Dozens reported killed in clashes between Syrian regime, Islamic State
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Police minister to quarantine after top border cop tests positive for virus

Amir Ohana says though he’s not required to self-isolate, he’ll do so out of caution; also announces officers will further step up enforcement of social distancing rules

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

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

Police said drafting plan to increase enforcement of social distancing rules

Police are drafting plans to increase their enforcement of social distancing guidelines meant to curb the spread of coronavirus, Hebrew media reports say.

The plan calls for the establishment of special headquarters in each police district, which the Walla news site reports will be staffed by officers tasked with preventing prohibited gatherings and enforcing mandatory mask-wearing and restrictions on businesses.

The report says the plan, which interim police commissioner Motti Cohen is expected to present to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, envisions 400 officers operating out of each headquarters.

A police source tells the news site the plan is not final and could include further measures aimed at blocking the spread of the virus.

The Kan public broadcaster notes the formulation of the plan comes amid continued delays in authorizing municipal inspectors to enforce the rules.

The reports come as police say they handed out 3,097 fines over the past day to Israelis who allegedly violated the restrictions.

Police have recently been ordered by the government to step up enforcement amid the surge in new infections.

Iran’s Rouhani calls for mask-wearing to be enforced

TEHRAN, Iran — People not wearing masks against the novel coronavirus should be refused service in enclosed public spaces, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says, as his government moves to make it obligatory.

The new measure goes into effect from midnight as part of the authorities’ efforts to bring down a daily death toll that has remained stubbornly in triple figures.

But face masks are already mandatory on public transport in Iran and the Tehran city council acknowledges that the rule is still widely flouted on the bus and metro services it runs.

Addressing the committee in charge of Iran’s efforts to stem its virus outbreak — the deadliest in the Middle East — Rouhani says the new order “requires some guarantee that it will be respected.”

“In government offices, that is likely to be easier — we can simply deny entry to people not wearing masks.”

Since late last month, the government has also undertaken a public information campaign, with officials and state television anchors wearing masks on camera to encourage their use.

But there is still no sign of any respite from the virus.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says 148 deaths have been recorded over the past 24 hours, only slightly down from the 154 she reported yesterday.

Iran’s overall toll now stands at 11,408, with 237,878 confirmed infections since it reported its first cases in late February.

— AFP

Dozens reported killed in clashes between Syrian regime, Islamic State

BEIRUT — Clashes between Russia-backed Syrian regime forces and the Islamic State jihadist group have killed more than 40 fighters on the two sides in just 48 hours, a Britain-based war monitor says.

Fighting and Russian air strikes in the central desert province of Homs since late Thursday have taken the lives of 18 pro-government fighters and 26 jihadists, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

“The fighting started in the night of Thursday to Friday with a jihadist assault on regime positions” near the town of Al-Sukhna, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman says.

IS jihadists have retained a roving presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert, despite losing their last shred of territory last year. They regularly carry out attacks there.

IS declared a cross-border “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but several military campaigns against it chipped away at that proto-state and eventually led to its territorial demise.

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests, before evolving into a complex conflict involving world powers and jihadists.

— AFP

Border Police to reportedly set up coronavirus testing station for top officers

The Border Police will set up a special testing station for all senior officers after the force’s commander Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai was diagnosed with COVID-19, the Walla news site reports.

University heads announce halt to exams on campus

The Association of University Heads in Israel announces that beginning tomorrow, no final exams will be held on campus in accordance with a government order meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The group says it submitted a proposal to the Council for Higher Education to allow some tests to be held on campus, but that Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin is preventing the council from convening.

Thousands of Israelis said ordered to quarantine after Shin Bet tracking revived

Thousands of Israelis have received messages instructing them to enter quarantine since the Knesset renewed the use of controversial surveillance measures to track coronavirus carriers and those they were in contact with, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, many Israelis who received the messages are calling the Health Ministry to appeal, but have been unable to get through due to the large number of callers.

Anyone who did not receive official permission to be exempt from quarantine must begin to self-isolate.

On Wednesday, the Knesset passed legislation authorizing the Shin Bet security service to employ advanced surveillance measures to track those sick with the virus amid a nationwide surge in infections.

The tracking had been authorized by the government early on in the pandemic, but it lapsed after the government declined to immediately advance legislation regulating the program.

Liberman: Gantz has a better chance of becoming PM of Mongolia than of Israel

MK Avigdor Liberman, head of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, assails Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his pledge to annex parts of the West Bank.

In an interview with Channel 12 news, Liberman is asked about reports that the move, which Netanyahu was allowed to begin advancing on July 1 as part of his coalition deal with the Blue and White party, is being held up due to reservations in the Trump administration.

“We need to decide if we’re an independent country or a banana republic,” Liberman says.

Liberman, a former political ally of Netanyahu who broke with the premier during the last two election campaigns, says the Likud chief never intended to go forward with annexation and that he only pledged to do so to get votes.

Liberman is also asked what he thinks the chances are that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will become prime minister next year, as part of his coalition agreement with Netanyahu.

Gantz has a better chance of being the prime minister of Mongolia than of Israel, Liberman claims.

Florida records single-day high of new coronavirus cases

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — The Fourth of July holiday weekend begins today with some sobering numbers in the Sunshine State: Florida logs a record number of people testing positive for the coronavirus.

State health officials report 11,445 new cases, a single-day record since the pandemic began earlier this year. The latest count brings the total number of cases in the state to more than 190,000. A website maintained by the Department of Health shows an additional 245 hospitalizations from the outbreak.

Local officials and health experts are worried that people will gather over the holiday weekend and spread the virus through close contact. They’ve tried to mitigate spread by shutting bars statewide. Some regional attractions, such as Zoo Miami and Jungle Island, have closed. Universal Studios in Orlando is open.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez closed Miami-Dade County beaches through the weekend. Municipalities elsewhere in South Florida, from Vero Beach to Broward County, did the same. Beaches in the Florida Keys are also closed. Public beaches along Pinellas County’s 35 miles of sand are open.

— AP

Ministers expected to okay tighter restrictions on gatherings at Sunday cabinet meeting

The government is expected to approve new restrictions on gatherings when it meets tomorrow, Channel 12 news reports.

The limitations will include capping synagogue attendance at 50 people and barring gatherings of over 20 people.

The network says the so-called coronavirus cabinet will convene tomorrow to deliberate limiting the number of people event halls, restaurants and bars, with attendance at all of them likely to be limited to 50 people.

PM distances himself from Likud ally’s dismissal of claim that some Israelis can’t afford food

As Shabbat ends, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to his Likud party ally Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s dismissal of claims that some Israelis don’t have enough money for food amid the economic crisis accompanying the coronavirus pandemic as “bullshit.”

A statement put out by Likud doesn’t name Hanegbi, who has since apologized for the comment.

“The prime minister regrets comments [that imply] the distress of the coronavirus isn’t real,” the statement says.

It adds: “Like everywhere in the world, the coronavirus has had a high cost in [terms of] life, health and livelihood. The distress is real and the prime minister is working around the clock to provide an answer to it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Tzachi Hanegbi at a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2016. (Miriam Alsterl/Flash90)

Health ministry reports 977 new infections, 4 more coronavirus deaths

The Health Ministry reports 977 new coronavirus cases since yesterday evening, bringing the total number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 29,032.

The ministry also announces four more deaths from COVID-19, raising the toll to 330.

Of the 10,929 active cases, there are 84 people in serious condition, including 32 on ventilators. Another 74 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptotic.

There were 20,912 tests performed yesterday.

Palestinian Authority reports 528 new coronavirus cases in West Bank

The Palestinian Authority Heath Ministry has recorded 528 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, Palestinian government spokesperson Ibrahim Milhim says in a statement tonight.

An additional 33 cases are detected in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, which the PA counts in its official health statistics.

There are currently 3,360 confirmed active cases of coronavirus in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, out of 3,835 total infections, the PA Health Ministry says.

Of the active infections, 2,749 are in Hebron governorate, which has emerged as the center of the West Bank outbreak. Next is Bethlehem, with 238, followed by Nablus with 180. According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, the main Bethlehem coronavirus treatment center has only four ventilators, two of which are already in use.

12 deaths have been reported so far in the Palestinian territories — one in the Gaza Strip and 11 in the West Bank. The majority of deaths have taken place in the last two weeks, since the second wave of the outbreak began in the West Bank.

— Aaron Boxerman

Rivlin, Gantz and IDF chief won’t need to quarantine after attending event with confirmed virus carrier

The Health Ministry says President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi don’t have to enter quarantine after the commander of the Border Police, who was present at an event they all attended this week, tested positive for the coronavirus.

WHO reports highest single-day increase in new coronavirus cases

BERLIN — The World Health Organization says member states reported more than 212,000 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections globally today, the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic.

The Geneva-based WHO said the highest number of new infections was reported from the Americas region, which includes the United States and Brazil, with almost 130,000 confirmed cases.

WHO’s count can differ from other global case tallies due to official reporting delays.

— AP

Police minister to quarantine after top border cop tests positive for virus

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana announces he will enter quarantine after the commander of the Border Police tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ohana says though a pair of interactions he had with Yaakov Shabtai didn’t meet the Health Ministry standards requiring a person who was in contact with a COVID-19 carrier to quarantine, he is deciding to self-isolate out of caution.

“[People] shouldn’t take risks, especially considering the nature of my meetings,” Ohana wrote on Facebook, noting he was supposed to take part in tomorrow’s weekly cabinet meeting.

Ohana, whose ministry oversees police, says he took a coronavirus test that came back negative.

His announcement came as the Health Ministry said President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who were all at a ceremony Shabtai attended this week, don’t have to quarantine.

In the Facebook post, Ohana also addresses the police’s stepped up enforcement of social distancing rules meant to curb the spread of the virus.

“Right now I finished a conference call with the heads of police and it was agreed that starting tomorrow, thousands of officers will only deal with enforcing the coronavirus [rules], all over the country, in all places,” he says.

US daily virus cases fall under 50,000 for 1st time in 4 days

The United States has dipped under 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in four days, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts fear celebrations for the July 4th Independence Day weekend will act like rocket fuel for the nation’s surging outbreak.

Johns Hopkins counts 45,300 new coronavirus infections in the US on Saturday after three days in which the daily count reached as high as 54,500 new cases. The lower figure on Saturday does not necessarily mean the situation in the US is improving, as it could be due to reduced reporting on a national holiday.

The United States has the most infections and virus-related deaths in the world, with 2.8 million cases and nearly 130,000 dead, according to the university. Experts say the true toll of the pandemic is significantly higher, due to people who died before they were tested and missed mild cases.

To show just how steep the current infection curve is in the US, the country was reporting under 20,000 new infections a day as recently as June 15.

Despite warnings by health experts to limit gatherings, US President Donald Trump went ahead with a speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday and an evening of tribute and fireworks Saturday on the National Mall in Washington.

AP

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Dozens reported killed in clashes between Syrian regime, Islamic State

BEIRUT — Clashes between Russia-backed Syrian regime forces and the Islamic State jihadist group have killed more than 40 fighters on the two sides in just 48 hours, a Britain-based war monitor says.

Fighting and Russian air strikes in the central desert province of Homs since late Thursday have taken the lives of 18 pro-government fighters and 26 jihadists, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

“The fighting started in the night of Thursday to Friday with a jihadist assault on regime positions” near the town of Al-Sukhna, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman says.

IS jihadists have retained a roving presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert, despite losing their last shred of territory last year. They regularly carry out attacks there.

IS declared a cross-border “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but several military campaigns against it chipped away at that proto-state and eventually led to its territorial demise.

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests, before evolving into a complex conflict involving world powers and jihadists.

— AFP