshiva students not to be tested for the coronavirus.

2,880 new infections recorded over past 24 hours; death toll rises to 985

New Health Ministry figures show 2,880 new coronavirus cases were recorded over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 123,903.

The death toll rises to 985.

Of the 24,281 active cases, 417 people are in serious condition, with 118 people on ventilators. Another 138 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

The Health Ministry says 34,857 tests were performed yesterday.

Satellite photos show damage from reported Israeli strikes in Syria

A private Israeli intelligence firm releases satellite photographs of reported Israeli airstrikes on Iran-linked sites in Syria earlier in the week, indicating the attacks targeted Tehran’s ability to bring in and store weapons in the country.

According to the satellite imagery company ImageSat International, a strike on Monday night destroyed a command center and a warehouse at the Damascus International Airport and one two days later targeted an airstrip on the T-4 air base in eastern Syria. Israel has long maintained that both of these air fields are used by Iran to bring munitions into Syria.

The firm, which often tracks reported Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria, says the attacks likely interrupted Iran’s efforts to transport an advanced weapons system into the country.

ImageSat says it assessed that “the attack intended to prevent a significant air shipment from Iran.”

“The attacks intended to tactically undermine shipments of advanced weapons systems from Iran,” the firm says.

In addition, it adds, “the bombings send a strategic message to Tehran and the [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’] Quds Force, warning [against] their continued activity in Syria.”

— Judah Ari Gross

This photo released by ImageSat International on September 3, 2020, shows the results of reported Israeli airstrikes on the T-4 air base in eastern Syria. (ImageSat International)

AG: Netanyahu doesn’t have to step down when his graft trial gathers pace

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t have to step down when his trial on corruption charges revs up in January.

“Beginning in the coming months the prime minister’s trial will be held, in Jerusalem District Court, with a high frequency of hearings… To me this fact in itself doesn’t establish any cause for the prime minister’s recusal,” Mandelblit says at a legal conference.

The attorney general stresses that while Netanyahu can continue to serve as prime minister, he must avoid any conflict of interest — whereby he attempts to use his political status to try to influence the criminal proceedings against him. “It is permissible for him to serve as prime minister while on criminal trial, provided he is subject to the very clear restrictions of a conflict on interest arrangement, that deprives him of any possibility of influencing his personal criminal matters by utilizing the rights of his [elected] office.”

Previously, earlier in the legal process against Netanyahu, Mandelblit had said the prime minister did not have to suspend himself “at this time” but it was not clear whether this decision would still apply when the trial gathered pace.

Had Netanyahu known earlier about this stance of the attorney general, political analyst Amit Segal says on Channel 12 news, the prime minister would not have considering pushing for early elections last month.

Lebanese army finds 4 tons of ammonium nitrate near Beirut port

BEIRUT — The Lebanese military discovers more than 4 tons of ammonium nitrate near Beirut’s port, a chilling reminder of the horrific explosion a month ago that killed 191 people.

According to the military, army experts were called in for an inspection and found 4.35 tons of the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port. There are no details on the origin of the chemicals or their owner.

The find comes almost exactly a month after nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port for six years detonated, wreaking death and destruction. Along with 191 people killed, more than 6,000 were injured and entire neighborhoods were devastated. The blast left nearly 300,000 people homeless and caused damage worth billions of dollars.

The military statement says that customs officials had called in the army to inspect containers at a facility near the port, where they found 4.35 tons of ammonium nitrate. It says army experts were “dealing with the material,” an apparent implication that it was being destroyed.

— AP

Ministers task virus czar, health minister with drawing up ‘comprehensive national restrictions’

Ministers decided during today’s meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet to have COVID-19 czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein draw up a plan for “comprehensive national restrictions” to contain the coronavirus, a joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry says.

The statement says the decision was made so the plan would be ready if needed.

Ministers decided during the meeting to impose lockdown measures in localities with high infection rates, beginning on Monday.

“The full details, including a list of cities and the restrictions in them, will be formulated by Sunday,” the statement says.

NATO: Turkey, Greece agree to talks about Mediterranean tensions

ANKARA, Turkey — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says Greece and Turkey have agreed to start “technical talks” aimed at helping to reduce the risks of military incidents and accidents in the eastern Mediterranean.

In a statement posted today on the alliance’s website, Stoltenberg says he spoke to the Turkish and Greek leaders, whose countries have been locked in a tense standoff over oil and gas exploration rights in the region.

“Greece and Turkey are valued Allies, and NATO is an important platform for consultations on all issues that affect our shared security,” the statement reads. “I remain in close touch with all concerned Allies to find a solution to the tensions in the spirit of NATO solidarity.”

There is no immediate confirmation from Ankara or Athens and it isn’t immediately clear when the talks will begin.

— AP

US national security adviser: We’re committed to two-state solution

US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien says the Trump administration is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We want to see the Palestinians in their own state with their own government, hopefully a democratic government, and one that thrives economically alongside Israel,” O’Brien tells radio host Hugh Hewitt.

A month later, signal in Beirut rubble raises hope for survivor

BEIRUT — A pulsing signal is detected from under the rubble of a Beirut building that collapsed during the horrific port explosion in the Lebanese capital last month, raising hopes there may be a survivor still buried there.

The effort unfolds after the sniffer dog belonging to the Chilean search and rescue team first detected something as the team was going through Gemmayzeh Street in Beirut and rushed toward the rubble of a building. The street was one of the hardest-hit in the August 4 explosion.

The team then used audio detection equipment for signals or heartbeat, and detected what could be a pulse of 18 to 19 beats per minute. The origin of the pulsing signal was not immediately known, but it set off a frantic search and raised new hope.

It is extremely unlikely that any survivors would be found a month after the blast that tore through Beirut in August, when nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate ignited at the port. The explosion killed 191 people and injured 6,000 others, and is considered to be one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. Thousands of homes were damaged.

“Ninety-nine percent there isn’t anything, but even if there is less than 1% hope, we should keep on looking,” says Youssef Malah, a civil defense worker. He says his men would continue working throughout the night, adding that the work was extremely sensitive.

A Chilean volunteer, however, says their equipment identifies breathing and heartbeat from humans, not animals, and it detected a sign of a human.

For days, a French rescue team and other volunteers had looked into the rubble of buildings in the aftermath of the explosion and didn’t have reason to believe there were any bodies or survivors left.

— AP

Chilean and Lebanese rescuers search in the rubble of a building that was collapsed in last month’s massive explosion, after getting signals there may be a survivor under the rubble, in Beirut, Lebanon, September 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Israel has highest rate in world of new coronavirus infections per capita — TV

Israel now has the highest rate of new coronavirus infections per capita in the world, according to figures aired by Israeli television.

The figures, which used data from Johns Hopkins University, show Israel averaged 199.3 new cases a day per 1 million residents in the week ending September 2.

Rounding out the top five on the list are Brazil (188 new cases per day per million people), Spain (178), the United States (129) and France (80).

The figures, reported by both Channel 12 and Channel 13 news, appears to be based on the data compiled here…:

Comparative data on new COVID-19 cases, September 2020.

… and here:

Comparative data on new COVID-19 cases, September 2020.

France denounces US sanctions on ICC as ‘serious attack’

PARIS — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounces US sanctions targeting the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, saying the move by Washington was a “serious attack” on the global body and should be reversed.

“The measures announced on September 2 amount to a serious attack on the court and signatory states of the Treaty of Rome and, beyond this, a challenge to multilateralism and the independence of the judiciary,” he says, while also calling on Washington to “withdraw” the sanctions.


Jerusalem records highest temperature in city since 1942

Jerusalem had a high of 41.4°C (106.5°F) today, according to Channel 13 news, the hottest temperature recorded in the capital since 1942.

The network also says it is the highest temperature in the city during the month of September since 1902.

The temperature is expected to further rise tomorrow, and is supposed to remain elevated into next week.

Illustrative: Israeli children enjoy the splash fountain at Teddy Park in Jerusalem (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Demonstrators begin gathering for weekly anti-Netanyahu protests at sites across Israel

Demonstrators begin gathering at highway overpasses and junctions across the country for the weekly protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Protests are also to be held outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, which has been the center of the demonstrations against Netanyahu, and near his private home in the coastal town of Caesarea.

Turkey issues fresh threat to Greece ahead of military drill

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issues a threat to Greece over simmering tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, the day before his forces launch military drills in the region.

Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, have been embroiled in an increasingly heated spat over gas and oil in the region since Turkey deployed an exploration vessel last month.

“As Turkey and the Turkish people we are ready for every possibility and every consequence,” Erdogan says in a televised speech in Istanbul.

Turkish defense officials say they will start five days of military exercises tomorrow in the breakaway republic of northern Cyprus — an entity recognized only by Ankara.

NATO said this week Greek and Turkish leaders had agreed to take part in technical talks to avoid accidents between their navies.

But Greece later said it had not agreed to the talks, leading to accusations from Turkey that the EU country was shunning dialogue.

Greece and Cyprus have accused Turkey of breaching their sovereignty by drilling in their waters.

But Erdogan makes it clear that he would not compromise, saying: “Turkey is ready for any kind of sharing (of energy resources) as long as it is fair.”

Turkey on August 10 deployed the Oruc Reis research vessel and an escorting flotilla of warships to the waters between Cyprus and the Greek islands of Kastellorizo and Crete.

The vessel’s stay in the contested waters has been extended three times.

Greece responded by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates, not far from smaller ones Turkey conducted between Cyprus and Crete last week.


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