Ahead of Pompeo visit, senior US official says July 1 start date for annexation ‘not sacred’
Live updates (closed)

Palestinian said shot during raid in West Bank village where soldier was killed

Israeli troops continue searches in Yabad for suspects who threw rock that fatally struck Amit Ben-Yigal in the head

Israeli troops patrol in the northern West Bank village of Yabad after a soldier was killed there during a raid, May, 12, 2020. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli troops patrol in the northern West Bank village of Yabad after a soldier was killed there during a raid, May, 12, 2020. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

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

WHO head says 7 or 8 promising vaccine candidates

The World Health Organization chief says there are around seven or eight “top” candidates for a vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus and work on them is being accelerated.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on March 9, 2020 (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells a UN Economic and Social Council video briefing the original thinking two months ago was that it may take 12 to 18 months for a vaccine. But he says an accelerated effort is under way, helped by 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) pledged a week ago by leaders from 40 countries, organizations and banks for research, treatment and testing.

He says the $8 billion will not be enough, and additional funds will be needed to speed up the development of a vaccine, but more importantly to produce enough “to make sure that this vaccine reaches everyone — (and) there’s no one be left behind.”

“We have good candidates now,” Tedros says. “The top ones are around seven, eight. But we have more than a hundred candidates.”

“We are focusing on the few candidates we have which can bring probably better results and accelerating those candidates with better potential,” he adds, without identifying the top candidates.

— AP

Anti-Semitic incidents in US hit record high in 2019 — ADL report

American Jews were targets of more anti-Semitic incidents in 2019 than any other year over the past four decades, a surge marked by deadly attacks on a California synagogue, a Jewish grocery store in New Jersey and a rabbi’s New York home, the Anti-Defamation League reports in new findings.

The Jewish civil rights group counts 2,107 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, finding 61 physical assault cases, 1,127 instances of harassment and 919 acts of vandalism. That’s the highest annual tally since the New York City-based group began tracking anti-Semitic incidents in 1979. It also marks a 12% increase over the 1,879 incidents it counted in 2018.

Illustrative: People walk in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, on April 8, 2020. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO, attributes last year’s record high to a “normalization of anti-Semitic tropes,” the “charged politics of the day” and social media. This year, he says, the COVID-19 pandemic is fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

“Anti-Semitism is a virus. It is like a disease, and it persists,” Greenblatt says. “It’s sometimes known as the oldest hatred. It never seems to go away. There truly is no single antidote or cure.”

The ADL’s count of anti-Semitic assaults involved 95 victims. More than half of the assaults occurred in New York City, including 25 in Brooklyn. Eight of those Brooklyn assaults happened during a span of eight days in December, primarily in neighborhoods where many Orthodox Jews live.

— AP

Led by France, EU ministers to consider punitive steps over West Bank annexation

European Union foreign ministers say they will meet in Brussels Friday, a day after the swearing in of Israel’s new government, to consider punitive responses to Israel’s plans to extend its civil law to an unspecified portion of the West Bank.

Several European nations led by France, and including Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, have reportedly expressed support for such threats of punitive action in a bid to deter the new Israeli government from carrying out the move.

The EU bloc is Israel’s largest trading partner, grants Israel favored trading status, and helps fund Israeli scientific research and development through its massive Horizon 2020 program.

According to the Haaretz daily, the proposed steps include announcing that Israel would be prevented from entering into trade agreements with the bloc, receiving EU grants or participating in other forms of cooperation with the union.

It is not clear if the steps would apply to future agreement or freeze existing ones.

Two tombstones inscribed with swastikas found at US military cemetery

A group that advocates for religious freedoms in the military wants the Veterans Administration to remove German POW tombstones at a San Antonio military cemetery that are inscribed with Nazi symbols and sentiments.

The two tombstones, among 140 for World War II POWs at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, are marked with a swastika inside a German cross, and are inscribed, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people, and fatherland.”

A grave bearing a swastika at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. (Michael Field/Wikimedia Commons)

It’s not clear why just these two tombstones, among 132 Germans buried in the San Antonio cemetery’s POW section, have the Nazi inscriptions. Both of the deceased died in 1943.

There are an estimated 860 World War I and II-era German POWs buried in 43 cemeteries across the United States.


IDF soldier killed by rock thrown at troops during West Bank arrest raid

An Israeli soldier was killed when he was struck in the head by a large rock during an arrest raid in the northern West Bank in the predawn hours of the morning, the Israel Defense Forces says.

The soldier — named as First Sgt. Amit Ben-Yigal, 21 — was a member of the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion, which was carrying out a series of four arrests in the West Bank village of Yabed, west of Jenin, overnight, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman tells reporters.

As the troops were making their way out of the village on foot, following the arrests, a small group of roughly 10 Palestinian youths began throwing rocks at them.

The rock that killed the soldier appeared to have been thrown from the roof of one of the homes on the outskirts of the village.

“The rock hit the soldier directly in the head. The soldier was wearing a helmet. But it hit him at an angle,” Zilberman says.

The soldier received treatment from medics at the scene before being taken to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Ben-Yigal is the first IDF soldier to be killed in action in 2020, Zilberman adds.

— Judah Ari Gross

Culture Minister Regev announces return of theaters on June 14

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev announces that theaters will be allowed to open and hold performances, under certain conditions, in about a month.

“Theaters and cultural centers across the country will return to gradual activity on June 14,” Regev says in a statement.

“According to the agreements reached, the audience will be seated in the auditorium while maintaining two chairs between each person,” she notes.

Defense Minister Bennett on killing of IDF soldier: ‘We’ll settle the score’

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett vows that Israel will find those responsible for the death of  First Sgt. Amit Ben-Yigal, killed overnight when he was struck in the head by a large rock during an arrest raid in the northern West Bank.

“The IDF and security forces will get their hands on the degenerate terrorists who are responsible for this, we’ll settle the score,” Bennett says in a statement.

Father of soldier killed overnight: ‘I am broken, I am crushed’

The father of IDF soldier Amit Ben-Yigal, who was killed overnight when a rock was thrown at his head during an arrest raid in the West Bank, tells the Kan radio station that his son was an only child, requiring him to receive special permission in order to serve in a combat unit.

“I am broken, I am broken, I am broken, I am crushed,” Baruch Ben-Yigal says. “I don’t have words for it.”

— Judah Ari Gross

PM Netanyahu: ‘Israel’s long hand will get to the terrorist’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to the death of the IDF soldier killed in the West Bank.

“On my behalf and on behalf of the citizens of Israel, I would like to send sincere condolences to the family of Amit Ben-Yigal who was killed tonight in operational activities by a despicable human being.”

“As has happened in all cases in recent years, Israel’s long hand will reach the terrorist and bring an account with him. “

India reopening parts of huge rail network

India is reopening parts of its colossal rail network and will run limited trains as the country begins easing its nearly seven-week strict lockdown amid an increase in coronavirus infections.

Special trains will depart from select big cities, including Delhi and Mumbai, and run to full capacity. Passengers will be allowed to enter stations only if they are asymptomatic and clear thermal screening; they must maintain social distancing on board and will be given hand sanitizers upon entry and exit.

A deserted New Delhi railway station during lockdown in India, March 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

The train network often described as India’s lifeline spans 67,000 kilometers (42,000 miles) and carries more than 20 million passengers daily.

India’s rail, road and air services were suspended in late March as part of a tight nationwide lockdown that has helped keep confirmed coronavirus infections relatively low for a population of 1.3 billion. But in recent days, as the lockdown has eased and some businesses have reopened, infections and deaths due to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, are increasing.

India has confirmed 70,756 coronavirus cases, including 2,293 deaths.

— AP

Likud says Yamina no longer part of Netanyahu bloc

Strained coalition talks between the right-wing Yamina party and Likud have broken down, and the six-seat faction appears headed to the opposition, Likud says.

“Last night it became clear at long last that Yamina decided to resign from the right-wing bloc,” the Likud party charges in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called Yamina leader Naftali Bennett on Monday evening to offer the small six-seat party the ministries of education and Jerusalem, a “significant” deputy ministership responsible for national service volunteering and the Settlement Division overseeing development in West Bank settlements.

Bennett, in turn, demanded the health and transportation ministries, and the chairmanship of the Knesset’s powerful Law, Constitution and Justice Committee.

Bennett’s demands “have no connection to his party’s electoral size, or to the priorities of religious Zionism,” Likud charges, and accuses Yamina of “demanding four senior [cabinet] portfolios that have no connection to religious Zionism.”

Trump ends press conference after spat with Chinese-American reporter

US President Donald Trump abruptly ends his coronavirus press briefing after getting into a testy exchange with an Asian-American reporter.

CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang asked Trump why he continued to insist that the US was doing better than other countries when it came to testing for the virus.

“Why does that matter?” she asked. “Why is this a global competition when, every day, Americans are still losing their lives?”

“They’re losing their lives everywhere in the world,” Trump replied. “And maybe that’s a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me, ask China that question, OK?”

Jiang, who identifies herself in her Twitter bio as a “Chinese born West Virginian,” pushed back.

“Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically?” she said, implying it was due to her race.

“I’m saying it to anybody who would ask a nasty question like that,” Trump said.

He then attempted to move on to another reporter as Jiang continued to press him about his response.

Trump called on another female reporter but then immediately called on someone else. When the female reporter tried to ask her question, Trump abruptly ended the press conference and walked back into the White House.

— with AFP

Robert Kraft auctioning Super Bowl ring for coronavirus charity

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is putting his Super Bowl LI championship ring up for auction to raise money for those facing food insecurity.

The bidding has reached $500,000 after starting at $75,000. There’s 11 days left to bid.

New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman, left, embraces team owner Robert Kraft after defeating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LII, February 3, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kraft was asked to participate in the All-In Challenge, a digital fundraiser created by Fanatics founder and Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin.

Also included in the purchase of the ring is a trip in the Patriots’ team plane to Gillette Stadium in suburban Boston, where the buyer will be presented with the ring in the team’s trophy room and be invited to a personal meeting with Kraft.

Kraft said he picked the Super Bowl ring from the 2017 game because of the Patriots’ stunning 34-28 comeback win in overtime over the Atlanta Falcons — the Pats were down 28-3 in the third quarter — and the parallels that can be drawn with the current struggle in the United States against the coronavirus, Yahoo Sports reports.


No deaths, 14 new coronavirus cases confirmed overnight

In its morning announcement, the Health Ministry reports zero overnight COVID-19 deaths, keeping the total number of fatalities at 258.

Fourteen new cases of the virus are confirmed since last night’s tally, bringing the total cumulative tally to 16,526.

Sixty-seven people are in serious conditions; of those, 52 are on respiratory ventilation.

Pompeo: Annexation ‘a decision that the Israelis will make’

In an interview with the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom published a day before the US secretary of state’s visit to Israel, Mike Pompeo declines to confirm or deny reports in Israel that the White House is asking Israel to delay any annexation move in the West Bank.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the coronavirus during news conference at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP)

Asked if that was the point of his visit, Pompeo doesn’t answer directly, but says the decision on any application of sovereignty to parts of the West Bank was ultimately up to Israel.

“I have said previously that this is a decision that the Israelis will make. I want to understand how the new leadership, the soon-to-be new government, is thinking about that,” he tells the newspaper.

“We will certainly share with them our views on the best way, in our judgment, to proceed, consistent with what we have laid out in our Vision for Peace,” he adds.

New surge in virus cases as Russia eases restrictions

Russia reports another surge in coronavirus infections, bringing the total to more than 230,000 cases as authorities begin to gradually ease restrictions.

A government tally shows 10,899 infections over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 232,243.

Russia is now among the top four countries with the most coronavirus cases and is on track to have the second-highest number of infections after the United States.

Cemetery workers wearing protective gear bury a coronavirus victim at a cemetery on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg on May 6, 2020. (OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP)

Despite reporting more than 10,000 new cases a day for over a week, Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday announced that a “non-working” period in place for six weeks would be lifted from today.

A lockdown in Moscow, the epicenter of the crisis in Russia, remains in place until the end of May, but even in the capital some restrictions are being lifted.


Fauci to warn Senate of ‘needless death’ if US opens too soon

Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci will warn the Senate later today that the United States will see “needless suffering and death” from the coronavirus if it tries to reopen too soon, The New York Times reports.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the White House, April 17, 2020. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Fauci, who has become the trusted face of the government’s virus response, is one of four top medical experts due to testify remotely at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” Fauci wrote in an email to The New York Times yesterday

“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal,” says Fauci, a leader of the White House coronavirus task force.

— with AFP

22-year-old in critical condition for a month recovers from virus

A 22-year-old man who spent over a month hospitalized in critical condition from COVID-19 is released from the hospital, his family says.

Ashdod resident Afik Suissa contracted the virus while touring the United States in February.

He spent over a month at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital in critical condition, but is now being released to rehabilitative care at Sheba Medical Center.

3 Israeli coronavirus epicenters see infection rates drop

Three epicenters of coronavirus outbreaks in Israel see dramatic reductions in infection rates, according to Health Ministry statistics.

The Israeli Arab towns of Hura and Deir al-Assad, ranked first and second in infection rates in recent weeks, are both seeing a continued slowing of that rate, the ministry says. Just five confirmed cases were found in Hura over the past three days, and none in Deir al-Assad.

In third-place, the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak saw just 13 new cases over the past three days, according to the ministry.

IDF makes arrests in West Bank village where soldier was killed — Palestinian media

Israeli security forces make a number of arrests in the West Bank village of Yabed where earlier today an IDF soldier was killed when a rock was thrown at his head as his unit made arrests in the town, Palestinian media reports.

The Israel Defense Forces confirms that troops are operating in the village, but refuses to comment on the arrests.

— Judah Ari Gross

Funeral of soldier killed overnight to be held this evening in Be’er Yaakov

Sgt. First Class Amit Ben-Ygal, the IDF soldier who was killed during an arrest raid in the northern West Bank village of Yabed this morning, will be buried this evening in the military plot of the Be’er Yaakov cemetery in central Israel, the army says.

The funeral will be held at 6 p.m., the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Health Ministry chief Moshe Bar Siman-Tov announces he is stepping down

Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, one of the most important figures in the Israeli government response to the coronavirus outbreak, announces that he will step down from his post following the installment of a new health minister when the new government is sworn in on Thursday.

“I am proud of my years as director general and especially in dealing with the coronavirus crisis,” he says in a statement, announcing that he has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minsiter Ya’akov Litzman of his intention to step down.

In 2015 he was appointed by Litzman as the first non-doctor to lead the Health Ministry. Litzman will himself leave the ministry on Thursday to become minister of housing and construction.

“I will stay the time required to appropriately pass on the baton and I wish success to the next minister and director general,” Bar Siman-Tov says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, at a press conference about the coronavirus, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The move comes days after the cabinet voted to significantly ease restrictions on movement, including to allow Israelis to once again use outdoor gyms, against the recommendation of Bar Siman-Tov.

The health ministry director has taken a hardline approach in favor of broadly shutting down the country since the beginning of the pandemic and has sparred with Finance Ministry officials who have warned that such drastic measures could destroy the economy and that if the country is not reopened soon enough, it will be difficult to recover from the impending recession.

Ministers have also reportedly criticized Bar Siman-Tov for having too much influence over the government’s handling of the pandemic.

— Raoul Wootliff

Wuhan to test entire population after new virus cluster emerges

Wuhan plans to conduct coronavirus tests on the Chinese city’s entire population after new cases emerged for the first time in weeks in the cradle of the global pandemic, state media reporteds.

Officials have been ordered to submit by noon plans to administer nucleic acid tests to all residents in the city of 11 million people, according to an official notice carried by news outlets.

“Each district should make plans and arrangements to conduct nucleic acid tests on the entire population in its jurisdiction within a 10-day time limit,” the notice says, although it’s unclear when testing would begin.

The plan comes after Wuhan reported the first cluster of new COVID-19 infections since the city re-opened after a 76-day lockdown on April 8. Six new cases were reported on Sunday and Monday from a residential compound in Dongxihu District.


Palestinian attempts to stab cops at checkpoint north of Jerusalem, is shot

A Palestinian assailant attempted to stab security officers at the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem, police say.

The assailant was “neutralized,” a statement says.

The Hatzalah rescue organization says the stabber was shot in the leg, though his condition was not yet known.

Border Police officers at the scene opened fire on the man after he attempted to stab other officers, police said. No other details were immediately available.

No officer was hurt in the incident.

Health minister praises outgoing director general

Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman praises his director general Moshe Bar-Siman Tov, who announced earlier this afternoon that he was stepping down from the role.

“I was honored to work with the outgoing director general who managed the coronavirus crisis exceptionally,” Litzman says in a statement.

“Throughout the period, we were required to make tough decisions to lead the State of Israel to victory in the fight against the coronavirus. With God’s help, and thanks to his resourcefulness and professional standards shown by [Bar-Siman Tov], we have so far managed the crisis, and are hoping that our success will continue until we reach a full victory soon,” he adds.

Pope Frances urges governments to invest more in health services

Pope Francis is urging governments to hire more nurses and invest in their training and working conditions, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a “number of deficiencies” in the way they provide medical care for their people.

Francis hailed the “courage and sacrifice” of nurses and says their “fundamental importance” had been reaffirmed during the pandemic. He issued the message on the World Health Organization’s International Nurses Day and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Francis notes that many nurses have died during the pandemic. He asks world leaders “to invest in health care as the primary common good, by strengthening its systems and employing greater numbers of nurses, so as to ensure adequate care to everyone, with respect for the dignity of each person.”

— AP

Netanyahu offers Edelstein Health Ministry — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered the coveted health portfolio to former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, according to Channel 13.

There was no word in the report regarding Edelstein’s response.

“At this stage we’re not addressing reports in the media about the distribution of one or another [ministerial] portfolios,” Likud says in a statement.

Edelstein held the position of Knesset speaker from 2013 until earlier this year, when he defied the High Court of Justice on convening the parliament. The post was then taken up by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

As part of the coalition agreement, Blue and White demanded Edelstein not be given the position again.

German court rejects Iraqi’s appeal over rape, murder of Jewish teen

BERLIN — A German federal court says it has thrown out a rejected Iraqi asylum-seeker’s appeal against his conviction for raping and murdering a 14-year-old local girl.

Ali Bashar was convicted by the Wiesbaden state court in July following a four-month trial in a case that fueled tensions over migration. The court ruled there was a “particular severity of guilt,” meaning that he likely won’t be released after 15 years as is common in Germany.

Susanna Feldman, 14, a German Jewish schoolgirl, whose body was found buried on the outskirts of the western German city of Wiesbaden on June 6, 2018 (via Facebook)

Bashar, who was 21 at the time of the killing, was convicted of assaulting and murdering Susanna Feldman in Wiesbaden in May 2018.

Bashar and his family abruptly left a home for asylum applicants in Germany after the killing, and he was later arrested by Kurdish forces in Iraq, handed over to German police officers and flown back to Germany. Bashar is believed to have arrived in Germany in October 2015.

The Federal Court of Justice says it threw out Bashar’s appeal in an April 28 ruling. Among other objections to his conviction, he had argued that his return from Iraq constituted a “procedural impediment.”

— AP

Putin spokesman ill with coronavirus

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says he is hospitalized with the coronavirus.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells the Interfax news agency, “Yes, I’ve gotten sick. I’m being treated.”

The announcement comes just a day after Putin said Russia was successful in slowing down infections and announced easing some of the nationwide lockdown restrictions.

Russia has reported more than 232,000 confirmed coronavirus cases as of today. Hours before Putin made televised remarks yesterday about ending the country’s partial economic lockdown, health officials reported a daily record of over 11,600 new cases.

— AP

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at a meeting between Russian President and his Serbian counterpart in Sochi, Russia, December 4, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool/AFP)

Russia now has second most coronavirus cases in the world

MOSCOW — Russia now has the world’s second-highest number of coronavirus infections after reporting another 10,899 new cases today, according to an AFP tally.

The new cases bring Russia’s total to 232,243, surpassing the number of infections in Britain and Spain and now behind only the United States which has reported more than 1.3 million, according to the tally compiled from official sources.

Russia has been reporting more than 10,000 new cases per day for over a week.

Officials say the high number of cases reflects a huge testing campaign, with some 5.8 million tests carried out so far.

More than half of the cases have been reported in Moscow and the surrounding region.

With only 2,116 virus deaths reported to date, Russia’s mortality rate has been much lower in comparison with other countries with similar infection rates.

Authorities say this is because Russia was able to learn lessons from the experiences of western Europe, moving quickly to isolate travelers and people at risk, convert hospitals to treating virus patients and to test and quarantine those infected.

But critics have cast doubt on the numbers, accusing officials of under-counting by blaming virus-related deaths on other causes.


Gantz said delaying resignation as Knesset speaker over concerns coalition deal could collapse

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is considering remaining Knesset speaker until the swearing-in of the new government over concerns his coalition deal with Likud could collapse, the Haaretz daily reports.

Under the coalition agreement inked between Likud and Blue and White, Gantz is supposed to resign as Knesset speaker 48 hours before the swearing-in of the government, which is scheduled for Thursday at 1 p.m.

According to Haaretz, Gantz is also weighing holding off on resigning the speakership over concerns the swearing-in of the government could be delayed and because it can be used as leverage with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as the speaker has control over the Knesset plenum’s agenda.

The resignation of a speaker doesn’t come into effect until 48 hours after it is submitted and under the Knesset’s Rules of Procedure, the speaker can’t be a minister.

To get around this, Blue and White is looking into adopting a legal stance that Gantz’s tenure as speaker will automatically end when he is sworn in as defense minister in the new government, the newspaper says.

Benny Gantz delivers his maiden speech as Knesset speaker, March 26, 2020. (Knesset)

Municipal leaders reject Education Ministry plan for grades 4-10 to return to school

Mayors and local council chiefs are telling Prime Minister Netanyahu that grades 4 through 10 will not return to schools under their jurisdiction next week in accordance with an Education Ministry plan.

The plan, released yesterday, calls for a limited resumption of classes to prevent spreading of the coronavirus, with students in 4th-6th grades only at school for five to six hours a week and 7th-10th graders at school for two to three days a week.

“The return plan doesn’t constitute a return to school and doesn’t provide a solution to anyone,” the heads of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel and the Regional Council Center write in a letter to Netanyahu. “As long as the [education] system doesn’t return to full operations we cannot open educational institutions for additional grades.”

Israel said to tell US it’ll reassess China-linked firm’s bid to build desalination plant

Israel is reassessing a China-linked firm’s bid for a contract to build a desalination plant following scrutiny from the United States, Channel 13 news reports.

According to the network, Israeli officials recently informed the Trump administration of this, ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s arrival in Israel tomorrow.

China and Israel have stepped up trade and business ties in recent years and launched free trade talks, but senior security officials have sounded alarm bells over Chinese involvement in infrastructure projects, warning they are a security risk and could jeopardize ties with the US.

Health Ministry said concerned over fresh virus outbreak in Haredi areas after Lag B’Omer

Health officials are concerned some ultra-Orthodox areas may need to be put under lockdown again if celebrations for Lag B’Omer lead to a renewed coronavirus outbreak, the Haaretz daily reports.

The newspaper quotes Health Ministry sources saying they’re closely following the infection rate in Haredi neighborhoods and cities in case restrictions need to be reimposed there.

One source says for areas at a heightened risk of a fresh outbreak, the ministry will provide help to local authorities, conduct outreach with community leaders and if needed declare them “restricted zones.”

Despite a ban on large gatherings and bonfires for Lag B’Omer, which began last night and ends this evening, some areas with large ultra-Orthodox populations saw violations of the emergency ordinances put in place for the holiday, such as in Jerusalem.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men dance during celebrations for the Lag B’Omer in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on May 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Clashes break out between Haredi, police during Lag B’Omer festivities at Mount Meron

Clashes break out at Mount Meron after a group of ultra-Orthodox youth trespassed Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave site, Channel 12 news reports.

Footage broadcast by the network shows police scuffling wih a number of young Haredi men.

The government put strict limitations on the number of people who could go to the site this year for Lag B’Omer due to concerns over the coronavirus.

Hundreds attend funeral for IDF soldier killed by rock during West Bank raid

Hundreds of people are attending the funeral of IDF soldier Amit Ben-Ygal, who was killed overnight during a raid in the West Bank.

The funeral is being held at the cemetery in the central city of Beer Yaakov.

“My son is a hero,” Ben-Ygal’s mother cries out over his grave, according to Channel 12 news. “I’ll be strong, guard us from above.”

Ben-Ygal’s father also eulogizes his only child.

“Amit isn’t an only child. He has millions of other siblings who are sad, who admire [him] and who know our lives in the Land of Israel depend on the courage of Amit and his friends,” Baruch Ben-Ygal says.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the funeral as the representative for the government.

“Golani soldiers, you’ll go back to fighting and find the terrorist and wicked [person] who did this and together we’ll defeat our enemies,” he says.

Ben-Ygal, a member of the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, was struck in the head by a rock during an operation in the Palestinian village of Yabed.

Family and friends attend the funeral of IDF soldier Amit Ben-Ygal at the cemetery in the central city of Beer Yaakov, May 12, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Over 10 Palestinians arrested in West Bank village where Israeli soldier was killed

Israeli troops have detained over 10 residents of a building from which a large rock was thrown at an IDF soldier earlier today, killing him, the military says.

They are not necessarily suspected of having perpetrated the attack, in which Sgt. First Class Amit Ben-Ygal was killed, but were brought in for questioning due to them living in the building where the attack was carried out, an army spokesperson says.

The Shin Bet security service will interrogate the suspects.

“Soldiers are continuing to search the area and are working to trap the terrorist,” the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian men in the northern West Bank village of Yabad on May 12, 2020, after an Israeli soldier was killed there during a raid. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Yuli Edelstein accepts offer of health portfolio in new government

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein will be appointed health minister in the new government, he and Prime Minister Netanyahu announce.

“After serving the citizens of Israel for seven years as Knesset speaker, I chose to take on the central and signicant challenge facing the State of Israel, the fight against the coronavirus and preparing the health system for new challenges,” Edelstein says in a joint statement with Netanyahu.

Edelstein met with Netanyahu earlier today, during which the latter says he offered a choice of senior ministerial portfolios that Likud holds.

“I thank Edelstein for acceding to my request and choosing the most senior and important portfolio… in particular at this time,” Netanyahu says, adding the Likud No. 2 will also be a member of the security cabinet and deputy chairman of a ministerial body overseeing the response to the coronavirus.

Edelstein had served as Knesset speaker since 2013 but resigned in March rather than following a High Court of Justice order to hold a vote on his replacement.

He wanted to return to the speakership in the new coalition, but had been opposed by Blue and White.

Outgoing Health Minister Litzman congratulates Edelstein on appointment

Outgoing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman congratulates Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who will take over at the Health Ministry in the new government.

“It’s clear to me that MK Yuli Edelstein, as a worthy and principled person, is best suited for the challenging and important position,” Litzman says in a statement.

He adds: “I’m sure that as health minister he can continue to lead the health system in dealing with the coronavirus virus and the rest of the challenges before us, with the help of God.”

Yamina rages at Netanyahu for giving health portfolio to Edelstein

Yamina is fuming at Prime Minister Netanyahu after Likud MK Yuli Edelstein accepted his offer to be health minister in the next government, which party leader Naftali Bennett was lobbying for.

“Netanyahu slammed the door on our entry to the government,” a Yamina source is quoted saying in a statement from the party. “He looked for the perfect way to humiliate Yamina and its voters and succeeded in this.”

The source adds: “This is a calculated move by Netanyahu to destroy the alliance with religious Zionism. Netanyahu’s betrayal of his biggest supporters signals the beginning of his end in politics.”

Italy sees big jump in new coronavirus cases

ROME — A big jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy’s hardest-hit region contributes to the country’s highest day-to-day increase in several days.

According to Health Ministry data, 1,033 cases were confirmed in Lombardy since last night, accounting for the majority of Italy’s 1,402 new cases. In contrast, the last few days had seen Lombardy’s daily new caseload running in the few hundreds.

Overall, Italy counts 221,216 confirmed coronavirus infections. Experts say the true number is doubtlessly much higher, pointing out that many people with mild symptoms often don’t get tested.

Authorities register 172 deaths in infected patients in the 24-hour period ending this evening, raising to 30,911 the confirmed death toll. Nearly half of those deaths have occurred in Lombardy, where the country’s outbreak began in late February.

Health officials are anxiously awaiting daily case numbers later in the week to determine if a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions on May 4 caused any rise in contagion rates.

— AP

23 new virus cases recorded over past day; death toll rises to 260

The Health Ministry announces 23 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections in Israel to 16,529.

It also announces two more fatalities from the virus, raising the death toll to 260.

According to the ministry’s figures, there are 4,186 active COVID-19 cases in Israel. Sixty-six people are in serious condition, 55 of whom are on respirators.

Another 53 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 12,083 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.

The infection rate in Israel has dropped significantly in recent weeks, with the government rolling back far-reaching restrictions on movement, gatherings and economic activity put in place to contain the pandemic.

Netanyahu insists he wants Yamina in government, but claims they made ‘impossible’ requests

Prime Minister Netanyahu is insisting he wants Yamina in the next government but accuses the national-religious party of rejecting his “generous offer” to join.

“They requested four senior [ministerial] portfolios for six Knesset members,” he claims in a video statement, saying this is “impossible.”

He also complains that Yamina, a member of his right-wing religious bloc, didn’t recommend he be tasked with forming the new government last week.

“I hope a change will occur. In any case, religious Zionism is our blood and flesh. Most religious Zionists voted for Likud, they’re represented by Likud and the Likud-led government will continue to look out for our shared interests and values,” Netanyahu says.

Ahead of Pompeo visit, senior US official says July 1 start date for annexation ‘not sacred’

A senior US official tells Channel 13 news that July 1, the day when the new government can begin advancing annexation in the West Bank as part of Trump’s peace plan, “is not a sacred date” for the United States.

The official, who speaks to the network ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s scheduled arrival in Israel tomorrow, says this message was also passed to Israeli officials.

The official adds that the Trump administration is not quite ready to deal with annexation, as it copes with the coronavirus outbreak and other issues.

“The timetable of the Israelis isn’t rigid for us,” the official says.

The official also warns the Palestinians of unspecified “negative consequences” if they don’t engage in peace talks with Israel.

“If the Palestinians continue to sit on the side and don’t come to negotiate there will be negative consequences for them and it will make it easier for us to make decisions concerning Israeli annexation.”

Netanyahu said to offer Education Ministry to Likud’s Steinitz

Prime Minister Netanyahu has offered Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz, who currently holds the energy portfolio, to take over at the Education Ministry in the next government, Channel 12 news reports.

The current education minister is Rafi Peretz of the Yamina party, which is threatening to head to the opposition amid disagreements with Netanyahu over it’s role in the new coalition.

However, the Kan public broadcaster reports that Netanyahu has told associates he’s saving the Education Ministry for Yamina.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2019. (Flash90)

Some 200 ultra-Orthodox men arrested in Mount Meron clashes

Some 200 people have been arrested during clashes between officers and ultra-Orthodox Jews at Mount Meron.

Police say those arrested “attacked officers, threw rocks toward them and forcibly resisted dispersing.”

The clashes came after people broke into Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave site at Mount Meron, which emergency ordinances sharply limited access to during Lag B’Omer to prevent spreading of the coronavirus.

Top American virus expert warns of ‘serious’ consequences if US reopens too fast

WASHINGTON — The US government’s top infectious disease expert warns Congress that ending lockdowns too quickly could bring severe consequences, including new outbreaks of coronavirus just as the country tries to overcome the pandemic.

Anthony Fauci tells a Senate panel the federal government had developed guidelines for local jurisdictions on how to safely reopen activities, and a sustained decrease in cases for 14 days was a vital first step.

“If a community or a state or region doesn’t go by those guidelines and reopens… the consequences could be really serious,” says Fauci.

Fauci acknowledges that US deaths caused by the virus are likely higher than the roughly 80,000 fatalities in the current official government toll.

This, he says, was because many people particularly in hardest-hit New York died at home before they could be admitted to a hospital.

But he also says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects of a vaccine, with eight candidates currently undergoing clinical trials.

“We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners,” he says. “In other words, it’s multiple shots on goal.”


Flouting ban on gatherings, hundreds take part in Lag B’Omer event in Jerusalem

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews took part in a Lag B’Omer event today in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, despite a ban on large gatherings over the holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Quoting unnamed eye witnesses, Channel 12 news says no cops were present and the event ended without any police intervention.

The network puts turnout at around 2,000.

Hundreds of people also crowded Mea Shearim last night to celebrate Lag B’Omer in violation of the emergency ordinances put in place over the holiday.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in an event for Lag B’Omer in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on May 12, 2020, flouting a ban on large gatherings over the holiday. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

Gantz resigns as Knesset speaker ahead of new government’s swearing-in

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz submits his resignation as Knesset speaker, ahead of the expected swearing-in of the new government on Thursday.

As a Knesset speaker’s resignation doesn’t take effect for 48 hours and the speaker can’t serve simultaneously as a government minister, Gantz had to resign today to be sworn-in as defense minister Thursday.

Earlier reports said Gantz was considering holding off on resigning over concerns the coalition deal between Blue and White and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party could fall apart and that the swearing-in of the government could be delayed.

Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin, who is set to be the new Knesset speaker, simultaneously resigns as tourism minister.

Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz on April 20, 2020, at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Knesset. (Flash90)

Airports authority said to draw up new travel guidelines for when flights resume

The Israel Airports Authority has drawn up new rules for travelers flying out of Ben Gurion Airport for when international travel can resume, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, travelers will be required to arrive at the airport four hours before their flights; will have to show their ticket and passport at the terminal entrance; the number of people who can shop at duty free stores will be limited; and robots will check people’s temperatures and whether they are wearing a mask, among other measures.

While no official date has been given for when commercial flights will resume, the expected return date is sometime in July.

Palestinian said shot during raid in West Bank village where soldier was killed

IDF soldiers shoot and injure a young Palestinian man during a raid in the village of Yabad this evening, according to Palestinian media reports.

Israeli troops are operating in the northern West Bank village after Golani Brigade soldier Amit Ben-Yigal was killed there during an operation overnight when a rock was thrown from a roof and struck him in the head.

Pence to ‘keep distance’ from Trump for a few days after aide tests positive for virus

WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence, whose press secretary tested positive for coronavirus, has decided to “keep his distance” from President Donald Trump for a few days, the White House says.

Katie Miller, Pence’s press secretary, tested positive for the virus last week along with a personal valet to Trump.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, “has made the choice to keep his distance for a few days” from the president.

“I would just note that that’s his personal decision to make that,” McEnany says. “As to how many days he does that, that’s a decision for the vice president.”

Trump said yesterday that Pence has tested negative for the virus which has left more than 80,000 people dead in the United States.

McEnany was also asked by a reporter during a briefing in the White House press room why she wasn’t wearing a mask.

She says she was sufficiently distant from the reporters in the room who were wearing masks themselves.

“I had a negative test today and a negative test yesterday and I’m in an OK place,” McEnany says.


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Ahead of Pompeo visit, senior US official says July 1 start date for annexation ‘not sacred’

A senior US official tells Channel 13 news that July 1, the day when the new government can begin advancing annexation in the West Bank as part of Trump’s peace plan, “is not a sacred date” for the United States.

The official, who speaks to the network ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s scheduled arrival in Israel tomorrow, says this message was also passed to Israeli officials.

The official adds that the Trump administration is not quite ready to deal with annexation, as it copes with the coronavirus outbreak and other issues.

“The timetable of the Israelis isn’t rigid for us,” the official says.

The official also warns the Palestinians of unspecified “negative consequences” if they don’t engage in peace talks with Israel.

“If the Palestinians continue to sit on the side and don’t come to negotiate there will be negative consequences for them and it will make it easier for us to make decisions concerning Israeli annexation.”