Gantz: Elected representatives will follow the law. No one is above the law
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Gantz, Netanyahu speak by phone about ‘national emergency government’

Political rivals instruct their negotiating teams to hold talks Thursday; Likud had threatened negotiations were off if Blue and White pushed for vote on new Knesset speaker

Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)
Composite photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)

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

Senate, White House reach deal on $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package

The US Senate and White House have reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package for the US economy and millions of Americans ravaged by the coronavirus crisis, the top Republican lawmaker says.

“At last, we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell states, citing the massive “wartime level of investment into our nation.”

The Senate and House of Representatives still need to pass the legislation before sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

— AFP

Report: Smotrich tells cabinet public could rebel, government may lose control

Army Radio reports that during nighttime cabinet discussions on the new limitations on movement, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of Yamina expressed concerns that as the period of extreme restrictions extends to weeks and more, the public could rebel against the new directives, leading to chaos and loss of control by the government.

Smotrich said it was imperative now to calm the public, and stated that the government had failed to properly explain its decisions to the public and to prepare it for further steps, the radio report says.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a conference organized by the Makor Rishon newspaper in Jerusalem, November 11, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

Fourth coronavirus victim dies in Israel — a 76-year-old man

A 76-year-old man has died of a coronavirus infection at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, the nation’s fourth victim.

The man is said to have had serious health issues before his infection.

A fifth person has died of coronavirus as number of sick rises to 2,030

A swift update to the death toll — the Health Ministry says a fifth person has died of coronavirus, though there are no immediate details on the identity of the victim.

The number of diagnosed has risen to 2,030, of which 37 are in serious condition.

Israeli stock trade set to open after global market surge

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is set to start daily trading at 9 a.m., after an international surge in light of the massive new US stimulus package and following new moves from the Federal Reserve, the latest salvos in a global counterattack against the damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wall Street, the Dow surged 11.4 percent, its biggest one-day percentage increase since 1933, boosted by signs Congress was nearing agreement on a rescue package for the US economy that has now been announced to amount to more than $2 trillion.

The gains in New York were mirrored in Europe and in Asia.

— with AFP

Reports Edelstein may resign rather than adhere to High Court ruling

There are growing reports Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein could resign today rather than allow a vote today on naming a new speaker for the 23rd Knesset.

The Israel Hayom and Maariv newspapers say Edelstein could quit so as not to flout the High Court’s decision on Monday that he must call a vote on his replacement, while also avoiding taking a step he strongly opposes.

Unnamed political officials tell Channel 12 news that they believe Edelstein will not defy Monday’s High Court ruling.

Edelstein has not yet commented on whether he will adhere to the ruling. A growing number of Likud MKs have called on him not to defy the court, including Gideon Sa’ar, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on November 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset to review Shin Bet’s tracking of Israelis in fight against coronavirus

Having formed the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, Blue and White says tomorrow it will begin a review of the Shin Bet security service’s involvement in the fight against coronavirus.

MK Gabi Ashkenazi, no. 4 in Blue and White and the new head of the FADC, says he will summon the Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services to discuss the government decision to allow monitoring of Israeli citizens in order to help contain the outbreak.

Blue and White party member MK Gabi Ashkenazi speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yesterday the High Court of Justice lifted an injunction that barred the Shin Bet from tracking Israelis and prevented the police from acting on that data to enforce quarantine orders. The court had said it could not allow the program to continue if parliamentary oversight were not in place by Tuesday. But Monday saw the Knesset reopen and committees formed.

Blue and White’s Ofer Shelah to head Knesset coronavirus crisis committee

Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah will head the Knesset’s new coronavirus crisis committee.

“We will deal with the three main components of the crisis — health, economy and governmental,” Shelah says upon his unanimous selection by committee members.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Widower of virus victim: ‘They wouldn’t let me see her, to say goodbye’

The widower of Malka Keva, the country’s second person to die of the coronavirus, speaks to Army Radio, highlighting the difficulty suffered by virus victims and their families — with patients left to die alone due to fears over the contagion.

Sixty-seven-year-old Keva worked at Wolfson Medical Center and is believed to have been infected there.

Malka Keva, 67, on March 24, 2020 became the second fatality in Israel from the coronavirus pandemic (via Facebook)

“Even though I’m sick as well, they wouldn’t let me see her, to say goodbye. I begged to go to the funeral,” Kaduri Keva says.

Malka died on Tuesday morning, and was survived by her husband, three children and seven grandchildren.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has announced his resignation

In a bombshell announcement, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has announced he is resigning from the speakership, rather than comply with a High Court order to hold a vote on a new speaker today.

Labor faction’s Knesset meeting room to be disinfected after worker feels unwell

A worker of the Labor faction was sent home by Knesset officials after reporting to the infirmary that she was feeling ill, parliament says.

The woman was sent home and told to contact Magen David Adom officials for testing.

Meanwhile the head of Knesset security Yosef Grif ordered the Labor faction’s meeting room to undergo disinfection as a precaution.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, December 26, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/via JTA)

Edelstein: Court undermining democracy’s foundations, but I won’t allow anarchy

In a statement on his resignation, Edelstein says the High Court ruling forcing him to call a vote on his replacement “is not based on the letter of the law but on a one-sided interpretation. It undermines the foundations of democracy.

“As one who paid a personal price of years in prison [in Russia] for the right to live as a citizen in Israel, as a Zionist and as the speaker of this House I will not let Israel come to anarchy. I will not give my support to a civil war.”

“Thus for the good of the State of Israel and to renew the spirit of statesmanship in Israel I am resigning from my position as Knesset speaker. We will pray and work for better days.”

Speaker’s resignation means vote on replacement delayed till next week

Edelstein’s resignation will only enter into effect in 48 hours, meaning his actions have delayed a vote on the next speaker into next week.

Blue and White seeking to elect Knesset speaker today despite Edelstein’s action

Blue and White may try to push to hold a vote on the next Knesset speaker today despite Yuli Edelstein’s resignation, under the justification that delaying will still mean contempt of court, Channel 12 news reports.

Edelstein ended the Knesset session after announcing his resignation, and noted it would only take effect in 48 hours.

Channel 12 says the Knesset’s legal advisers believe the resignation cannot prevent the vote from taking place today as mandated by the court.

Meanwhile the Movement for Quality Government says it will appeal to the High Court of Justice to allow the vote to go forward today.

Edelstein’s full statement: Court’s actions extreme, destructive and dangerous

Here is Yuli Edelstein’s full statement of resignation:

On Monday this week the High Court of Justice ruled that the Knesset speaker must bring to a vote this very week the election of a new Knesset speaker.

The High Court ruling is not based on the letter of the law but on a one-sided and extreme interpretation. The High Court ruling contravenes Knesset regulations. The High court ruling destroys the work of the Knesset.

The High Court ruling constitutes crude and arrogant intervention of the judiciary in the matters of the elected legislature. The High Court decision causes unprecedented harm to the people’s sovereignty and the Knesset’s sovereignty. The High Court decision undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy.

As a democrat, as a Zionist Jew, as someone who fought against dark regimes, and as the speaker of parliament, I consider the High Court decision to be a grave, mistaken decision demonstrating a dangerous moral breakdown.

Members of the Knesset, as someone who paid a heavy personal price of years in jail and hard labor for the privilege to live as a citizen of Israel, there is no need for me to stress how much I love the State of Israel and the people of Israel.

And therefore as a democrat, as a Zionist Jew, as someone who has fought against dark regimes, and as the speaker off this house, I won’t allow Israel to descend into anarchy. I won’t lend a hand to civil war. I’ll act in the spirit of Menachem Begin, who in June 1948, in the days of the Altalena, prevented civil war.

Members of the Knesset, citizens of Israel, at this hour, our people need unity, need a unity government. At this time, as a pandemic endangers us from without, and rifts tear us from within, we all need to act like human beings, to act, to unify, to rise above. And therefore for the sake of the State of Israel, and in order to renew the spirit of statesmanship in Israel, I hereby resign from my position as Knesset speaker. We’ll pray, and we’ll work, for better days.

Organization petitions High Court to force vote on new speaker today

The New Contract, an anti-corruption group, has filed a petition with the High Court of Justice urging it to force Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to carry out the court’s ruling from Monday that ordered him to hold a vote on the identity of the new speaker no later than today.

It calls for an injunction to enforce the ruling immediately.

Edelstein announced his resignation a short time ago to avoid carrying out the court’s ruling, but ended the Knesset session while noting his action will only take effect in 48 hours, meaning a new speaker will not be elected before next week.

View of the Supreme Court as seen from a rooftop in Jerusalem on September 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud minister blasts Gantz’s ‘lowly’ actions, and other reactions

Some reactions to Yuli Edelstein’s resignation:

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev of Likud says: “Applause to Gantz, Lapid, Ashkenazi, Bogie [Ya’alon] and Liberman. You did it. You will go down in the history books as being behind one of the lowliest acts Israeli democracy has known. Take it away from here — a Jewish minority alongside the list of terror supporters.”

MK Ofer Shelah of Blue and White has quite a different take, calling the resignation an act of war by Likud against democracy. The resignation, he says, “does not absolve [Edelstein] of following the High Court’s decision to convene the plenum and elect a new speaker [today]… We will not let this pass.”

MK Miki Zohar of Likud, a top ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls on him to “halt negotiations on unity with Blue and White.”

Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg says Edelstein “cannot flout a High Court ruling by resigning and must carry it out.”

Gantz said to go to Edelstein’s office, ask him to reopen plenum

In extraordinary scenes, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has reportedly walked over to the Knesset speaker’s office and asked him to reopen the plenum to allow a vote on his replacement today.

There are conflicting reports as to whether Blue and White will petition the High Court to force Yuli Edelstein to allow a vote today, should he refuse.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L) addressing the Knesset next to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, March 23, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

Cabinet extends terms of acting heads of police chief, prisons service

In some non-insane news, the cabinet has approved an extension to the terms of acting Israel Police commissioner Motti Cohen and acting Israel Prisons Service chief Asher Vaknin until September 30.

Both have been serving in a temporary capacity due to the inability of an interim government to approve permanent appointments to senior posts.

Hundreds protest against Edelstein, government outside the Knesset

As the drama continues inside the Knesset, there’s action outside as well. Several hundreds demonstrators have rallied outside the Israeli parliament, waving black flags and demanding the Speaker Yuli Edelstein adhere to the High Court’s ruling and allow a vote for the speakership to go forward today.

Protesters are calling for “saving Israeli democracy” from the government’s recent actions.

Israelis take part in a demonstration ‘to save Israel’s democracy,’ outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 25, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset legal adviser tells Edelstein he must allow Knesset vote today

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon is calling on Edelstein to reconvene the plenum to allow it to vote on the identity of the next speaker, as per the High Court’s ruling, despite resigning a short time ago.

Yinon tells Edelstein he will still be in breach of a High Court ruling if he fails to allow the vote to go forward.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon speaks at the Knesset in 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prince Charles has tested positive for coronavirus, palace says

Prince Charles, the eldest son and heir to Queen Elizabeth II, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his office says.

The 71-year-old is displaying mild symptoms of COVID-19 “but otherwise remains in good health,” Clarence House says in a statement.

Charles, Prince of Wales, speaks during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

— AFP

Edelstein refuses legal adviser’s call to obey court, hold vote for speaker

Yuli Edelstein has refused Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon’s call to hold a vote on his replacement today, Yinon says.

Yinon says he informed the speaker that his decision to resign, which will only go into effect in 48 hours, does not absolve him of the need to hold a vote today, as mandated by the High Court of Justice.

But he says Edelstein refuses to do so.

Lapid: Edelstein’s actions are ‘anarchy,’ where are the decent MKs on right?

Blue and White’s no. 2 Yair Lapid writes in a tweet: “A Knesset speaker breaching a High Court ruling is anarchy. Has [Benjamin] Netanyahu sent Yuli [Edelstein] to set democracy ablaze?

“Where are the decent MKs of the [right-wing] camp? We will defend democracy in every way.”

Yair Lapid (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Number of coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 2,170

The number of diagnosed coronavirus patients in Israel has risen by another 140 cases since the morning, and is now at 2,170, the Health Ministry says.

The number of cases in the country has doubled over the past three days.

Gantz: Elected representatives will follow the law. No one is above the law

His reported efforts to convince Yuli Edelstein to heed a High Court ruling and hold a vote for speaker appearing to have failed, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz turns to Twitter.

“The Israeli Knesset belongs to the citizens of Israel and its elected representatives will follow the laws of the State of Israel and court rulings,” he writes.

“No one is above the law.”

He does not say how he plans to ensure this will happen.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz gives a televised statement in Ramat Gan on March 7 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Police tell protesters they can’t bring cars to Knesset

Jerusalem police have informed demonstrators against the government that they will no longer be allowed to bring their cars to protest outside the Knesset, Channel 12 news reports.

Demonstrators will be required to park further away and arrive by foot, police tell the network.

Organizers respond: “Police have decided to do everything to help a man accused of criminal acts to suppress civil protest. We call on all those who care about democracy to come now to the Knesset and fight for democracy.”

Bennett: Number of patients requiring respirators will boom in next 10 days

In a press briefing, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett says he expects a significant growth in the next 10 days in the number of seriously ill coronavirus patients requiring respirators.

He says the public’s behavior is “the number one factor in curbing the disease.” He adds that the top priority is keeping the elderly safe from infection.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the media in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 26, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Report: Edelstein tells allies ‘High Court can’t send judges to open the plenum’

According to Channel 13, the Knesset speaker has told allies: “The plenum is adjourned and that’s the end of it.

“The High Court can’t send judges to open the plenum, and I hope they won’t behave in such an extremely irresponsible and un-statesmanlike manner.”

High Court gives Knesset speaker until 2:30 p.m. to respond to ‘contempt’ charge

Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut gives Yuli Edelstain and other involved parties until 2:30 p.m. to respond to petitions demanding he respect Monday’s High Court ruling on electing a new Knesset speaker.

The court notes that Edelstein must do so “according to the directives of contempt of court.”

Also required to submit their positions: Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the government and the Likud party.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut at a High Court preliminary hearing on whether a lawmaker facing criminal indictment can be tapped to form a coalition, December 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Odeh: Edelstein a ‘lightweight,’ his enablers are ‘cowards’

Joint List head MK Ayman Odeh attacks Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein for his response to the High Court’s ruling.

“Yuli, you lightweight. Do you know how many High Court rulings we would have liked to throw out the window?” he says. “You wouldn’t survive for a second as an Arab.”

He lambastes the “cowards” who are unwilling to cry out “when the House is on fire.”

Leader of the Joint list MK Ayman Odeh attends a press conference in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Spain surpasses China in virus deaths, Iran to ban intercity travel

The death toll in Spain from the coronavirus has shot up by more than 700, surpassing China and now second only to Italy as the pandemic spreads rapidly in Europe.

Spain recorded a record daily increase of 738 deaths, pushing it to 3,434 overall and past China’s 3,285, the Ministry of Health says. The country’s infections rose by 20% to 47,610, and more than 5,000 have recovered.

Iran, meanwhile, announces 143 new deaths from the virus, raising the official death toll to 2,077 in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.

A Spanish soldier stands next to beds set up at a temporary hospital for vulnerable people at the Fira Barcelona Montjuic centre in Barcelona on March 25, 2020 (Pau Barrena / AFP)

Officials say the country will ban intercity travel from Thursday or Friday in a bid to contain the spread of the infection.

— Agencies

Bennett: We must follow law, obey High Court, otherwise country will fall apart

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party, says, “We must obey the law and High Court decrees, otherwise the country will fall apart.”

Bennett was speaking at a press conference on his ministry’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Attorney general says Edelstein must follow court orders, hold vote today

The attorney general tells the High Court it is his position that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein must carry out the court’s Monday order to allow a vote for a new speaker today.

Meanwhile the Knesset’s legal adviser Eyal Yinon tells the court that barring a new court order, Edelstein’s resignation will only enter into effect in 48 hours, until which time there is no way to force him to hold the vote.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Thousands said demonstrating against government outside Knesset

Channel 12 news reports that thousands of demonstrators are taking part in a protest outside the Knesset in support of the courts and against what they say is a governmental assault on democracy.

Some demonstrators are on foot while many other demonstrators are driving around in vehicles to adhere to Health Ministry guidelines of social distancing.

Israelis take part in a demonstration outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 25, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Edelstein notifies Amir Peretz he will become interim speaker on Friday morning

Outgoing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein notifies Labor chief Amir Peretz that as the most senior member of the Knesset, he will replace him as interim speaker when his resignation comes into force on Friday at 11 a.m.

Labor party leader Amir Peretz speaks in Tel Aviv, January 20, 2020. (Flash90)

Arrangements Committee to meet at 4:15 p.m.; Knesset legal adviser to take part

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn says he’ll convene the Knesset Arrangements Committee at 4:15 p.m., after Yuli Edelstein announced he was resigning as Knesset speaker and refused to hold a vote to elect a new speaker, which the High Court ordered he must do by today.

A statement from Blue and White says Eyal Yinon, the Knesset’s legal adviser, will take part in the meeting.

IDF calls off joint aerial drill with US

The Israel Defense Forces says it is delaying a joint air exercise with the United States that was supposed to begin yesterday.

The military says the US requested the postponement of several days to “sort out coordination issues.” The IDF doesn’t immediately elaborate on the nature of these issues.

The aerial exercise, in which F-35 fighter jets were due to take part, received special permission from the IDF to be held despite a general ban on international drills in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The IDF said the exercise was due to take place entirely in the air, without in-person meetings on the ground between the two militaries.

— Judah Ari Gross

Fighter jets from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel (IDF spokesperson)

Edelstein tells court his conscience won’t let him hold vote on new speaker

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has responded to the High Court.

“I cannot carry out the ruling because it goes against my conscience. That’s why I announced my resignation. It will come into effect in 48 hours and after that whoever is appointed [speaker] can make any decision he finds right to make in accordance with his judgment,” he says.

Edelstein adds: “I’m not interested in defying the honorable court, but in light of its ruling I feel that I was thrust into an impossible situation and therefore I announced my resignation.”

Health Ministry says Israelis shouldn’t celebrate Passover with people they don’t live with

Uri Schwartz, the Health Ministry’s legal adviser, says people should not celebrate the Seder on first night of Passover with people they do not live with.

Passover this year begins the evening of April 8.

Cabinet approves fines, 6-month prison sentences for violators of new ordinances

An updated version of the new emergency guidelines, which will take effect at 5 p.m., details the punishments Israelis will receive for violating them.

Anyone who leaves his home for a reason not permitted by the ordinances, is in a place he’s not allowed to be or prays somewhere outside his home is subject to a NIS 500 fine or six months’ imprisonment.

An Israeli who operates public transportation in violation of the ordinances can be fined NIS 5,000 or be imprisoned for six months.

UN warns ‘whole of humanity’ at risk from coronavirus pandemic

UNITED NATIONS — The coronavirus pandemic is threatening the entire human race, the United Nations says today as it launches a humanitarian response that includes appeals for $2 billion for the world’s poorest people.

“COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity -– and the whole of humanity must fight back. Global action and solidarity are crucial. Individual country responses are not going to be enough,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres says in announcing the initiative.

— AFP

High Court asks Knesset legal adviser for opinion on Arrangements Committee choosing new speaker

The High Court of Justice asks Eyal Yinon, the Knesset’s legal adviser, to submit a legal opinion on whether the Arrangements Committee can choose a new Knesset speaker, rather than the plenum.

New emergency regulations come into effect; violators face fines, prison sentence

As of 5 p.m today, new emergency regulations have come into effect banning people from going more than 100 meters from their homes as the government attempts to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The regulations will be in place for a period of seven days.

Anyone who leaves their place of residence for reasons not exempted by the emergency regulations is liable to be fined up to NIS 5,000. A person who has gone beyond the permitted distance could receive an NIS 500 fine or six months’ imprisonment, while one who operates public transportation in violation of the regulations can be fined NIS 5,000 or be imprisoned for six months.

The emergency regulations were approved last night by the cabinet. They place further limitations on public transportation and obligate employers to take the temperature of employees. Anyone whose body temperature is 38 degrees Celsius or higher will not be allowed to enter.

Joint List denies MK tested positive for coronavirus

Joint List MK Sondos Saleh has been tested for coronavirus after coming down with a fever, the Knesset spokesman says.

Despite reports that the Knesset’s youngest lawmaker has tested positive, the Knesset spokesman says as yet he has received no information that the mother of three is infected with the virus.

The Joint List denies the reports Saleh, 33, is positive.

Netanya man in home quarantine found dead

A man in self-isolation has been found dead by police in the coastal city of Netanya. Hebrew media reports say police tried to make contact with the man, but when there was no answer officers went to his apartment. A Magen David Adom ambulance team pronounced him dead at the scene. Police say the incident is under investigation.

45-year-old coronavirus patient with no pre-existing condition in critical condition

A 45-year old man diagnosed with coronavirus and with no known pre-existing medical conditions is in critical condition in Wolfson Hospital after a deterioration in his health. The man has been put on an ECMO machine that pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest, in order to stabilize his condition.

G7 powers agree China spreading coronavirus disinformation

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrial powers agreed in talks today that China is waging a “disinformation” campaign about the coronavirus pandemic, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says.

“Every one of the nations that were at that meeting this morning was deeply aware of the disinformation campaign that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in to try and deflect from what has really taken place,” Pompeo tells reporters after the talks, held by video-conference due to health precautions

Nissenkorn says Arrangements Committee to make Peretz temporary speaker

Blue and White MK Avi Nissekorn, chairman of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, says the committee will make Labor MK Amir Peretz, the most veteran member of the parliament, Knesset speaker on Friday until a vote is held, which would be at the beginning of next week at the earliest.

First coronavirus-related fatality reported in PA

The WAFA news agency reports the first Palestinian corona-related death today.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Ibrahim Milhem reports two more cases, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 64.

AG: High Court can enforce ruling that Knesset must choose new speaker

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tells the High Court of Justice it can enforce its ruling that a vote on a new Knesset speaker be held today as it sees fit.

The High Court will meet at 8 p.m. to determine whether Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is in contempt of court for refusing to hold the vote on a new speaker today and instead announcing his resignation, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Netanyahu, Rivlin to give televised speeches

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin will each give televised speeches this evening.

Rivlin will give a “statement to the nation” at 7:45 p.m., his office says. Netanyahu will speak at 8:15 p.m.

The speeches will come hours after new emergency directives to contain the coronavirus took effect.

Italy reports 683 more deaths as rise in new cases level off

ROME — Italy has added 683 more dead and 5,210 infections to its coronavirus toll, but its initial steep rise in cases has continued to level off two weeks into a nationwide lockdown.

The new figures brought the number of infections to 74,386 and placed Italy on track to overtake China in the next day or two in having the most reported cases in the world.

Italy last week reported more dead than China and today registers a total of 7,503 dead with the virus, confirming its place as the European epicenter of the pandemic.

Dr. Massimo Galli of Milan’s Sacco Hospital says that the infections being verified in these days result from before many of the containment measures went into effect March 11. He tells SKY TG24 that in his estimation the restrictions won’t be lifted any time soon.

“This is hard, but the numbers and facts say it,” Galli says.

His team at the Sacco Hospital has determined that the virus has been circulating in Italy since January 25-26, and that it took almost a month for it to become recognized, around February 20-21. That puts Italy as of March 3 at the same place Wuhan, China was on January 25, he said, noting that China is only coming out of tight restrictions now, two months later.

— AP

Rivlin to address Edelstein’s refusing of High Court order to hold vote on new speaker

President Rivlin will address the constitutional crisis facing Israel following Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to fulfill a High Court order to hold a vote on replacing him by today, a spokesperson for the president tells The Times of Israel.

— Raoul Wootliff

Global coronavirus death toll tops 20,000 — AFP

PARIS — The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 20,000 people worldwide, most of them in Europe, according to an AFP tally using official figures.

A total of 20,334 deaths have been reported, of which 13,581 were in Europe. With 7,503 deaths, Italy is the most affected country ahead of Spain with 3,434 and China with 3,281, the country where the initial outbreak occurred.

— AFP

Spain’s deputy PM tests positive for coronavirus

MADRID — Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, who is 62, has contracted the coronavirus and remains hospitalized to be treated for her respiratory infection.

A statement from the prime minister’s office says that Calvo’s latest diagnosis had turned positive after previous tests during the past two days were deemed inconclusive by doctors.

At least two other members of the Spanish Cabinet are also recovering from the COVID-19 that is caused by the new virus, as well as the wife of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

— AP

PM said to warn Israel will be forced to decide who gets a respirator if infection rate continues

Prime Minister Netanyahu told government ministers during a cabinet meeting overnight that if the current pace of new coronavirus infections continues, Israel will have to decide who to administer artificial respiration to, Channel 12 reports.

“If the current pace of infection continues for another 15 days [that is, with the number of cases doubling every three days ], we’ll find ourselves in a situation where we’ll have to decide who to put on ventilators and who not,” he is quoted saying, apparently because there will be insufficient ventilators for all who need them.

Rivlin says it’s ‘unthinkable’ to defy a High Court ruling, issues fresh call for unity

President Reuven Rivlin begins his televised statement.

“We are in complex and difficult times for Israel’s leaders, Israeli society and as part of the family of nations. This evening, further emergency regulations came into force that limit our freedom of movement, our liberty, in a way that has never happened before, all for our well-being, all for the welfare of those dearest to us,” he says.

Rivlin calls on Israelis to heed the orders of authorities, saying their lives depend on doing so.

He adds that it is not only the average citizen who must obey orders.

“In these fateful days, the are also the primary duty of the elected officials, the public’s leaders, teachers and guides, from all parts of society. We are witnessing confrontations of the most severe kind between the judiciary and the legislature,” he says.

Without naming Yuli Edelstein, Rivlin addresses his decision to resign earlier today as Knesset speaker and not obey a High Court order to hold a vote today to elect a new speaker.

“I know that the vast majority of Israel’s leadership, from left and from right, knows that it is the duty of every one of us to obey the rulings of the courts, and that it is unthinkable that anyone would not do so.

“Even if someone is of the opinion that the court is wrong in its conduct, whatever the disagreement between us, we must always ensure that the rules of democracy, without which we are destroyed, are upheld. Now that the Knesset speaker has resigned, I am sure that the order of the High Court of Justice will be implemented and Israeli democracy will emerge strengthened and more resilient from these testing times,” he says.

Saying that Israel is in a “time of trouble,” Rivlin issues a fresh call for unity between political leaders.

“Have at the forefront of your minds the terrible disease that is assaulting us and is claiming the lives of our loved ones, that is grievously damaging Israel’s economy and the homes of so many who are battling to survive financially,” he says.

“I know how short the distance is between you. Each side must understand the other’s red lines and to be flexible on them, on the understanding that we have – we simply do not have – an alternative.

“Join together for the good of the Israeli people. If not now, when,” he adds

Rivlin wraps up his speech by saying Israel “will overcome [the virus[ and will come out of this stronger.”

Number of COVID-19 cases in Israel rises to 2,369; 39 in serious condition

The Health Ministry says there are now 2,369 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, with 39 people in serious condition.

Another 64 people are in moderate condition. Five people have died from COVID-19.

439 new virus cases in past day less than increase in preceding 24 hours

Over the past 24 hours, there have been 439 new coronavirus cases in Israel.

That increase is less than the 488 new cases in the preceding 24 hours period between Monday and Tuesday.

Number of COVID-19 cases in US passes 60,000, 827 dead

WASHINGTON — The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the United States reaches 60,115, while 827 people have died, a tracker run by Johns Hopkins University shows.

The tracker showed 600 deaths around 24 hours earlier. The US has the third highest number of confirmed cases behind China and Italy, and the US death rate is now 1.38 percent, based on reported cases.

The true number of infected is believed to be far higher, meaning the real death rate would be lower.

— AFP

Netanyahu says full lockdown may be needed, government readying for this

Prime Minister Netanyahu begins his televised statement, noting the vast increase in the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths in numerous countries since he gave a similar address Thursday.

Netanyahu warns there could be thousands of new cases soon, “many of whom will be at the risk of death.”

He says that if there isn’t an immediate improvement in the rate of new cases, there won’t be any other option but to impose a total lockdown, adding the government is taking steps to ready for this.

“It’s a matter of a few days,” he says.

PM: Israel working to acquire additional medical equipment; over 5,000 tests done Wednesday

Netanyahu says Israel is making significant efforts to acquire additional medical equipment, amid a reported shortage of ventilators.

He adds that Israel carried out over 5,000 coronavirus tests today.

Netanyahu: I don’t know when COVID-19 outbreak will end

Netanyahu says he doesn’t know when the coronavirus outbreak will end, but that the government is already looking at how to proceed the day after.

“With the help of God, we’ll return to normal days,” he says.

He calls COVID-19 one of the deadliest diseases in human history, bunching it with the Bubonic plague, cholera and other diseases.

Like in his other recent televised statements, he calls on his political rivals to join an emergency unity government to deal with the virus.

Coronavirus deaths in France jump to 1,331

PARIS — France has registered 1,331 deaths in hospital from the new coronavirus, a health official says, a jump of 231 from the day before.

A total of 11,539 people have been hospitalized with the virus, the country’s top health official Jerome Salomon says.

— AFP

Israel to require returnees from 4 virus hotspots to quarantine

Anyone returning to Israel from the United States, Italy, France and Spain will be tested for the coronavirus immediately upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport as these four countries have been identified as having a particularly high incidence of the disease, the Defense Ministry says.

Beginning Saturday evening, all those returning from those four countries will also be sent to a Defense Ministry-run quarantine facility for two weeks, the ministry says.

People coming to Israel from other countries on the other hand will be sent to home-quarantine, the ministry says.

Israel announced earlier this month that only Israeli citizens and residents were permitted to enter the country in light of the coronavirus. In recent days, the Foreign Ministry and other government offices have been working to bring home Israelis who are still abroad.

Those coming from the US, Italy, France and Spain will be tested for the virus immediately upon landing. They will then be taken to a quarantine facility and housed there, in rooms either by themselves or as families.

If the test is negative, they will be released to complete their 14-day quarantine at home. If it is positive, a decision will be made what to do with them depending upon the extent of their symptoms.
The Defense Ministry says this effort will cost an estimated NIS 55 million.

— Judah Ari Gross

Blue and White MK enters home quarantine after being near virus carrier

Blue and White MK Boaz Toporovsky has been told by the Health Ministry to home quarantine after being near a confirmed carrier of the coronavirus, the Knesset spokesperson says.

Toporovsky will be in self-isolation until April 1.

Church of Holy Sepulchre closed as new virus restrictions take effect

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed by Christians to house Christ’s tomb, has been shuttered.

The church, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, was closed shortly after 5 p.m. local time, as Israel applied a series of new restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus, including shutting down places of worship.

“We have been informed of the closure. Our understanding is that it is for one week. We hope (the church) will reopen as soon as possible,” says Wadie Abunassar, a spokesperson for the local clergy.

— AFP

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Adeeb Jawad Joudeh Alhusseini‎‏ ב- יום רביעי, 25 במרץ 2020

WHO chief commends Trump for ‘doing all he can’ against COVID-19

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization commends US President Donald Trump for “taking responsibility” for leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a virtual press briefing today in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the UN health agency has called repeatedly for heads of state to lead a “whole-of-government” response to the new coronavirus.

“That’s exactly what he’s doing which we appreciate because fighting this pandemic needs political commitment,” Tedros says, referring to Trump.

Tedros has previously warned that countries taking measures to lock down their societies must use the time wisely to implement other aggressive interventions, including widespread testing and efforts to track down the virus’ transmission chains. WHO and other experts say it could be months before the outbreak peaks and loosening such controls too soon could allow the virus to resurge.

Yesterday, Trump suggested the lockdown measures in the US might be lifted by Easter and predicted there would be “packed churches” across the country.

“I know he’s doing all he can,” Tedros says, noting he and Trump spoke recently. “I believe that kind of political commitment and political leadership can bring change or can stop this pandemic.”

— AP

US President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, March 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Macron enlists French military to help fight coronavirus

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron launches a special military operation to help fight the new coronavirus in France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.

As part of the new “Operation Resilience,” France is deploying helicopter carriers to help transport patients in overseas French territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean.

Striking a combative tone on a visit to a military field hospital in the virus-ravaged eastern city of Mulhouse, Macron pays homage to medics who have died, “who paid with their lives to save other lives.”

Macron also promises a “massive” new investment plan for public hospitals, after years of cost cuts in France’s renowned health care system that have complicated efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

Facing criticism that his government was too slow to lock down the country as the virus spread, Macron criticizes those “who would fracture the country, when we should have one obsession: to be united to fight the virus.”

Reiterating that France is at “war” with the virus, Macron warns: “We are just at the beginning. But we will make it through, because we will not surrender, because we have the strength.”

— AP

High Court finishes hearing petitions against Edelstein’s refusal to call vote on new speaker

The High Court of Justice has finished hearing petitions against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to hold a vote today to elect a new Knesset speaker, despite being ordered to do so by the court.

A ruling is expected soon.

UK parliament shuts down early due to coronavirus

LONDON — The British parliament shuts down because of the coronavirus outbreak, with MPs sent home a week early for their Easter break.

“The House of Commons has agreed to adjourn for Easter recess and will next sit on 21 April 2020,” the lower chamber announces on its Twitter page.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick earlier told the BBC it was a “sensible” decision given the nationwide shut down of non-essential shops and services and the government order for people to stay at home.

“Obviously parliament has to lead by example,” he said, adding that it was also important to protect staff from the spread of infection of COVID-19.

But he said he was “certain that parliament will return after the Easter holidays,” saying it was important for lawmakers to scrutinize the government.

Emergency legislation giving the government powers to force people into isolation was pushed through parliament this week and became law on Wednesday.

Before MPs headed home, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had his final head-to-head in the Commons against opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, with the latter due to step down before parliament returns.

A new Labour leader will be announced on April 4, with Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer the favorite to take over.

— AFP

Police report significant drop in number of people out in Mea Shearim

Police report a significant decrease in the number of people out in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, crediting the drop to officers calling on residents to obey the new emergency ordinances against the coronavirus.

Large numbers of people had still been walking around the neighborhood after the ordinances took effect earlier this evening.

3 arrested in protest outside health minister’s home against closing of yeshivas

Police arrest three demonstrators outside Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s home in Jerusalem who were demonstrating against the Health Ministry’s shuttering of yeshivas as part of measures against the coronavirus, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

NY governor says social distancing slowing spread of virus

NEW YORK — Social distancing appears to be slowing the spread of the coronavirus in New York, the epicenter of America’s pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo says.

In his daily update on efforts to contain the deadly pandemic, Cuomo says projection rates suggested hospitalizations were increasing at a slower rate than before.

“The arrows are headed in the right direction,” he tells reporters.

Cuomo says New York was still “on the way up the mountain” and won’t meet the peak of declared cases for another three weeks.

But he adds that projections show that hospitalizations are now doubling every 4.7 days as opposed to every two days as was the case on Sunday.

The state’s almost 20 million residents have been confined to their homes since Cuomo ordered all non-essential businesses closed on Sunday.

He says that the number of confirmed infections in Westchester County, the origin of New York’s outbreak, has “dramatically slowed” following a two-week containment.

New York has 30,811 declared cases, up by 5,146, Cuomo says.

Almost 18,000 of those are in New York City, which reported almost 3,000 new cases, he adds.

Some 192 people have died in the city, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

— AFP

Netanyahu, Gantz spoke by phone about unity government — reports

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz spoke by phone this morning about forming an emergency unity government, Hebrew media reports say.

According to the Haaretz daily, it was the second time the two have spoken since the March 2 elections.

The two ordered their negotiating teams to meet tomorrow for talks on an emergency government, the Kan public broadcaster says.

It was unclear if the phone call took place before or after Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, resigned as Knesset speaker rather than obey a High Court order to call a vote to elect a new speaker.

Likud had threatened that unity talks would be scrapped if Blue and White continued with its push to elect a new speaker, but Netanyahu again called for unity during a press conference this evening.

Blue and White confirms Gantz spoke with Netanyahu about ‘national emergency government’

The Blue and White party confirms its leader Benny Gantz spoke today with Prime Minister Netanyahu about forming an emergency unity government to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

“The two ordered the negotiations teams to return to the negotiating table tomorrow to examine the possibility of forming a national emergency government,” the statement says.

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Gantz: Elected representatives will follow the law. No one is above the law

His reported efforts to convince Yuli Edelstein to heed a High Court ruling and hold a vote for speaker appearing to have failed, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz turns to Twitter.

“The Israeli Knesset belongs to the citizens of Israel and its elected representatives will follow the laws of the State of Israel and court rulings,” he writes.

“No one is above the law.”

He does not say how he plans to ensure this will happen.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz gives a televised statement in Ramat Gan on March 7 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)