The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s developments as they unfolded.
Finance Minister Israel Katz says he opposes further mass handouts to the public amid the coronavirus pandemic, amid reports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking just that ahead of the High Holiday season next month.
Speaking to 90FM Radio this morning, Katz said, “I don’t think we should do that… I’m not aware of anything like that and I don’t think it will happen.”
The government this week began distributing grants to most Israeli citizens, dependent on their family status and the number of children they have, excluding high wage earners.
China and the World Health Organization are discussing plans to trace the origin of the coronavirus outbreak following a visit to the country by two experts from the UN agency, the foreign ministry says.
Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin tells reporters the experts conducted “preparatory consultations on scientific research cooperation on virus tracing” during their two-week stay, which ended Sunday.
Their talks touched on research in the areas of population, environment, molecules, animal traceability and transmission routes of the coronavirus, as well as plans for further scientific research, Wang says.
The two sides also further investigated the possible animal source, intermediate host and transmission route of the coronavirus to “more effectively prevent and control the epidemic.”
A bill that will amend the law to make it easier for importers to bring a wider range of electrical goods into the country passes its first reading in the Knesset.
The amendment, proposed by the Energy Ministry, frees importers from the cost and bureaucracy of having special laboratories confirm the energy efficiency of appliances new to the Israeli market.
The manufacturers’ energy efficiency specifications will be sufficient.
— Sue Surkes
A California-based member of an Iranian militant opposition group in exile was abducted by Iran while staying in Dubai, his family says.
The suspected cross-border abduction of Jamshid Sharmahd appears corroborated by mobile phone location data, shared by his family with The Associated Press, that suggests he was taken to neighboring Oman before heading to Iran.
Iran hasn’t said how it detained Sharmahd, though its announcement of the arrest came against the backdrop of covert actions conducted by Iran amid heightened tensions with the US over Tehran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran accuses Sharmahd, 65, of Glendora, California of planning a 2008 attack on a mosque that killed 14 people and wounded over 200 others, as well as plotting other assaults through the little-known Kingdom Assembly of Iran and its Tondar militant wing. It aired an interview of him on state television — footage that resembled many other suspected coerced confessions broadcast by the Iranian government in the last decade.
Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chairwoman Miki Haimovich (Blue and White) and Likud’s MK Katrin Shitrit-Peretz submit a private bill backed by 17 other lawmakers to help environmental and wildlife groups in their bid to get hunting “for sport” banned, and the fines for illegal hunting increased.
The bill provides for prison sentences to be raised from 1-2 years to four years and for fines to be increased from a ceiling of NIS 150,000 ($44,000) to NIS 900,000 (just under $265,000).
There are an estimated 2,000 “sport” hunters who carry licenses from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. In addition, there are thousands of instances of illegal hunting each year that result in the deaths of up to 1,000 gazelles, which are in danger of extinction in Israel, and hundreds of porcupines, hares, and birds.
The wildlife protection law has not been updated since 1955.
— Sue Surkes
Iran confirms over 2,700 new COVID-19 infections today, its highest single-day count in more than a month, as the health ministry calls for those without masks to be fined.
Deaths and infections from the novel coronavirus have been on a rising trajectory in the Islamic Republic since hitting a months-long low in May.
This has prompted Iran to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces and reimpose restrictions lifted gradually since April to reopen the economy.
Despite the rule, people without masks can still be seen inside the capitals’ shops and banks, and state television often criticizes them for doing so.
France could “at any moment” lose control over the spread of the coronavirus, the government’s COVID-19 scientific council warns as official data shows the first rise in intensive care patients since April.
In an opinion prepared for the government, the council warns “the virus has recently been circulating more actively, with an increased loss of distancing and barrier measures” since France emerged from a strict two-month lockdown in May.
“The balance is fragile and we can change course at any time to a less controlled scenario like in Spain for example,” it says.
And the council warns of a possible “resumption of circulation of the virus at a high level” by autumn 2020, after the August summer holidays.
Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata yesterday greeted 140 new immigrants from France as they arrived at Ben Gurion Airport despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The flight was arranged by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
“In 2020, we will welcome over ten thousand olim from all over the world,” Tamano-Shata said. “It is a great privilege for me… to manage aliyah during this challenging time.”
She added: “I congratulate our brothers and sisters from France, who are Zionists and full of love for this country… every Jew should know that the gates of this country are still open, even during an emergency or crisis.”
Mixed with the happiness of the new immigrants’ arrival are grim descriptions by some of rising anti-Semitic sentiments in France, and the difficulty of displaying Jewish symbols in public.
Lionel Giuili, 41, said he did not experience any violence, but “if, for example, while I was sitting and eating in my store and I heard someone enter the store, I automatically took off my kippah. Neither I nor my children walked around the street with Jewish symbols… I feel free in Israel, and I no longer have to hide my Jewish identity. This reflex I developed that made me take my kippah off and put it in my pocket will no longer be necessary as I will be living in Israel.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns the Hezbollah terrorist group and others after Israeli forces said they thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria by militants.
The military announced late Monday that it had struck targets in Syria after the militants tried to plant explosives in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israel struck the four suspects, who were believed to have been killed.
Netanyahu, while touring a military base, says Israel will not hesitate to take further action.
“We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers. We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves. I suggest to all of them, including Hezbollah, to consider this,” he says.
— with agencies
Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich (Blue and White) tours settlements in the West Bank’s northern Samaria region and meets with local leaders.
Meeting with Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, Yankelevich says: “Judea and Samaria are the lands of our forefathers. Some people talk of these places in terms of benefit and cost.
“We must always stress that this is our land, we should not be ashamed to say it,” she says. “Applying sovereignty should eventually be our goal, under the right conditions.”
Though officially Blue and White’s leaders have said they support the annexation plan, they have couched such statements with caveats that this should only be done with the support and agreement of Israel’s neighbors — a virtual impossibility without a bilateral peace accord.
The World Health Organization urges Russia to follow the established guidelines for producing safe and effective vaccines after Moscow announced plans to start swiftly producing COVID-19 jabs.
Russia said yesterday it aims to launch mass production of a coronavirus vaccine in September and turn out “several million” doses per month by next year.
Asked about the developments in Russia, the WHO stresses that all vaccine candidates should go through the full stages of testing before being rolled out.
“There are established practices and there are guidelines out,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier tells reporters at the United Nations in Geneva. “Any vaccine…[or medicine] for this purpose should be, of course, going through all the various trials and tests before being licensed for roll-out,” he says.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a falafel shop in Ramle earlier, asking owners if they had received government assistance for their business and if customers were returning.
As he walked away backers cried out “Bibi we love you,” and other supportive comments, while one shouted out “Bibi, death to all leftists! Leftists are bastards, Bibi, death to the left!”
Netanyahu has been accused by rivals and critics of fomenting divisions and hatred between Israel’s political camps. There are now several headlines in Hebrew media saying Netanyahu failed to respond to those comments or condemn them — though we will note that the prime minister was already some 20 meters away as the inflammatory comments were made, and may very well not have heard them.
Hebrew speakers can judge for themselves:
ראש הממשלה מסייר עכשיו ברמלה. המעריצים: "ביבי ימותו כל השמאלנים, השמאלנים מניאקים, כל השמאל מת". pic.twitter.com/FePzlaZOKA
— ישכר זלמנוביץ (@Isachar1495) August 4, 2020
Afghan authorities are searching for about 270 inmates — most of them Islamic State fighters — who remain on the loose after escaping during a deadly prison raid.
At least 29 people were killed when Islamic State gunmen attacked the facility in Jalalabad on Sunday, with fierce fighting lasting until yesterday afternoon.
More than 1,300 inmates tried to escape, a senior Afghan security official tells AFP on condition of anonymity, but most were either swiftly re-arrested or surrendered when surrounded by security forces.
But some 270 prisoners are “still on the loose”, the official says. “Most of those who escaped are from ISKP,” he says, referring to Islamic State’s Afghan branch, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province.
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a tiny island in the remote Western Pacific were rescued after Australian and US warplanes spotted a giant “SOS” they had scrawled on the beach, officials say.
The Australian Defence Force says it found the men Sunday on tiny Pikelot Island, about 190 kilometers (115 miles) from where they set sail three days earlier. The men blew off course and ran out of fuel in a seven-meter (23-foot) skiff between two of the 600-plus islands and atolls that make up Micronesia.
Alerted by the Pacific Rescue and Coordination Centre in Guam, US and Australian military aircraft joined the search for the missing vessel and spotted their SOS message Sunday.
A helicopter dispatched from Australia’s HMAS Canberra flew to the island with food and water and found the three men in good condition.
Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Daniel Sperber and Prof. Yael Shemesh of Bar Ilan University’s Bible Studies Department ask the Chief Rabbinate to reverse a decision by its council to allow the most stringent level of kosher certification — Mehadrin — for imported goose and duck liver (foie gras), on animal welfare grounds.
Such force feeding was banned in Israel in a 2003 law that came into effect in 2006.
In a letter to Ashkenazi chief Rabbi David Lau, the two write that force-feeding is one of the most shocking forms of animal abuse. In a separate letter, they remind the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef of a ruling given by his late father, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, against the practice because of the suffering it causes and the doubts raised that liver produced in such as way is ritually fit for consumption.
France is still the main producer and consumer of foie gras.
— Sue Surkes
The Prime Minister’s Office says Benjamin Netanyahu did not hear when a supporter called out “Death to leftists” as he visited a falafel shop in the city of Ramle.
Netanyahu, who has accused the left of ignoring incitement against him at mass protests in recent weeks, tweets: “I’m glad the left has grown ears. I am consistent: I condemn incitement and violence on any side, both outside my home in leftist protests and in the street.”
He adds: “I expect Yair Lapid, Aymen Odeh and leftist leaders to condemn incitement and threats of murder at the protests they are leading against me.”
Odeh and Lapid, notably, are not leading the demonstrations against the prime minister.
Syria’s al-Watan newspaper claims that the four people killed by the border fence in Sunday night’s security incident were “four citizens walking in the village close to the ceasefire zone, when they were targeted by Israeli shelling.”
The Israeli army has said the four were militants who crossed the border and planted bombs to attack Israeli troops.
Local sources tells al-Watan that among the “martyrs” was one Faisal al-Saeed, a local official in Syria’s ruling Ba’ath party.
Al-Watan is owned by Rami Makhlouf, formerly one of Syria’s richest men and a close confidant of President Bashar Assad.
— with Aaron Boxerman
There are preliminary reports of a huge explosion at the port of Lebanon capital Beirut.
The cause of the blast is not immediately clear, though one Lebanese network says it may have been a cache of fireworks.
Journalists say glass windows in their homes exploded from miles away.
It is not clear whether there are casualties.
Here are two videos of the incident and its aftermath.
— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 4, 2020
— Disclose.tv ???? (@disclosetv) August 4, 2020
Another video from a street in Beirut shows blasted foliage, dust covered cars and smoke in the air, all apparently the result of the explosion at the city’s port.
Beirut now pic.twitter.com/sBHH8C2l1f
— Elie W. Fawaz (@ElieFawaz) August 4, 2020
Lebanese media reports indicate the blast in Beirut was an accident, not an attack of some sort.
Pro-Hezbollah network al-Mayadeen says: “According to preliminary information, the explosion at the port is not a terrorist attack.
Meanwhile LBCI Lebanon News and Hezbollah’s al-Manar both concur that the cause was a fireworks stockpile.
A new video shows a small mushroom cloud at the site.
— Aleph א The Reaper (@no_itsmyturn) August 4, 2020
Lebanese media says many people are trapped under rubble, with dozens already being taken to hospitals in Beirut’s downtown following the explosion at the city’s port.
Meanwhile, al-Mayadeen now says “the thing that exploded in the Beirut port now seems to have contained oil.”
A new video does appear to show firework sparkles amid the preliminary blasts at the site, prior to the major secondary explosion.
#BREAKING – #Lebanese media claims the MASSIVE #explosions in #Beirut occurred in a fireworks warehouse. Fireworks can be seen in the video, moments later a secondary explosion caused most of the damage. #Lebanon pic.twitter.com/ddM0tojmlU
— SV News ???? (@SVNewsAlerts) August 4, 2020
Larry Johnson, a former NFL running back who played seven seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs, tweeted multiple times to his more than 147,000 followers over the weekend that a Jewish “cabal” is involved in “Human Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Pedophilia, Ritualistic Child Torture, Perversion, Human Sacrifice/Murder.” And on Monday, he showed no signs of apologizing.
Johnson framed one of those tweets as a response to Max Kellerman, the Jewish co-host of ESPN’s “First Take” show, who said on the air recently that “Jews do not have a plan for world domination.” Kellerman was responding to social media posts by another NFL star, DeSean Jackson, who last month posted a quote he attributed to Adolf Hitler accusing Jews of having a “plan for world domination.” Jackson subsequently removed the post and apologized.
A Racial Disparity I’m proud to be apart of…
African Americans overwhelmingly underperform in the area of:
Ritualistic Child Torture
…than the Jewish cabal @maxkellerman said don’t exist.
— Larry Johnson (@2LarryJohnson7) August 2, 2020
On Saturday, Johnson posted a video of Alan Dershowitz speaking to the pro-Israel organization Stand With Us in which the attorney said, in part, “We have earned the right to influence public debate, we have earned the right to be heard.”
Johnson’s accompanying tweet accused Jews of seeking to conceal “a lucrative market in pedophilia, human trafficking, child sex trafficking & torture.”
On Monday, Johnson noted the attention his tweets had garnered, posting: “I angered ‘Rabbis’ from here to Israel.”
US President Donald Trump has a special place in his heart for Semites, it appears — “Yo-Semites” in particular.
At a White House event to sign the Great American Outdoors Act, a conservation bill, Trump says: “When young Americans… gaze upon Yosemite’s towering Sequoias, their love of country grows stronger.”
But he struggles to say the word Yosemite (pronounced Yoh-sem-it-ee), instead saying the word as if he’s trying out some street-speak on a Jew.
— C J (@TweetrHandle) August 4, 2020
An Associated Press photographer near Beirut’s port says he witnessed people wounded on the ground and widespread destruction in central Beirut.
Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosion.
The loud blast in Beirut’s port area was felt across large parts of the city and some districts lost electricity.
“Buildings are shaking,” tweeted one resident, while another wrote: “An enormous, deafening explosion just engulfed Beirut. Heard it from miles away”.
Online footage from a Lebanese newspaper office shows blown out windows, scattered furniture and demolished interior paneling.
The Lebanese city of Beirut has experienced a huge blast, thought to have been in the area of the docks, which has shattered windows and rocked buildings.
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) August 4, 2020
— AP and AFP
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid-Telem, lashes the prime minister after Benjamin Netanyahu suggested earlier that he is leading public demonstrations against him.
“Netanyahu has again accused me of encouraging protesters. That’s not an accusation, it’s a compliment. Yes, I support them. Besides, Israel’s greatest inciter and hatemonger shouldn’t reproach us.”
Al-Manar TV is now reporting “a number of deaths” in the explosion in Beirut.
It does not say how many were killed.
A security source tells AFP two explosions shook the port area of the city, leaving dozens wounded.
An AFP correspondent at the scene says every shop in the Hamra commercial district sustained damage, with entire shopfronts destroyed, windows shattered and many cars wrecked.
Injured people are walking in the street, while outside the Clemenceau Medical Center, dozens of wounded people, many covered in blood, rush to be admitted to the center, including children.
Destroyed cars were abandoned in the street with their airbags inflated.
— with AFP
Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hasan says the explosion in Beirut has caused “a very high number of injuries” and massive damage.
The United States has successfully tested an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a launch directed from an airborne command center, the Air Force says.
The missile was launched at 12:21 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, travelling 6,700 kilometers (4,200 miles) over the Pacific Ocean before landing in the sea near the Marshall Islands.
“The test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective,” the Air Force says in a statement.
Apparently addressing rumors that the cause of the blast in Beirut was an Israeli strike on Hezbollah weaponry, sources close to Hezbollah tell Lebanon’s OTV “there is no truth” to such claims.
The size of the blast and the destruction caused in its wake has led some to question reports that fireworks stores were behind the explosion.
More videos are pouring in from Beirut, showing the devastation caused by the explosion at the port.
One video shows destroyed cars, shattered glass and blasted furniture on a street.
— فیض (@beniyazfaiz) August 4, 2020
Another shows ruin on a city road.
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) August 4, 2020
A video shows the offices of The Daily Star newspaper, destroyed by the shockwave.
BREAKING: Massive explosion in Beirut. Footage from the daily star office now in Lebanon pic.twitter.com/2uBsKP5wCH
— Ghada Alsharif (@GhadaaSharif) August 4, 2020
Reuters reports that at least 10 bodies have been taken to hospitals following the explosion in Beirut, citing medical and security sources.
The Health Ministry says the national coronavirus case count has risen to 75,825, of which 25,435 are active cases. Since midnight, 1,009 people have been diagnosed.
The data shows that in the past 24 hours, since last evening, 1,723 people have been confirmed to have the coronavirus.
Seven COVID-19 deaths have been reported since midnight, taking the death toll to 559.
Of those ill, 342 are in serious condition (99 on ventilators), 146 are in moderate condition, and the rest have mild symptoms or none.
So far, 15,917 tests have been carried out today.
Israeli officials deny that the Jewish state was involved in the massive explosions in Beirut, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The latest reports from Lebanon say the initial explosions at the port may have set off fuel tanks that caused the huge secondary blast.
— with Judah Ari Gross
The first explosion at the port, according to Hezbollah’s official al-Manar TV, began with an electrical spark.
Beirut governor Philip Boulos says that a team of first responders was dispatched to deal with the fire. The first fire, which burned for several minutes, led to a second, much more powerful explosion, which destroyed nearby buildings and shattered windows across the city.
The second explosion, according to Lebanese Customs Director Badri Daher, was caused by “nitrates.”
The firefighters are still missing, Boulos said, possibly lost under the rubble in the collapsed port.
Lebanese media has reported that dozens have died and hundreds have been wounded, although there has been no official confirmation on the number of casualties.
— Aaron Boxerman
A Lebanese reporter tweets that packed hospitals in Beirut are turning people away, unable to deal with the number of casualties.
She retweets a Beirut resident saying “People are dying right in front of my eyes because the hospital can’t accept more patients.”
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) August 4, 2020
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announces that tomorrow, Wednesday, will be a national day of mourning for the victims of the explosion in Beirut’s port.
Media reports say Diab’s daughter, wife and several advisers were lightly injured by damage to his residence.
After conflicting initial reports, Lebanese officials are now suggesting that the explosion was caused by highly explosive confiscated materials rather than fireworks.
Director-General of Lebanon Public Security Abbas Ibrahim says: “The storage area contained highly explosive materials confiscated years ago. To discuss fireworks is laughable.”
“I can’t predict what the investigation will reveal about the reasons for the explosion,” Ibrahim adds.
Local media reports the materials were seized off a ship and stored at a warehouse at the port.
“What we saw looked like Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It’s absolutely unprecedented in Lebanon’s history,” says Beirut governor Marwan Aboud.
“I have never seen such widespread destruction. This is a national catastrophe. This is a disaster for Lebanon. We’re already living through days where we can barely keep going. And now this…I don’t know how we’re going to recover from this,” Aboud tells Sky News before bursting into tears
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called an emergency cabinet meeting.
— with Aaron Boxerman
Police say the person behind a fake Facebook profile that called for the murder of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu belongs to an Israeli woman who lives abroad and who has not resided in Israel for a long time.
Authorities opened an investigation after the fake profile, under the name Dana Ron, posted that the premier should be ousted “only by force… dictators are removed only with a bullet to the head!”
It is not yet clear what action officials plan to take against the woman behind the profile. Police did not say where in the world the expat lives.
Confidants of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz are looking at potentially passing a bill to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running for office due to his criminal trial — should the sides fail to reach an agreement on the national budget, Channel 13 reports.
Such legislation would need to be passed before August 25. If a budget is not passed by August 24 the Knesset will automatically be dissolved and new elections will be called.
Blue and White’s leaders are said to believe Netanyahu is manufacturing the budget crisis in order to lead to elections and prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister in 2021 as stipulated by the coalition agreement. Netanyahu denies he wants elections.
The prime minister is looking at transferring NIS 400 million to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in order to lessen Haredi parties’ opposition to new elections, Channel 12 reports.
Senior officials in both United Torah Judaism and Shas were quoted Tuesday by the Kan public broadcaster as saying that if Netanyahu refuses to compromise on the state budget, the parties will refuse to publicly support the premier as they have done in recent elections.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders are believed to fear failure to pass a budget will lead to a long delay in much-needed funding to yeshivas. Netanyahu’s purported efforts seek to address these concerns.
Netanyahu’s office says the report is not true.