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Backing Tel Aviv demonstration, Blue and White signals support for 2-year budget

Gantz calls for adoption of a ‘much broader budgetary policy’ that goes beyond the next 3 months; finance minister: We haven’t lost control of economy, there’s no reason to protest

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square against the government's economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, July 11, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square against the government's economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, July 11, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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

Ahead of Tel Aviv rally, protest organizer says ‘the period of naivety is over’

Ahead of a planned demonstration this evening in Tel Aviv against the government’s policies to address the economic fallout accompanying the coronavirus pandemic, one of the protest’s organizers stresses the event is not meant to be a show of opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This isn’t a political protest, it’s a protest of the people,” Ronen Maili, head of the Israel Bars and Clubs Association, tells the Kann public broadcaster.

Commenting on the financial aid package Netanyahu unveiled during a press conference Thursday, Maili describes it as a “pretty presentation,” but says demonstrators want immediate action.

“We want to see the money in the bank. The period of naivety is over,” he says.

While generally complimentary of the aid plan, Maili calls for some changes.

“We’re businesses people. Until it’s closed, it’s not closed,” he says.

More coronavirus cases reported in Syria’s overcrowded rebel enclave

At least two doctors in Syria’s opposition-held northwest have been infected with the coronavirus, a monitoring group reports, the latest confirmed cases in the overcrowded rebel enclave.

The new infections raise the number of confirmed cases to three in the area, where health care facilities have been devastated by years of civil war, and where testing has been limited due to scarce resources.

Observers fear the virus could spread easily in Idlib province, a concern compounded as Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, moved at the UN Security Council to reduce cross-border aid from Turkey.

Aid groups and UN agencies say such a reduction would hamper the delivery of live-saving assistance amid a global pandemic.

Doctors following up on the cases say testing and contact tracing is underway to attempt to isolate and prevent the spread of the virus. The two new carriers have been in contact with the area’s first confirmed infected person — a doctor who had moved between different hospitals and towns.

“The anticipation is a catastrophic outcome if there is no proper containment of the initial cases or proper isolation,” says Naser alMuhawish, of the Early Warning and Alert Response Network that carries out testing and monitoring of the virus. “Don’t forget we are in a conflict zone. So doctors are already scarce and need to move between more than one place.”

The first case was reported Thursday and the hospital where the doctor works has since suspended its operations and quarantined patients and support staff to carry out testing. Meanwhile, hospitals in northwest Syria announced yesterday they would be suspending non-emergency procedures and outpatient services for at least one week. Schools were to shut down until further notice. Before the confirmed cases, there had been only about 2,000 people tested for the virus.

— AP

Rouhani says Iran can’t shutter economy despite worsening virus outbreak

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says it cannot afford to shut down its sanctions-hit economy, even as the country’s novel coronavirus outbreak worsens with record-high death tolls and rising infections.

Iran must continue “economic, social and cultural activities while observing health protocols,” President Hassan Rouhani says during a televised virus taskforce meeting.

“The simplest solution is to close down all activities, (but) the next day, people would come out to protest the (resulting) chaos, hunger, hardship and pressure,” he adds.

The Islamic Republic has been struggling since late February to contain the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, the deadliest in the Middle East.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari reports that 188 people had died from the respiratory disease in the past 24 hours, raising the overall toll to 12,635.

Iran’s daily COVID-19 death toll has topped 100 since around mid-June, with a record single-day tally of 221 reported on Thursday.

Lari also raises the country’s caseload to 255,117, with 2,397 new infections recorded.

The outbreak’s rising toll has prompted authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and to allow the hardest hit provinces to reimpose restrictive measures.

Iran closed schools, cancelled public events and banned movement between its 31 provinces in March, but Rouhani’s government progressively lifted restrictions from April to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.

Iran has suffered a sharp economic downturn after US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by six percent this year.

— AFP

Erdogan rebuffs worldwide condemnation of Hagia Sophia’s conversion to mosque

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejects worldwide condemnation over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, saying it represents his country’s will to use its “sovereign rights.”

Erdogan, who is accused by critics of chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced yesterday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque.

“Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries … attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights,” Erdogan says during a ceremony he attended via video-conference.

A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Erdogan’s announcement came after the cancellation by a top court of a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.

“We made this decision not looking at what others say but looking what our right is and what our nation wants, just like what we have done in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere,” the Turkish leader says.

— AFP

A woman poses for a picture in front of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on July 11, 2020 (Ozan Kose/AFP)

Police detain 38 East Jerusalem residents for possessing fireworks

Police say they’ve detained 38 residents of East Jerusalem for possessing fireworks.

The announcement comes after some police said in the morning that they received reports of gunfire, but that the noise was the sound of fireworks being set off to celebrate the end of matriculation exams.

Anti-graft protests against Netanyahu held throughout country

“Black flag” protesters rally across Israel against Prime Minister Netanyahu, calling on him to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges.

There are over 160 demonstrations taking place at locations throughout the country, according to the Kann public broadcaster.

16 detained for breaking into TV studios during protest against finance minister

Police detain 16 demonstrators breaking into the television studios in Neve Elan during a protest against Finance Minister Israel Katz.

Police say the 16 are suspected of disturbing public order.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the studio to protest against Katz as he arrived for an interview with Channel 12 news.

The demonstration was made up of social workers, who earlier this week announced a general strike after talks with the government failed to produce a change in their working conditions.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters asked to leave demonstration against government’s economic policy

A group of protesters against Prime Minister Netanyahu arrive at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where a demonstration against the government’s handling of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus is being held this evening.

The anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, some of whom are wearing shirts emblazoned with the words “crime minister,” are asked to leave by the organizers of the economic protest, according to the Kann public broadcaster.

Organizers of this evening’s protest have said the demonstration is “apolitical” and not directed against Netanyahu.

Blue and White lawmakers express support for protest in Tel Aviv

Lawmakers from the Blue and White party voice support for this evening’s protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The protesters are expressing real and justified distress,” Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn writes on Twitter.

Nissenkorn, a former head of the Histadrut labor federation, says a financial aid package unveiled Thursday by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz is a “step in the right direction, but we must present a budget that will bring economic certainty and engines of growth.”

As part of the coalition deal between Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud party, the sides agreed to pass a two-year budget. Citing the pandemic, Netanyahu is now calling for a one-year budget, which could potentially enable him to call new elections without having to hand the premiership to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the head of Blue and White.

“We’ll insist that the budget look toward 2021 and will give a security net to businesses, the self-employed and the unemployed,” Nissenkorn says.

Blue and White MK Ram Shefa also voices support for the protest.

“Every protest is important, but the demonstration today is critical. Ahead of the budgetary decisions our role here is to ensure that no members of the coalition will continue to forget what the right national priorities are at the moment,” he tweets.

IDF soldiers nab 3 Gazans who entered Israel

Israeli troops arrest three Palestinians who entered Israel from the Gaza Strip, the military says.

The three were not carrying weapons and after being questioned where they were arrested, the soldiers returned them to Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Over 2,000 demonstrate in Tel Aviv against government’s economic policies

A protest against the government’s policies to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is beginning in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

Over 2,000 people are currently at the demonstration, according to the Haaretz daily. Hebrew TV news reports say there are thousands in the square.

‘I’m here to call on the government to do what it has promised,’ Tel Aviv protester says

Tel Aviv resident Ruti Arenfeld says she’s attending the protest in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to show solidarity with many of her friends who have lost their jobs as a result of the government’s crippling restrictions aimed at curbing the pandemic.

“I’m not here to make a political statement. There are some who are trying to make this about Bibi’s corruption, but I think that’s a mistake,” she says as a man walks by her with a poster reading “corrupt ones go home,” next to a picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I’m here to call on the government to do what it has promised. To transfer the money to the wage workers and small businesses,” continues Arenfeld.

“You told them to close and they did that. Now it’s your turn to help them before it’s too late,” she adds.

While organizers billed the demonstration as apolitical, some of the protesters chant, “Bibi [Netanyahu], go home,” in what appears to represent the sentiment among many of the participants.

Dozens of police officers are roaming in and around Rabin Square, with some of them playing a pre-recorded message asking protesters to abide the government’s coronavirus guidelines by remaining two meters apart from one another and wearing masks.

— Jacob Magid

Israelis attend a protest in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, July 11, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Health Ministry reports 1,198 new infections over Shabbat; 3 more deaths recorded

The Health Ministry reports 1,198 new coronavirus cases over Shabbat, bringing the total number of inections in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 37,464.

Of the 18,296 active cases, 134 people are in serious condition, including 49 on ventilators. Another 102 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

The ministry also records three more deaths, raising the toll to 354.

It says 25,265 tests were performed yesterday.

Voicing support for Tel Aviv protest, Gantz appears to call for 2-year budget

Defense Minister Benny Gantz voices support for Israelis protesting against the government’s economic policies during the pandemic at a demonstration in Tel Aviv, and appears to call for the passage of a budget that runs through 2021 — which has become a point of contention with coalition partner Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“The citizens who have gone out to the streets are expressing real and justified distress and they have the full right to do this, and we as a government have the responsibility to listen and to work to find solutions,” Gantz writes on his Facebook page.

“The coronavirus has brought us one of the greatest health, social and economic crises in the history of the state. Together, we can overcome it by safeguarding life and livelihood,” he adds.

Gantz says he told Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz that along with the financial aid package it announced Thursday, Blue and White will insist that a “much broader budgetary policy is soon presented that will encourage growth growing forward” and goes beyond the next three months.

Crowd at Tel Aviv protest against government’s economic policies reaches 10,000

Attendance at a protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s economic policies during the COVID-19 pandemic swells to some 10,000 people, according to Hebrew media estimates.

Finance minister: We haven’t lost control of economy, no need for protest

Finance Minister Israel Katz is asked about this evening’s protest in Tel Aviv during an interview with Channel 13 news.

“The demonstrators don’t have a reason to protest, we haven’t lost control over what’s happening in the economy,” he says.

Concerning complaints that promised government aid has been slow to arrive, Katz says, “the money will reach the bank on Tuesday and you’ll see this in your account on Wednesday.”

Gas explosion rocks residential building in Tehran

A gas explosion reportedly rocks a residential building in Tehran, Iran, injuring a resident.

The explosion was caused by several gas cylinders in the building’s basement that exploded, Reuters says, citing Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

The incident comes amid a series of mysterious blasts in Iran, including one that caused extensive damage to a facility used for centrifuge production at the Natanz nuclear site.

A Middle East official told the New York Times and the Washington Post that Israel was behind the July 2 blast at Natanz.

The attack exhibited the complexity of the Stuxnet virus that sabotaged Iranian enrichment centrifuges a decade ago, experts and analysts said in a new report Friday. Officials with knowledge of the blast at Natanz last week told The New York Times that it was most likely the result of a bomb planted at the facility, potentially at a strategic gas line, but that it was not out of the question that a cyberattack was used to cause a malfunction that led to the explosion.

UN votes for aid to Syria’s rebel area through just 1 crossing

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council is voting on a resolution that would extend humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s mainly rebel-held northwest from Turkey through just one crossing point, as Russia has insisted.

Russia, Syria’s most important ally, has argued that aid should be delivered from within the country across conflict lines and just one crossing point is needed.

The UN and humanitarian groups argued unsuccessfully — along with the vast majority of the UN Security Council — that two crossing points were essential to get aid to the 2.8 million needy people in the northwest, especially with the first case of COVID-19 recently reported in the region.

Today’s vote caps a week of high-stakes rivalry between Russia and China, and the 13 other council members who voted twice to maintain the two crossings from Turkey that were in operation until their mandate ended Friday.

Both times, Russia and China vetoed the resolutions — the 15  th and 16th veto by Russia of a Syria resolution since the conflict began in 2011 and the 9th and 10th by China.

Germany and Belgium, who sponsored the widely supported resolutions for two crossing points, were forced to back down by the threat of another Russian veto, and their latest draft would authorize only a single crossing point from Turkey for a year.

Results of the email vote by the 15 Security Council members are expected to be announced later today.

— AP

As rally ends, demonstrators march down main Tel Aviv street

After the rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square officially ends, hundreds of demonstrators march down the city’s Ibn Gvirol street, blocking traffic.

Some of the protesters sit in the middle of an intersection, chanting, “change, hope, bread, livelihood!”

Likud Minister Elkin to enter quarantine after aid infected with COVID-19

Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin says one of his aides has contracted COVID-19 and that he therefore will enter quarantine.

“According to the Health Ministry regulations I’m not required to quarantine as I wasn’t in contact with the aid in the past weeks. However, to be sure, I requested to undergo a test tomorrow morning and decided to be in quarantine until receiving the results,” Elkin writes on Twitter.

Elkin joins several other lawmakers currently in quarantine, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin speaks at a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Demonstrators block Tel Aviv junction, police prevent them from reaching highway

Demonstrators in Tel Aviv are blocking Azrieli junction following a protest in the city’s Rabin Square against the government’s economic policies.

Police form a human chain to prevent the protesters from marching to Ayalon Highway and mounted officers are called in to clear the demonstrators from the road.

Pope ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

Pope Francis says he is “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pope says.

— AFP

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Demonstrators block Tel Aviv junction, police prevent them from reaching highway

Demonstrators in Tel Aviv are blocking Azrieli junction following a protest in the city’s Rabin Square against the government’s economic policies.

Police form a human chain to prevent the protesters from marching to Ayalon Highway and mounted officers are called in to clear the demonstrators from the road.