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Ministers said to have met to discuss possibility of prisoner swap with Hamas

Virtual sit-down is first since Gaza-based terror group has expressed interest in reaching agreement to free captive civilians and soldiers’ bodies in backdrop of pandemic

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)
Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

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

NYC mayor threatens ‘Jewish community’ with arrest over virus violations

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is under fire for appearing to warn all local the city’s Jews of a crackdown after a funeral in Williamsburg gathers a large crowd.

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period,” he tweets.

The tweet draws fury online, with Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt calling the generalization “outrageous.”

“Would DeBlasio have sent this identical tweet with the word ‘Jewish’ replaced by any other religious minority? If not, why not? Laws should be enforced neutrally w/o targeting religious faith,” tweets Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Air force jets to fly over hospitals in salute to doctors

Israel is celebrating its 72nd Independence Day in the shadow of the pandemic, with most of its celebrations canceled and a curfew imposed nationwide keeping Israelis at home.

But from 9:40 a.m. until 3:50 p.m., four air force jets will be flying over the country’s hospitals to honor the medical staff fighting the virus.

This is instead of the usual air shows and flybys for Independence Day.

Among the 25 institutions that will be saluted are Tel Aviv’s Ichilov, which will see the flyover at 9:45 a.m., Ramat Gan’s Tel HaShomer at 9:52 a.m., and Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek, Hadassah Ein Kerem and Hadassah Mount Scopus around 3:20 p.m.

Trump says US closer to testing international air travelers

US President Donald Trump says his administration is considering requiring travelers on certain incoming international flights to undergo temperature and virus checks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re looking at doing it on the international flights coming out of areas that are heavily infected,” Trump says at the White House. “We will be looking into that in the very near future.”

Trump says it has not been determined yet whether the federal government or the airlines would conduct the testing. “Maybe it’s a combination of both,” he says.

Trump’s comments come during an event showcasing a loan program designed to help small businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program. He says the Small Business Administration has processed more loans in 14 days than it has in the previous 14 years.

AP

Virus deaths in Brazil top 5,000

Brazil, the South American country worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has registered more than 5,000 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry announces, pushing the toll above that of China.

A record 474 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, with the number of infections rising to 71,886, the ministry says.

China, where the virus first emerged before spreading across the world, has recorded about 4,600 deaths.

The ministry says Brazil’s toll could be higher than Tuesday’s official figure of 5,107, as the causes of 1,156 further deaths are under investigation.

Experts believe the overall number of COVID-19 cases could be 12 to 15 times higher, due to a large number of undetected cases given the lack of testing availability across the country’s 210 million population.

AP

US government reveals details of sunlight study on virus

The US Department of Homeland Security reveals to AFP new technical details regarding its hotly anticipated study into how ultraviolet radiation destroys the new coronavirus, saying that its experiment accurately mimicked natural sunlight.

A summary of the research was presented last week at the White House, with some scientists calling for caution until a more comprehensive report is made public.

DHS official William Bryan had briefed the media that the amount of virus on a non-porous surface shrunk by half in just two minutes when sunlight was present, the temperature was 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (21-24 Celsius) and humidity was 80 percent.

The amount of virus suspended in air shrunk to half its amount in just 1.5 minutes at room temperature and 20% humidity, he added.

These eye-catching results surprised experts because most of the UV light contained in natural sunlight belongs to a subtype called UVA, which causes human skin to tan and age but has not generally been proven harmful to viruses, David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, tells AFP.

On the other hand, a part of the spectrum called UVC is particularly adept at warping the genetic material of animal and virus cells and is widely used in sterilizing lamps, but it is not present in sunlight because it is filtered out by the Earth’s atmosphere.

A DHS spokesman adds that the test — which was conducted at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center in Maryland — was carried out on droplets of simulated saliva on a stainless steel surface.

Brenner, who is himself performing research into another area of the UV spectrum called far-UVC, which kills microbes without penetrating human skin, says the DHS findings does not comport with previous research.

“There is a peer-reviewed paper in the literature from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) showing the earlier SARS-CoV virus did not respond to UVA light (though it did respond to UVC light),” he says, adding it is “reasonable to assume that all coronaviruses respond roughly the same way to light.”

The results as presented were “straining credulity,” he adds.

But a DHS spokesman says that study will soon be submitted for peer review and published in scientific journals.

“While the results are still undergoing a rigorous scientific review, we felt it important to share information on the emerging trends that are being identified in our tests,” the spokesman says.

AFP

Biden wins Ohio’s mail-in primary delayed by coronavirus

Joe Biden wins Ohio’s Tuesday presidential primary, clinching a contest that was less about the Democratic nomination and more about how states can conduct elections in the era of the coronavirus.

The primary is the first major test of statewide elections via mail amid an outbreak.

There were reports of confusion but no widespread disruption. It wasn’t like Wisconsin earlier this month, when voters were forced to overlook social distancing guidelines to stand in line wearing masks to cast ballots.

“Within the context of the threat of the virus, it’s a decision that we will have made the best of,” Republican Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio elections chief who chairs the bipartisan International Foundation for Electoral Systems, says of mail-in balloting.

Overall turnout was surprisingly strong, says Secretary of State Frank LaRose. While his office says about 1.5 million votes had been cast as of midday Saturday, down sharply from the 3.2 million cast in Ohio’s 2016 presidential primary, he says some larger counties received tens of thousands of additional ballots Tuesday.

“It was better than OK. It was great,” he says.

AP

Covid, Corona and Lockdown: Newborns named after a pandemic

First there was Corona Kumar, then Covid Marie: Parents have taken to naming newborns after the coronavirus, apparently unperturbed by the prospect of their children being forever associated with a deadly pandemic.

When Colline Tabesa gave birth to a healthy baby girl in the central Philippine city of Bacolod on April 13, she and the father John Tupas decided to mark the occasion with a show of gratitude.

“This COVID-19 has caused great suffering around the world,” said 23-year-old Tupas, expressing relief after the uneventful delivery.

“I wanted her name to remind us that COVID did not only bring us suffering. Despite all of this, a blessing came to us,” he added.

And so, Covid Marie it was.

Weeks earlier, two mothers in southeastern India had had similar ideas, apparently encouraged by a doctor in the hospital where their babies were delivered.

One was called Corona Kumar and the other Corona Kumari.

“I told them this would help create awareness about the disease and remove the stigma around it,” said S.F. Basha, the doctor.

“To my surprise, they agreed.”

Not to be outdone, a migrant-worker couple in India’s northeast stranded thousands of kilometers from their home in the desert state of Rajasthan decided to name their child Lockdown.

“We named him Lockdown remembering all the problems we had to face during this tough time,” local media reports quoted the father Sanjay Bauri as saying.

Tupas, the father of baby Covid Marie, said that while he had fielded criticism on social media for his unorthodox choice, he would not be swayed.

“She might experience bullying, but I’ll just teach my daughter to be a good person,” he said.

“We didn’t have second thoughts.”

AFP

Coronavirus pushes Airbus into $521 million Q1 loss

European aviation giant Airbus reports a first quarter net loss of 481 million euros ($521 million) under the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

The loss compared to a profit of 40 million euros ($43 million) in the same period last year.

Revenues fall 15.2 percent to 10.6 billion euros, reflecting a “market environment strongly impacted” by the pandemic, “particularly in commercial aircraft.”

AFP

Biden aide says he opposes annexation, won’t move embassy back to Tel Aviv

Former US vice president Joe Biden’s senior foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken say the presidential candidate opposes unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank.

Blinken says Biden has been “on the record several times [that] unilateral steps taken by either side that makes the prospect of a negotiated to a two-state outcome less likely is something he opposes, and that includes annexation,” according to Jewish Insider.

But he says he’s “not going to prejudge what we might do or not do in the context of a Biden administration” since much could change before then.

The former diplomat, who served in Barack Obama’s administration, says Biden, if elected, would not move the US embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, saying such a step “would not make sense practically and politically.”

He makes the comments on a webinar hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

Trajectory of air force Independence Day flyby

The Israeli Air Force will begin its flyover past the nation’s hospitals shortly, beginning in the Tel Aviv area, then flying north up to Nahariya and Safed, before turning south down to Eilat and then back toward central Israel, the military says.

The flyby of four stunt aircraft will begin at 9:40 a.m. outside Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center, then to hospitals in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak, Ramat Hahayal, Kfar Saba and Petah Tikva.

The planes will then turn north, visiting Afula’s HaEmek Medical Center at 12:12 p.m. before flying over hospitals in Tiberias, Safed, Nahariya and Haifa, then flying down the coast past Hadera and Netanya.

At 2:54 p.m., they will fly past Ashkelon and Ashdod, and then travel east, past Rehovot, Rishon Lezion and Jerusalem before turning south down to Eilat to fly past the city’s Yoseftal Medical Center at 3:45 p.m.

The planes will turn back north and fly over Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center at 3:50 p.m., before returning to their base.

The full schedule:
9:40 a.m. Wolfson (Holon)
9:45 a.m. Ichilov (Tel Aviv)
9:52 a.m. Tel HaShomer (Ramat Gan)
9:58 a.m. Maayanei Yeshua (Bnei Brak) and Assuta (Ramat Hachayal)
10:05 a.m. Meir (Kfar Saba)
10:10 a.m. Beilison, Schneider, HaSharon (Petah Tikva)
12:12 p.m. Haemek (Afula)
12:21 p.m. Poriya (Tiberias)
12:28 p.m. Ziv (Safed)
12:36 p.m. HaGalil (Nahariya)
12:42 p.m. Rambam (Haifa)
12:45 p.m. Bnei Zion (Haifa)
12:46 p.m. Carmel (Haifa)
12:56 p.m. Hillel Yaffe (Hadera)
1:01 p.m. Laniado (Netanya)
2:54 p.m. Barzilai (Ashkelon)
2:59 p.m. Assuta (Ashdod)
3:05 p.m. Kaplan (Rehovot)
3:11 p.m. Shamir (Rishon Lezion)
3:20 p.m. Hadassah Ein Kerem (Jerusalem)
3:23 p.m. Shaare Zedek (Jerusalem)
3:27 p.m. Hadassah Mount Scopus (Jerusalem)
3:45 p.m. Yoseftal (Eilat)
3:50 p.m. Soroka (Beersheba)

Judah Ari Gross

Turkey donates planeload of medical equipment to US

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promises to stand in solidarity with the United States in its struggle against the coronavirus pandemic and as it recovers from the outbreak.

In a letter sent to Donald Trump, Erdogan also says he is following “with appreciation” the US president’s efforts to control the outbreak.

The letter is sent along Tuesday with a planeload of personal protective equipment that Turkey donated to the United States. It is made public on Wednesday.

Erdogan writes: “I am very pleased to observe that, thanks to your measures, America has taken the first steps towards normalization by achieving a downward trend in the number of new cases.”

“You can be sure, as a reliable and strong partner of the US, we will continue to demonstrate solidarity in every way possible,” Erdogan writes.

Turkey sends 500,000 surgical masks, 4,000 overalls, 2,000 liters (528 gallons) of disinfectant, 1,500 goggles, 400 N-95 masks and 500 face shields. Turkey has sent similar medical equipment aid to a total of 55 countries — including Britain, Italy and Spain.

AP

Israel to hold teen Bible contest on videoconference

For the first time, the International Bible Quiz will not be held in person on Independence Day in Jerusalem.

Instead, the teen competitors will be videoconferencing in from around the world.

The event is set to begin at 11 a.m.

Meanwhile, the annual Independence Day morning ceremony at the President’s Residence is held without an audience and without the IDF soldiers who are awarded citations during the event. The ceremony has been pre-recorded.

Virus death toll up to 212; ministry records 193 new cases in 24 hours

The death toll in Israel from the coronavirus has risen to 112, the Health Ministry says, recorded two more deaths since last night.

The overall number of cases stands at 15,782, an increase of 193 cases in the past 24 hours.

There are 120 people in serious condition, 91 of them on ventilators, according to the ministry. Another 85 are in moderate condition.

The Health Ministry says 7,929 people have recovered from the virus.

Health Ministry: Majority of those infected with virus have now recovered

In its update this morning, the Health Ministry highlights that there are now more people who have recovered from the virus than those who are currently sick.

Since the start of the outbreak, 7,929 of the 15,782 confirmed cases have recovered. Another 7,641 are still sick.

Spike of virus cases reported in Bedouin town in Negev

At least 37 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev over the past three days, according to Channel 12.

On Independence Day, Shin Bet chief vows to fight the new enemy: Coronavirus

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, in an Independence Day message, says the security agency is using all of its operational capabilities to combat Israel’s insidious new enemy, the novel coronavirus.

The Shin Bet has been running a controversial phone surveillance program to track carriers of the virus and alert those exposed to them.

“Right now, we are in a time of crisis,” he says. “Our struggle is not against a security threat, but rather a new enemy that is threatening our health, economy and society. The frontline today is the fight against the coronavirus.”

He says the Shin Bet “is taking part in the fight and is utilizing, for this aim, all of our operational, technological, and human capabilities.”

“This is not an ordinary mission and certainly not one we are accustomed to,” he says. “But at this time, it’s an inseparable part of the protection of national security.”

Holon man said to confess to murder of wife

A man accused of murdering his wife in the central city of Holon has confessed to the charge, according to Hebrew reports.

The 31-year-old woman was found dead in an apartment on Tuesday. After a brief manhunt Tuesday evening, police arrested her husband as the primary suspect in the murder.

His remand is expected to be extended during a hearing this evening at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court.

Photos: Medical staff cheer Air Force flyby

Medical staff cheer as the Air Force flyby honoring them zips above the country’s hospitals, in an Independence Day tribute to healthcare workers fighting the pandemic.

Ronni Gamzu. CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, cheers an Israeli Air Force acrobatic team flying over Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv on Israel’s 72nd Independence Day. April 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli medical staff cheer an Israeli Air Force acrobatic team flying over Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv on Israel’s 72nd Independence Day. April 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An Israeli Air Force acrobatic team flies over Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv on Israel’s 72nd Independence Day.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An Israeli Air Force acrobatic team flies over Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv on Israel’s 72nd Independence Day. April 29, 2020.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Woman stabbed in Kfar Saba to be discharged from hospital

The woman stabbed in the central city of Kfar Saba will be released from the hospital tomorrow, as her condition has improved.

She is out of the ICU and is being kept for observation for another day, the Meir Medical Center says.

Mazal tov: Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds announce birth of boy

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds has given birth to a healthy baby boy, a spokesperson says.

The birth of the boy, the premier’s fifth child and first with Symonds, comes after he was released from the hospital after a bout of COVID-19.

“Both mother and baby are doing very well,” the spokesman says in a surprise announcement, as Symonds was not thought to be due until later in the year.

with AFP

South Korean expert downplays concerns of COVID-19 reinfection

South Korean infectious disease experts are downplaying concerns that patients could get reinfected with the new coronavirus after fully recovering.

While hundreds in South Korea have tested positive again after their release from hospitals, Oh Myoung-don, who heads the country’s central clinical committee on new infectious diseases, tells a news conference there is a “high possibility” that such test results were flawed.

He says South Korea’s standard real-time PCR tests, designed to amplify the genetic materials of the virus so that even tiny quantities are detected, doesn’t reliably distinguish between remains of dead virus and infectious particles. He says lab tests on animals suggest that COVID-19 patients would maintain immunity for at least a year after their infections.

He also says it is unlikely that the virus could be reactivated after remaining dormant when it doesn’t seem to be a type that causes chronic illnesses.

As of Tuesday, 277 people in South Korea tested positive for the virus for a second time after being diagnosed as recovered. Health authorities have tested some of their samples, but none so far have been successfully cultivated in isolation, indicating a loss of infectiousness.

AP

28 years older than Israel: Neighbors surprise Jerusalem man on 100th birthday

A Jerusalem man is celebrating his 100th birthday as the country marks its 72nd year of independence.

Shimon Eini turned 28 years old the day the State of Israel was established.

With his family unable to visit him due to the pandemic restrictions, residents of his Nahlaot neighborhood threw him a surprise party — while keeping social distancing rules, Channel 12 reports.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion attends the street bash.

According to the network, Eini has lived in his home on Narkis Street in the capital since 1925.

Shimon Eini celebrates his 100th birthday with neighbors and family outside his home in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its 72th Independence Day under lockdown due to the coronavirus, April 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shimon Eini celebrates his 100th birthday with neighbors and family outside his home in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its 72th Independence Day under lockdown due to the coronavirus, April 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion speaks with Shimon Eini as he celebrates his 100th birthday with neighbors and family outside his home in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its 72th Independence Day under lockdown due to the coronavirus, April 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin congratulates Johnson and Symonds on birth of son

President Reuven Rivlin tweets his congratulations to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds on the birth of their son.

German company begins testing possible vaccine on human volunteers

German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it has begun testing a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus on volunteers.

BioNTech, which is working with US-based Pfizer, says that 12 participants of a clinical trial in Germany have received doses of the vaccine candidate BNT162 since April 23.

Numerous pharmaceutical companies are racing to deliver a vaccine for the virus that has caused a pandemic and led to more than 215,000 deaths worldwide and sickened at least three million people.

BioNTech says in a statement that in a next step, it will begin increasing the dose of BNT162 in a trial involving about 200 participants aged 18 to 55.

The company says it expects to receive regulatory approval to begin trials in the United States soon.

AP

Rut Cohen, 11th grader from Gedera, wins International Bible Quiz

Rut Cohen is crowned champion of the International Bible Quiz. The 11th grader from Gedera is congratulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This year’s contest was videoconferenced due to the pandemic.

Competing with Zoom, Google makes video conference service free to all

Google makes its business videoconferencing service free to all users, ramping up competition for Zoom as people flock online to stay connected during the pandemic.

Google Meet had previously been reserved for subscribers to the premium G Suite software tools for businesses.

Meet will be available “to all users around the world, to enable people all walks of life to communicate collaborate and really stay in touch more effectively through the pandemic,” G Suite vice president Javier Soltaro tells AFP.

Google touts the security and reliability features of Meet, and its foundation in the California-based internet giant’s computing cloud.

Use of video calls and conferencing has rocketed as people work, learn, and socialize remotely while staying home to avoid the coronavirus.

Many people have turned to Zoom, which has scrambled to stem security problems such as data hacking and harassment by individuals who crash sessions in what is referred to as “Zoombombing.”

AFP

Rouhani to Trump: It’s called the Persian Gulf, not the Washington Gulf

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani tells the United States it “should not plot against the Iranian nation every day,” amid fresh tensions between the enemies in the Gulf.

Tehran and Washington have traded barbs over a spate of incidents in the past year involving their forces in the sensitive waters of the Gulf.

Their latest high-seas confrontation came on April 15, when the United States said 11 Iranian boats harassed its navy ships in what it described as the international waters of the “Arabian Gulf.”

US President Donald Trump then tweeted that he had ordered the US Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

Iran’s president on replies that “the Americans should know that this gulf is called the Persian Gulf, not the New York Gulf or the Washington Gulf.”

“They must understand the situation by that name and by the coastal nation that has protected this waterway for thousands of years,” Rouhani says in a televised address during a cabinet meeting.

“They should not plot against the Iranian nation every day.

“The soldiers of our armed forces in the guardians of the Revolution, the army, Basij (paramilitary organization) and the police have always been and will be the guardians of the Persian Gulf.”

AFP

Foreign minister, Yesh Atid leader cheer Boris’s baby

Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are joining the chorus of congratulations to the British premier and his fiancee over the birth of their baby son.

Spain daily toll slightly up with 325 new virus deaths

Another 325 people died of COVID-19 in Spain in a slight increase in the daily figure, pushing the overall toll past 24,000, the government says.

Despite the rise from Tuesday’s figure of 301, it was the sixth consecutive day that the number has been below 400 in Spain, which has now lost 24,275 lives as a result of the coronavirus.

The number of people who have recovered from the virus rose by 6,399 over the past 24 hours in what was a record daily high since the start of the epidemic, raising the overall number to 108,947.

Spain has suffered the third-highest death rate in the world after the United States and Italy, but experts believe the epidemic peaked on April 2 when 950 people died over 24 hours.

Since then, the toll has been gradually dropping, and over the weekend, the government moved to ease one of the world’s tightest lockdowns, allowing children out for an hour a day for the first time in six weeks.

Further easing measures are expected on May 2 when the rest of the population will be allowed to go for a walk or exercise alone, with the government unveiling a four-phase plan to transition out of lockdown by the end of June.

The latest figures show Spain has so far counted 212,917 cases of COVID-19, the second-highest figure in the world, although the health ministry only registers cases confirmed by testing.

AFP

Police investigating possible arson at Holon government offices

Police are investigating a possible arson attack against government buildings in the central city of Holon.

Buildings housing local branches of the state Tax Authority and National Insurance Institute are damaged overnight by unidentified vandals who set a fire.

There are no injuries. No arrests have been made.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the vandals also spray-painted “the blood of independent contractors is not worthless,” in an apparent reference to ongoing protests by the self-employed for greater government financial support amid the pandemic.

11-year-old girl with serious case of COVID-19 regains consciousness

The eleven-year-old girl who was in serious condition with COVID-19 has regained consciousness and is now breathing on her own, the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa says.

The hospital says the girl, a resident of Elad in central Israel, will be kept for observation in the coming days.

She has recovered from the virus but suffered heart complications from the pathogen.

Netanyahu congratulates British PM and fiancee on birth of son

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweets his congratulations to his British counterpart and his fiancee over the birth of their son.

16-year-old boy said in serious condition from virus

A 16-year-old boy diagnosed with the coronavirus is hospitalized in serious condition at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Hebrew reports say.

The teenager is suffering from organ failure and heart complications, the Ynet news site says.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, two tests for the virus came back negative and the third was positive.

Ynet says the teenager was given five virus tests, four of which came back negative. It says the last coronavirus test came back “borderline positive,” signaling the diagnosis remains unclear.

US economy shrinks at 4.8% annual rate

US economy shrank at 4.8% annual rate last quarter in the face of the viral outbreak, its worst showing since 2008.

— AP

UN agency predicts 305 million could lose full-time jobs in coming months

The United Nations’ main labor body again raises its prediction of job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, estimating the equivalent of 305 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter alone.

The International Labor Organization says the expansion of longer lockdown measures has underpinned the increase from its previous estimate of losses 195 million full-time job equivalents — based on an average 48-hour work week — in the current quarter.

The agency, which unites business, labor groups and governments, estimates how many work hours are likely to be lost, and calculates how many full-time jobs that would make.

The ILO also projects that 1.6 billion workers in the “informal economy,” which includes work without proper contracts or oversight by government regulation and taxes, “stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.”

That’s nearly half the global workforce of 3.3 billion people.

AP

WhatsApp says NSO Group hacked 1,400 users, including human rights activists

WhatsApp has alleged in court filings filed last week that the controversial Israeli private intelligence firm NSO Group spyware company exploited servers in the US and helped hack 1,400 WhatsApp users’ phones, The Guardian reports.

The phones targeted included those of senior government officials, journalists, and human rights activists, the Guardian says.

NSO Group has long claimed that its spyware is used by governments to track terrorists and criminals and that it was not aware of how rogue state actors such as Saudi Arabia may have used its technologies, but WhatsApp claims in its lawsuit that the firm’s Pegasus hacking software used servers controlled by NSO Group and not its government clients to hack 1,400 of its users.

“NSO used a network of computers to monitor and update Pegasus after it was implanted on users’ devices. These NSO-controlled computers served as the nerve centre through which NSO controlled its customers’ operation and use of Pegasus,” the court filings state.

They add that NSO received “unauthorized access” to WhatsApp servers and evaded the messaging service’s security features.

Germany charges neo-Nazi with politician’s murder

German prosecutors says they have formally charged a known neo-Nazi with the June 2019 murder of a pro-refugee politician, the first in a string of recent far-right killings.

Federal investigators say 45-year-old Stephan Ernst drove to Walter Luebcke’s house in Wolfhagen, central Germany, on the evening of June 1, 2019.

He crept up under cover of darkness to the terrace where Luebcke sat before shooting him in the head with a revolver.

Ernst’s “racism and xenophobia founded on an ethnic-nationalist attitude were decisive in the act,” prosecutors say in a statement.

The suspect and his fellow accused, identified only as Markus H., had attended a political meeting in October 2015 where Luebcke argued in favor of accommodating refugees in the town of Lohfelden.

Ernst “from the time of the meeting increasingly projected his xenophobia onto Dr Walter Luebcke,” a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU party, prosecutors say.

Following mass sexual assaults by migrants against women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015 and a July 2016 terror attack in French city Nice, Ernst began spying on Luebcke in preparation for the murder, traveling repeatedly to the politician’s house to make his plans.

Meanwhile, fellow defendant Markus H., who is charged with complicity in the murder, helped Ernst train with firearms in forests and at gun clubs between 2016 and 2018, “including with the murder weapon.”

Ernst had already inflicted “serious wounds” to the chest and spine of an Iraqi asylum-seeker living in Lohfelden in a January 2016 knife attack that left the victim in intensive care.

Arrested soon afterwards, H. was found to be in possession of a deactivated submachine gun.

— AFP

IAF performs flyover above hospitals in Independence Day nod to medical staff

Israel’s Air Force is performing flyovers above hospitals across the country in an Independence Day to salute to the medical staff on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doctors and nurses were spectators to the popular and iconic feature of celebrations that were largely canceled this year to prevent people from gathering to watch the jets and other aircraft zoom by.

The Israeli Air Force carries out a flyover above hospitals as part of the festivities of Israel’s 72nd Independence day on April 29, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
The Israeli Air Force carries out a flyover above hospitals as part of the festivities of Israel’s 72nd Independence day on April 29, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
The Israeli Air Force carries out a flyover above hospitals as part of the festivities of Israel’s 72nd Independence day on April 29, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
The Israeli Air Force carries out a flyover above hospitals as part of the festivities of Israel’s 72nd Independence day on April 29, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

IATA: Air traffic drops 53% in March

World air traffic suffered a massive drop of more than half in March compared with the same period last year, the airline industry’s trade body says.

The 52.9 percent drop when measured by total revenue per passenger kilometers “was the largest decline in recent history, reflecting the impact of government actions to slow the spread of COVID-19,” says the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

— AFP

Kan compilation video adds color to major black and white clips in Israeli history

The Kan public broadcaster releases a compilation video of major moments in the country’s earlier years, titled “Black and White, Blue and White.”

The video uses special technology to add color to the major black and white clips in Israeli history.

6-year-old in serious condition after being stung by scorpion

A young boy has been seriously hurt after being stung by a scorpion in southern Israel.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service says the 6-year-old was picked up by paramedics on Route 40 near the Hanegev Junction and taken to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment.

He is in serious condition but conscious at the hospital.

86-year-old dies in house fire in central Israel

An 86-year-old man has died after a fire  broke out in his home in the Matan community in the South Sharon Regional Counci, Magen David Adom reports.

Two women aged 55 and 40 are in mild condition from smoke inhalation.

The male victim was unconscious when medics arrived at the scene.

US Navy to widen virus probe, delaying decision on commander

The US Navy will conduct a legal investigation of circumstances surrounding the spread of the coronavirus aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, a move that effectively delays a decision on whether to reinstate the ship’s captain, two US officials say.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet publicly announced.

The decision comes several days after Navy leaders met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the Navy’s recommendation that Capt. Brett Crozier be restored to command of the ship.

— AP

Boeing to cut 10% of work force as 1Q revenue, profit slide

Boeing is cutting about 10% of its work force and slowing production of planes to deal with a downturn in business that started with the grounding of its best-selling jet and has accelerated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Boeing Co. says Wednesday it has started to shrink through attrition, paying people to leave, and “layoffs as necessary.”

The company began the year with about 161,000 employees.

Boeing announces the job cuts as it reported a loss of $641 million in the first quarter. It earned $2.15 billion in the same period last year. Revenue fell 26%, to $16.91 billion.

The job cuts will be deepest — more than 15% — in the large division that makes airline jets. Deliveries of those planes has plummeted by two-thirds in 2020, compared with a year earlier. Boeing’s defense and space unit will likely see the fewest jobs eliminated.

“I know this news is a blow during an already challenging time,” CEO David Calhoun says in a memo to employees. “I regret the impact this will have on many of you. I sincerely wish there were some other way.”

Calhoun says Boeing will reduce production of its large 787 and 777 jets and slowly resume production of the grounded 737 Max at “low rates” this year, gradually rising to 31 a month next year. Boeing was building 52 Max jets a month before regulators around the world grounded the plane in March 2019 after two crashes that killed 346 people.

— AP

WATCH: UN ambassadors wish Israel a happy Independence Day!

UN ambassadors from around the world wish Israel a happy Independence Day in a video compilation released by Israel’s Mission at the UN.

Among them is US envoy Kelly Craft, who says, “There are many reasons to love Israel, from its innovation to its rich culture and history. But what I love most is the human spirit of Israelis. They are a people who persevere in the face of struggle.”

Company says drug proved effective against virus in US study

A biotech company says its experimental drug has proved effective against the new coronavirus in a major US government study that put it to a strict test.

Gilead Sciences’s Remdesivir would be the first treatment to pass such a test against the virus, which has killed more than 218,000 people since it emerged late last year. Having a treatment could have a profound effect on the global pandemic, especially because health officials say any vaccine is likely a year or more away.

The study, run by the National Institutes of Health, tested remdesivir versus usual care in about 800 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world. The main result is how long it takes patients to recover.

Gilead has given no details on results, but says an announcement is expected soon. NIH officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Remdesivir is given through an IV and is designed to interfere with an enzyme that reproduces viral genetic material. In animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness. But it is not yet approved anywhere in the world for any use.

— AP

China to reopen Forbidden City after three-month closure

China’s Forbidden City will reopen on Friday, three months after it closed due to the coronavirus crisis — the latest signal that the country has brought the disease under control.

The sprawling imperial palace sitting across Tiananmen Square was shut down on January 25 as authorities closed tourist attractions and took other extraordinary measures to contain the virus, including locking down an entire province.

The Palace Museum, which manages the Forbidden City, announced Wednesday that it will reopen from May 1, with a daily limit of 5,000 visitors — down from 80,000 before the pandemic.

Authorities have implemented other measures to reduce risks of infections at the cultural site, which in normal times attracted huge crowds.

Visitors will have to wear masks and show health codes on a special mobile phone app that indicates if they are an infection risk before entering.

Temperatures will be taken at the entrance and anyone coughing or showing a fever will be turned away. Visitors will have to stand one meter from each other.

Within half an hour of the announcement, around 2,500 tickets for May 1 were booked, according to the ticketing website.

While much of the rest of the world is still enforcing confinement measures, China has been resuming work, reopening schools and lifting restrictions on movement as the number of domestic infections have plunged and no new deaths have been reported in two weeks.

The capital announced earlier that Beijing’s museums would progressively reopen from May 1.

Beijing also lowered its emergency alert from the highest level and lifted a strict quarantine requirement for domestic travellers from “low-risk” areas, which it had kept in place long after many other regions in the country eased travel restrictions.

Within half an hour of the announcement, searches for air tickets climbed quickly on booking website qunar.com, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Arrivals in Beijing from the virus epicenter of Hubei province as well as travelers coming from abroad are still required to complete a 14-day quarantine, state broadcaster CCTV reports.

— AFP

52 people who worked or voted in Wisconsin election have COVID-19

There are no plans to postpone or otherwise alter a special congressional election in Wisconsin that is less than two weeks away, even though more than 50 people who voted in person or worked the polls during the state’s presidential primary this month have tested positive for COVID-19.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to change the April 7 election so that it would be conducted entirely by mail, but he was blocked by the Republican-led Legislature and conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court. Evers and others had warned that allowing in-person voting would cause a spike in coronavirus cases, but so far the impact appears to be limited.

The 52 positive cases were in people who tested positive in the two weeks after the election, so by April 21. Most people show symptoms within 14 days of exposure, though some people who have the virus don’t show symptoms.

Most of the positive cases were in Milwaukee County. The city’s health commissioner has said the data was being analyzed and an update was expected next week.

— AP

Iran must not give in to US ‘provocations,’ says Russia

Iran must not give in to US “provocations,” Russia says on Wednesday, following months of mounting tension between Washington and Tehran.

“We are urging maximum restraint and caution, not to give in to provocations and aggressive rhetoric,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tells reporters.

Tehran and Washington have traded barbs over a spate of incidents in the past year involving their forces in the sensitive waters of the Gulf.

Their latest high-seas confrontation came on April 15, when the United States said 11 Iranian boats harassed its navy ships in what it described as the international waters of the “Arabian Gulf.”

US President Donald Trump  tweeted that he had ordered the US Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

Iran’s president replied earlier today that “the Americans should know that this gulf is called the Persian Gulf, not the New York Gulf or the Washington Gulf.”

Zakharova stresses that both countries should act in “strict accordance with international norms and regulations.”

“Moscow has always considered stability and security in the Gulf to be a key factor that influences the situation in the wider regional context,” she adds.

— AFP

De Blasio: I apologize if funeral censure caused offense, but I have no regrets

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issues an apology to those who were offended by his censure of the “Jewish community” regarding a mass Haredi funeral yesterday, but he says he stands by his decision to call out the “danger.”

“If in my passion and in my emotion I said something that in any way was hurtful, I’m sorry about that. that was not my intention,” de Blasio says at a press conference. “But I also want to be clear that I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying that we’re going to deal with it very, very aggressively.”

“I have to say, I understand when people are mourning their real pain but we have to understand what it means to hold a large gathering in New York City today. It means unfortunately that some will be sick of this disease, some will spread the disease to others and as a result people will die.”

“I have a long deep relationship with the Orthodox community. I have a lot of love for the community. The notion that people would gather in large numbers and, even if they didn’t mean to, would spread a disease that kills other members of the community, is just unacceptable to me.

“We have to do something different and we have to break out of whatever we thought was normal in the past because these are not normal times,” he says.

“We’re not gonna be allowing gatherings of these kinds in any community. This was by far the largest gathering in New York  City of any community of any kind that I had heard of or seen directly or on video since the beginning of this crisis,” the mayor adds.

NYC mayor: Remark against Jewish community over funeral made out of ‘tough love’

De Blasio elaborates on his comments against the Jewish community over the mass funeral that was held yesterday.

“If you saw anger and frustration, you’re right. I spoke out of real distress that people’s lives were in danger,” he says.

“I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way. It was not my intention.”

“It was said with love, but it was tough love and anger and frustration.”

“What I saw, it has not happened in other places, let’s be honest. This kind of gathering has happened in only a few places and it cannot continue,” he adds.

“So to those… who has said, ‘Oh look, this is like people gathering in the park.’ No it was not. It was thousands of people. Can we just have an honest conversation here?”

I will not tolerate anti-Semitism, says New York City mayor

De Blasio coupled his “tough love” comments on the Jewish community with an assertion of no tolerance against anti-Semitism.

“I also will not tolerate any anti-Semitism ever. For decades I’ve made it my business to stand up for the Jewish community and people know that.

“My message was to all communities and that was written in black and white.

“I understand the power of words. I’m not going to let that power, that concern over words overcome the value of human life.

“Members of the Jewish community were putting each other in danger, they were putting our police officers in danger.

“If I see it in any other community [acting this way], I’ll call that out equally,” he adds.

Health Ministry says it’s conducted over 10K in each of past two days

The Health Ministry announces that it conducted over 10,000 tests in each of the past two days — 10,476 tests on Tuesday and 10,881 tests on Monday.

Independence Day curfew expires as state inches closer toward full reopening

With the clock striking 8 p.m., the Independence Day curfew that has been in place since yesterday evening at 5 p.m. has been lifted.

The 500-meter restriction on exercising outside the home will be lifted tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. and kindergarteners along with first through third graders are readying to return to school at the beginning of next week, pending final approval from the government.

Thai king Maha Vajiralongkorn Phravajiraklaochaoyuhua and others wish Rivlin happy Independence Day

Leaders from around the world have sent letters to President Reuven Rivlin congratulating Israel for its Independence Day, his office boasts.

“Among those sending greetings were Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, His Majesty King Carl Gustav of Sweden, His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phravajiraklaochaoyuhua of Thailand along with Australia’s governor-general and the presidents of Russia, China, South Korea, Germany and Italy,” Rivlin’s office says.

From the US House of Representatives, the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus congratulated Israel not only on its “remarkable achievements and contributions to the world, but also the shared values that have sealed the friendship between the United States and the State of Israel for so many decades.”

The president has also received letters from heads of state, ambassadors, heads of Jewish communities and Jewish organizations from around the world.

Report: Transportation Ministry to meet tomorrow to discuss opening railways Sunday

The Transportation Ministry will hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss partially reopening train railways on Sunday, Channel 13 reports.

16-year-old in serious condition, but only tested positive on 5th try

A 16-year-old is in serious condition due to complications caused by the coronavirus, Channel 13 reports.

The patient’s lab results only came back positive after the fifth time he was tested, demonstrating the complex nature of the virus.

Trump sends letter to Rivlin wishing country a happy Independence Day

US President Donald Trump sends a letter to President Reuven Rivlin wishing Israel a happy Independence Day.

“The United States of America proudly joins you in commemorating the 72nd anniversary of Israel’s independence,” Trump writes in a letter released by Rivlin’s office.

“It gives me tremendous pride that the United States was the first country to recognize the newly re-established Jewish State in 1948,” Trump continues.

“Exactly seven decades to the day after Prime Minister Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence, Israel and the United States shared another historic moment when the United States opened its embassy in Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem. This achievement has been one of many significant actions by my Administration to rebuild the US-Israel relationship. This special relationship is built on our deeply rooted shared values. Israel is one of America’s closest partners, and I look forward to continuing the productive US-Israel relationship in the coming year.”

“This Independence Day will occur as the world struggles to confront the challenges presented by COVID-19, and I want to commend our continuing close collaboration to protect our people and defeat this pandemic together,” he concludes.

Fauci: Remdesivir shows ‘clear-cut’ effect in treating coronavirus

A major new study shows that the antiviral drug remdesivir has a “clear-cut” effect in treating people with serious cases of COVID-19, top US doctor Anthony Fauci says.

Fauci, speaking at the White House, says “the data shows remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.”

This proves “that a drug can block this virus.”

Fauci says a smaller Chinese study released separately on Wednesday showing no benefits from remdesivir was “not an adequate study.”

— AFP

Russia slams US arguments for low-yield nukes

The Russian Foreign Ministry has rejected US arguments for fielding low-yield nuclear warheads, warning that an attempt to use such weapons against Russia would trigger an all-out nuclear retaliation.

The US State Department argued in a paper released last week that fitting the low-yield nuclear warheads to submarine-launched ballistic missiles would help counter potential new threats from Russia and China. It charged that Moscow in particular was pondering the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons as a way of coercion in a limited conflict — an assertion that Russia has repeatedly denied.

The State Department noted that the new supplemental warhead “reduces the risk of nuclear war by reinforcing extended deterrence and assurance.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry sees it otherwise.

The ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, comments on the State Department’s paper at a briefing on Wednesday, emphasizing that the US shouldn’t view its new low-yield warheads as a flexible tool that could help avert an all-out nuclear conflict with Russia.

“Any attack involving a US submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), regardless of its weapon specifications, would be perceived as a nuclear aggression,” Zakharova says. “Those who like to theorize about the flexibility of American nuclear potential must understand that in line with the Russian military doctrine such actions are seen as warranting retaliatory use of nuclear weapons by Russia.”

— AP

Report: High Court slated to nix Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal

The High Court of Justice will likely rule at least parts of the coalition agreement between the Blue and White and Likud parties to be unconstitutional when it meets next week, Channel 13 speculates.

The court will consider arguments against the coalition deal signed on April 20 that critics say violates essential elements of Israel’s constitutional regime.

The hearings, which will be held on Sunday and Monday, are politically charged. The coalition deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz states that if Netanyahu is prevented from serving as prime minister, the Knesset will dissolve and call new elections slated for August — which would be the fourth consecutive vote in 16 months.

Likud supporters charge that the court lacks the legal authority to rule against Netanyahu, as Israeli law only requires a prime minister to resign if he or she is convicted of a serious crime and all appeals are exhausted.

The petitioners, however, argue that the law only refers to an already-elected prime minister. A member of Knesset under indictment should not be appointed prime minister in the first place, they are arguing, in keeping with the longstanding standard for other cabinet ministers.

Welfare Ministry opens hotline for those enduring domestic violence to text if in danger

Following the recent murder of a woman by her husband earlier this week, the Welfare Ministry has opened up an additional hotline that allows women to discreetly send a text to authorities if they feel they’re in danger but are worried about calling by phone.

The number is: 055-700-0128

WATCH: IAF Independence Day hospital flyover

For those who missed it or weren’t in an Israeli hospital, the IDF releases footage of the Air Force’s Independence Day flyover that took place above hospitals across the country earlier today.

Sanders: Israeli annexation ‘an affront to our values and interests’

Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders blasts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s West Bank annexation plans as “an affront to [US] values and interests.

Pompeo says US to seek all ways to extend Iran arms embargo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vows to use all means available to extend a UN arms embargo on Iran, including working through a nuclear accord US President Donald Trump has trashed.

A ban on selling conventional weapons to Iran ends in October under a 2015 Security Council resolution that blessed the denuclearization accord negotiated by former president Barack Obama.

“We’re not going to let that happen,” Pompeo tells a news conference.

“In the event we can’t get anyone else to act, the United States is evaluating every possibility about how we might do that.”

Pompeo says he would ask the UN Security Council to prolong the ban.

Pompeo says that the United States will seek action from Britain, France and Germany — which remain part of the nuclear accord.

But the US allies are critical of the US approach, saying that Europe still has a ban on arms exports to Iran and that the nuclear issue is more important.

Pompeo confirms that the United States was ready to argue that it is itself a participant because it is listed as one in the resolution from 2015, even though Trump has repeatedly said that Washington has bolted the “worst deal ever” after he took over.

“There’s nothing magic about this,” Pompeo says.

“It’s unambiguous, and the rights that accrue to participants of the UN Security Council resolution are fully available to all those participants,” he says.

“We’re going to make sure that come October of this year, the Iranians aren’t able to buy conventional weapons that they would be, given what president Obama and vice president Biden have delivered to the world in that terrible deal.”

— AFP

COVID-19 patients on remdesivir had 31% faster recovery — trial shows

Patients who were hospitalized with advanced COVID-19 and breathing problems recovered faster on antiviral drug remdesivir than similar patients on a placebo, according to preliminary data from a large US-led trial.

“Preliminary results indicate that patients who received remdesivir had a 31 percent faster time to recovery than those who received placebo,” says the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in a statement.

— AFP

Deri laments lack of Arabs, Mizrahim among Israel Prize winners

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri issues a statement lamenting that of the ten individuals who were chosen as Israel Prize winners on the eve of this year’s Independence Day, none of them were Arab or Jews of Middle Eastern or North African descent.

“The Israel Prize winners are deserving, but how can it be that not a single  Mizrahi or Arab was nominated for the prize in one of the many categories? Shame,” he says.

Yamina turns down Likud coalition deal offer, which included education post

The far-right Yamina party has rejected Likud’s latest coalition deal offer, Channel 12 reports.

The deal included the Education Ministry, Jerusalem Affairs Ministry and either a deputy ministry or responsibility over the Settlement Division and National Service.

Yamina MKs will be a no-show at tomorrow’s Knesset vote on legislation Blue and White and Likud will be advancing in order to uphold their deal, Channel 12 says.

Health Ministry officials said to warn against opening of kindergartens

Officials in the Health Ministry have cautioned ministers against voting to open kindergartens in Israel along with grades one through three, Channel 12 reports.

The officials are concerned that the return of so many little children could cause a new outbreak, Channel 12 says.

Court extends remand of man suspected of killing his wife

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court has ordered that a man suspected of killing his wife earlier this week be remanded an additional ten days.

Police said that the suspect confessed on Wednesday to carrying out the fatal stabbing.

Health Ministry raises death toll to 215, but just 106 cases in last day

The Health Ministry raises the national death toll from the coronavirus to 215, with three more fatalities since the morning.

Just 106 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 15,834, according to the ministry. Of the ill, 115 were in serious condition, 90 of them on ventilators, and another 83 were in moderate condition while the vast majority were displaying mild symptoms.

The ministry said 8,233 have recovered from the disease — more than half of all confirmed cases.

Blue and White turns down Likud offer to take Health Ministry post — report

Blue and White turned down a Likud offer to head the Health Ministry, Channel 12 reports.

The centrist party that said it had agreed to enter a Netanyahu government because of the pandemic turned down the deal because it would have required them to relinquish two mid-level ministerial posts, according to Channel 12.

Blue and White is only willing to give up two “minor” ministerial in exchange for the Health Ministry top job, which is currently held by United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman who said he will be vacating the position to lead the Housing Ministry, Channel 12 says.

Ministers said to have discussed Hamas prisoner swap

Netanyahu convened the ministerial committee responsible for returning Israeli captives to discuss efforts to reach a prisoner exchange with the Hamas terror group last week, Channel 13 reports.

This was the first meeting of the ministerial committee since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the backdrop of the pandemic, Hamas in recent weeks has expressed interest in reaching a deal that would see it return Israeli captives Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed along with the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

However, the group has said that in order for such a deal to take place, Israel must first release all teenage, female and elderly prisoners in addition to those who were rearrested after the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

Israel reportedly hopes that it would be able to receive information on the captives in exchange for letting additional medical supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Government hostage negotiator updates Goldin, Shaul families in talks with Hamas

The government’s chief negotiator for the release of Israelis held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yaron Blum, updated the families of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul regarding prisoner swap talks that have been taking place in recent weeks, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

This comes after Prime Minister Netanyahu convened the ministerial committee responsible for returning Israeli captives to discuss efforts to reach a prisoner exchange with the Hamas terror group last week, according to Channel 13.

This was the first meeting of the ministerial committee since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hamas in recent weeks has expressed interest in reaching a deal that would see it return Israeli captives Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed along with the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

However, the group has said that in order for such a deal to take place, Israel must first release all teenage, female and elderly prisoners in addition to those who were rearrested after the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

Israel reportedly hopes that it would be able to receive information on the captives in exchange for letting additional medical supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Access for Israeli farmers to Jordan border enclave to end Thursday

Israeli farmers will no longer be allowed to enter an agricultural enclave in Jordan on Thursday, as an extension of Israel’s lease on the land is set to expire.

In November, Jordan resumed control over the Naharayim and Tzofar enclaves, after refusing Israel’s requests to renew the 25-year lease on the lands that was part of the 1994 peace treaty between the countries.

However, an extension of the lease on Tzofar, located in the southern Arava region, was later extended until the end of April and the area was declared a closed military zone, with access limited to farmers.

Palestinian crashes car into concrete block outside West Bank checkpoint

A Palestinian from Barta’a crashed his car into a concrete block outside the Reihan checkpoint, the Defense Ministry says.

No one was injured in the incident and the reasons behind the crash were not immediately clear, the ministry says.

Goldin family: It would be irresponsible to miss this opportunity for a swap

“There is [currently] an opportunity to return from the hands of Hamas our son Hadar and Sgt. Oron Saul along with the civilians of [Avera] Mengistu and [Hisham] al-Sayed,” the Goldin family says in response to reports of ministers meeting to discuss a possible exchange.

“Missing [this] opportunity now would be a national irresponsibility,” the Goldins say.

The family also relays that Israel’s top hostage negotiator Yaron Blum updated them on the talks with Hamas last week.

Their statement comes after Channel 13 reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the ministerial committee responsible for returning Israeli captives to discuss efforts to reach a prisoner exchange with the Hamas terror group last week.

This was the first meeting of the ministerial committee since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hamas in recent weeks has expressed interest in reaching a deal that would see it return Israeli captives Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed along with the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

However, the group has said that in order for such a deal to take place, Israel must first release all teenage, female and elderly prisoners in addition to those who were rearrested after the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

Israel reportedly hopes that it would be able to receive information on the captives in exchange for letting additional medical supplies into the Gaza Strip.

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Competing with Zoom, Google makes video conference service free to all

Google makes its business videoconferencing service free to all users, ramping up competition for Zoom as people flock online to stay connected during the pandemic.

Google Meet had previously been reserved for subscribers to the premium G Suite software tools for businesses.

Meet will be available “to all users around the world, to enable people all walks of life to communicate collaborate and really stay in touch more effectively through the pandemic,” G Suite vice president Javier Soltaro tells AFP.

Google touts the security and reliability features of Meet, and its foundation in the California-based internet giant’s computing cloud.

Use of video calls and conferencing has rocketed as people work, learn, and socialize remotely while staying home to avoid the coronavirus.

Many people have turned to Zoom, which has scrambled to stem security problems such as data hacking and harassment by individuals who crash sessions in what is referred to as “Zoombombing.”

AFP