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High Court: No security agency coronavirus phone tracking without legislation

Justices say extension of emergency measures permitting Shin Bet to gather cell phone location data of those diagnosed can only be granted if work starts on enshrining it in law

Police officers prepare a drone to find residents who fail to comply with the stay-at-home order implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic in Szolnok, Hungary, April 13, 2020. (Janos Meszaros/MTI via AP)
Police officers prepare a drone to find residents who fail to comply with the stay-at-home order implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic in Szolnok, Hungary, April 13, 2020. (Janos Meszaros/MTI via AP)

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

IDF to boost operations in Beit Shemesh, Netivot as virus-hit neighborhoods go on lockdown

The IDF’s Home Front Command will increase its activities in the cities of Beit Shemesh and Netivot, where a lockdown of some neighborhoods with high rates of coronavirus infections took effect this morning, the military says.

Troops will assist in the distribution of food to needy families and help explain the virus-related directives.

“The IDF will continue to help the civilian sphere as needed in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak,” the military says in s statement.

The lockdowns in Netivot and Beit Shemesh, which the cabinet declared “restricted zones” on Friday, began at 6 a.m. today and will last until Friday at 6 a.m.

In Beit Shemesh, the lockdown applies to the Nahala Umenuha and Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet neighborhoods.

In Netivot, the neighborhoods of Neta’im and Shalom Boinich will locked down, as will Hazani, Tzaban, Hatzalah, Brosh, Bilu and Gershonowitz streets in the southern city.

Satellite imagery finds train likely belonging to North Korea’s Kim amid health rumors

SEOUL, South Korea — A train likely belonging to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been parked at his compound on the country’s east coast since last week, satellite imagery shows, amid speculation about his health that has been caused, in part, by a long period out of the public eye.

The satellite photos released by 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies, don’t say anything about Kim’s potential health problems, and they echo South Korean government intelligence that Kim is staying outside of the capital, Pyongyang. Seoul has also repeatedly indicated that there have been no unusual signs that could indicate health problems for Kim.

That hasn’t stopped growing unconfirmed rumors and media reports about Kim’s health that have emerged since he missed an April 15 commemoration of the 108th birthday of his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

Kim Jong Un’s train has been parked at the Leadership Railway Station servicing his Wonsan compound since at least April 21, the website 38 North says, citing an analysis of recent satellite photos of the area. The website says that the approximately 250-meter (820-foot) -long train wasn’t present on April 15 but was present on both April 21 and 23.

“The train’s presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health, but it does lend weight to reports that Kim is staying at an elite area on the country’s eastern coast,” it says.

— AP

This satellite image from April 15, 2020, provided by Airbus Defence & Space and annotated by 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies, shows overview of Wonsan complex in Wonsan, North Korea. (Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North, Pleiades©CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS via AP)

Yemeni separatists declare self-governance in south

Yemeni separatists declare self-governance of the war-torn country’s south, as the peace deal with the government crumbles, complicating its long conflict with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control much of the north.

The Southern Transitional Council accuses the government of failing to perform its duties and of “conspiring” against the southern cause, and says self-governance had begun at midnight.

— AFP

Health official: Virus restrictions being lifted too quickly, rollback should be in clear stages

A top Health Ministry officials says she believes Israel is moving too quickly to rollback coronavirus restrictions and acknowledges the confusion among the Israeli public that the directives have caused.

“We’re after the peak of the first wave but I think that we’re hurrying a little too much. Because of the steps that were taken, we’re in a relatively good situation. I would feel more confident if we marked steps. I feel we’re being haphazard,” Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, tells Kan public radio.

She adds: “In other countries they announced what would open on a certain date and what [would open] on another [date]. We did a very large opening at one time. I agree that the directives aren’t clear. Exercise is permitted only to 500 meters, but [traveling] kilometers to stores [is okay].”

Her comments came as many businesses that had been forced to close their doors because of the restrictions were allowed to open again if they adhered to hygienic and social distancing guidelines, though many businesses indicated they would remain closed.

Prof. Siegal Sadetsky, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, speaks at a press conference about the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, February 27, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Sea of Galilee level drops for first time since start of winter

For the first time since the start of the winter, the water level of the Sea of Galilee drops.

With a one centimeter decline, the level of Israel’s largest freshwater lake is now 208.93 centimeters below sea level, 13 centimeters below its “upper red line,” above which it is in danger of overflowing.

The Water Authority attributes the decline to increased pumping and evaporation due to the strong winds over the weekend.

Health chief warns of renewed virus outbreak in winter

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, director-general of the Health Ministry, warns Israel could see a renewed coronavirus outbreak in the winter.

“Look at Singapore, which we watched jealously, and recently there were days in which there were over 1,000 [new] sick people a day,” he tells Army Radio.

He is also asked about Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s expected departure from the Health Ministry.

“We’ll continue to do our best. I’ll stay as long as there is a need and value to my remaining in the position,” he says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (right) and Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. Netanyahu is explaining how the coronavirus can spread from a sneeze. (Flash90)

Health minister denies donations to his Hasidic sect swayed decision on IKEA opening

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman pushes back strongly after a report says the owners of IKEA Israel gave millions of shekels in donations to the Gur Hasidic sect Litzman belongs to.

The report from TheMarker came after the reopening of IKEA stores was met with criticism, as the government regulations allowing them to reopen did not extend to smaller businesses.

“The reports about the ties between the managers of the IKEA chain and ultra-Orthodox elements that led to the opening of the chain are nonsense that isn’t worth relating to,” a statement from the Health Ministry says.

The statement stresses that the decision to allow IKEA to open was made by ministry officials and at the request of the Finance Ministry, while denying any ties between Litzman and Shulem Fisher, one of the owners of IKEA Israel.

“It’s surprising that during an emergency in which the entire [health] system is working to save lives with dedication and responsibility, there are those who publish false information and baseless details,” it says.

Number of infections in Israel rises to 15,398; no new deaths overnight

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 15,398, an increase of 250 over the last 24 hours.

The death toll remains at 199, the same figure it was at last night.

The Health Ministry says 132 people are currently in serious condition, 100 of whom are on ventilators.

There have now been 6,602 Israelis who recovered from COVID-19.

Head of Bedouin town supports lockdown after sharp rise in infections there

The head of a Bedouin town in the Negev Desert says he supports a lockdown after the number of coronavirus there went from zero to 18 in a week.

Habis Al-Atauna, head of the Hura Local Council, tells Army Radio that all of the infected are from the same family and are being treated at their homes.

He says he’ll meet with Health Ministry and IDF Home Front Command officials to decide on how to address the outbreak in Hura.

Illustrative view of the Bedouin town of Hura, in the southern Negev Desert, on August 27, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu said considering loyalist Amir Ohana for public security ministry

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is considering making Justice Minister Amir Ohana the public security minister in the next government rather than Culture Minister Miri Regev, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the report, Regev would instead receive the education portfolio if the national-religious Yamina party doesn’t join the coalition. It isn’t clear what she would instead receive if it does.

The network says Netanyahu is waiting on naming ministerial appointments until the High Court of Justice rules on the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White, in order to keep his right-wing religious bloc together in the case of new elections.

Both Ohana and Regev are considered loyalists of Netanyahu and have been highly vocal in their criticism of law enforcement over the corruption investigations implicating the premier.

Responding to the report, Likud says Netanyahu is not currently dealing with doling out ministries to lawmakers.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana entertains Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud gathering. (Hadas Porush/Flash90)

Shop owners at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda protest continued closure of markets

Shop owners in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market are protesting the continued closure of open air markets, despite many other businesses being allowed to reopen today.

A scuffle breaks out between police officers and store owners, one of whom is arrested.

Despite the prohibition on the opening of markets, numerous shops in Mahane Yehuda have been open in recent weeks.

UK’s Johnson to return to work Monday after recovering from coronavirus

LONDON — The British prime minister’s office says Boris Johnson will return to work tomorrow, two weeks after he was discharged from a London hospital where he was treated for the new coronavirus.

Johnson, 55, spent a week at St. Thomas’ Hospital, including three nights in intensive care, where he was given oxygen and watched around the clock by medical staff.

After he was released April 12, he recorded a video message thanking staff at the hospital for saving his life.

Johnson has not been seen in public since then, as he recovered at the prime minister’s country retreat outside London.

Johnson’s return comes amid growing criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The number of people with COVID-19 who have died in British hospitals reached 20,000 yesterday. Thousands more are thought to have died in nursing homes.

Opposition politicians are calling for more clarity on when the government will ease a nationwide lockdown that was imposed March 23 and runs to at least May 7.

— AP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during his daily coronavirus press briefing to announce new measures to limit the spread of the virus, at Downing Street in London, March 22, 2020. (Ian Vogler / Pool via AP, File)

Head of Mahane Yehuda shop owners’ guild summoned for questioning after protest

Police have summoned Tali Friedman, who represents Mahane Yehuda shop owners, for questioning following a protest at the Jerusalem market over the continued closure of open-air markets, Army Radio reports.

She tells the radio station that except for one incident, protesters adhered to social distancing directives.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion says he backs the shop owners.

“I hope that the government will soon approve the opening of the market, which is a source of income for hundreds of Jerusalemite families,” he writes on Twitter. “I promise to you, market vendors and Jerusalem residents, that I won’t let up until the market is reopened.”

Spain records lowest daily virus death toll in a month

MADRID — Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll drops to 288 today, the lowest since March 20, as the country eases its lockdown to allow children outside for the first time in six weeks.

The health ministry says the figure dropped from 378 yesterday and brings Spain’s total toll to 23,190, the third highest number of deaths after the United States and Italy.

— AFP

Kohavi urges families of fallen soldiers to respect ban on cemetery visits

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi acknowledges the difficulty of the decision to bar visits to cemeteries during Memorial Day for families of fallen soldiers, but says it must be respected.

“The distance doesn’t prevent closeness or deep identification with the sorrow,” he says.

Kohavi is speaking during a ceremony at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, during which small Israeli flags are placed at all the graves.

French government to detail plans for easing lockdown measures

PARIS — The French government will detail to parliament on Tuesday how it plans to pull the country out of the coronavirus lockdown that has plunged the eurozone’s second-largest economy into a deep and alarming freeze.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe tweets that he will unveil the “national deconfinement strategy” in an address at the National Assembly. Lawmakers will get to debate the blueprint before voting on it.

The government has for weeks had teams of experts working on finding a balance between restarting the economy without provoking a second surge of COVID-19 infections that could overwhelm hospital ICUs.

French President Emmanuel Macron had already announced that France’s lockdown, in place since March 17 and among the strictest in Europe, would begin to ease from May 11.

Philippe’s long-awaited speech will flesh out the details. He says it will cover six themes: health, schooling, work, shops, transport and gatherings.

Parents are anticipating specifics about the government’s previously announced plans for a staggered resumption of classes. The government says parents will be given the option of continuing to home-school kids if they prefer.

— AP

Ahead of Independence Day, Israeli population stands at 9.2 million

Israel’s population now numbers nearly 9.2 million, the Central Bureau of Statistics says ahead of Independence Day, which begins Tuesday evening.

According to the CBS, Israel’s population has grown by 171,000 people since Independence Day last year and is expected to reach 11.1 million in 2030.

By 2048, when Israel turns 100, the CBS forecasts a population of 15.2 million.

There are currently 6.806 million Jews, accounting for 74 percent of the population, while the 1.93 million Arabs in Israel make up 21% of the population. Another 454,000 people defined as others account for the remaining 5%.

Among the Jewish population, 78% are native-born and since Israel’s founding in 1948, 3.3 million people have immigrated to the country.

Blue and White activists file petition to High Court against coalition deal with Likud

Some 400 Blue and White campaign workers, activists and volunteers file a petition with the High Court of Justice against the party’s coalition agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, Army Radio reports.

“We’ll accuse Benny Gantz of fraud and breach of trust,” activist Vered Amir tells the radio station, saying the Blue and White chief broke his campaign promise not to sit in a government led by Netanyahu due to the premier’s indictment on corruption charges.

Lawyer Daniel Haklai, who is representing the activists, says some are considering a civil suit against Gantz and Blue and White No. 2 Gabi Ashkenazi, who pushed for the agreement with Likud.

The High Court is set to hear this week other petitions against the coalition deal, as well against the tasking of Netanyahu with forming a government over his legal woes.

Labor central committee voting on whether to join new government

Members of the Labor Party’s central committee is voting today on whether to join the new government being formed by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.

Labor chief Amir Peretz formally agreed last week to join the government, after campaigning in the last two elections against being part of a coalition headed by Netanyahu due to the premier’s indictment on graft charges.

Peretz is set to be economy minister, while fellow Labor MK Itzik Shmuli will receive the Ministry of Labor and Social Services.

MK Merav Michaeli, the only other Labor lawmaker, opposes joining the prospective government.

Litzman confirms decision to leave Health Ministry for Housing Ministry

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman confirms he has informed Prime Minister Netanyahu that he wishes to move to the Housing Ministry.

After serving as de facto head of the ministry for most of the past decade, Litzman, who heads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, says that he now prefers to work on addressing the “housing crisis” in Israel.

In a lengthy statement, Litzman touts the Health Ministry’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak while denouncing what he calls “incitement” toward ultra-Orthodox Jews amid the pandemic.

Litzman’s decision to switch ministries comes after he faced criticism over his response to the coronavirus and a TV report alleged he took part in a group prayer that violated his own ministry’s directives days before he was infected with COVID-19.

Meretz chief calls on Labor members to jump ship over decision to join government

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz is calling on Labor Party members disaffected with the decision to join the new government to come over to his left-wing party.

“We won’t turn our backs on you and won’t betray your trust,” the Ynet news site quotes him saying, referring to Labor chief Amir Peretz’s broken vow not to join a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Horowitz’s comments come as Labor’s central committee votes on whether to approve the agreement to join the government.

Number of coronavirus cases in Africa passes 30,000

JOHANNESBURG — The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the 54 countries of Africa.

The report issued today shows there have been 1,374 deaths in Africa. Only two African countries have not reported any cases of the disease — the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa and Comoros, the small Indian Ocean islands.

South Africa has the continent’s most COVID-19 cases with 4,361, followed closely by three countries in North Africa: Egypt with 4,319 cases, Morocco, with 3,897 and Algeria with 3,256 cases.

— AP

Jewish Agency to host virtual Independence Day party

The Jewish Agency announces it will be hosting a virtual Independence Day party Wednesday that will feature entertainment from a number of Jewish celebrities and musicians, such as American signer Matisyahu.

The event will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and be broadcast on the Jewish Agency’s Facebook page.

“While these are challenging times for people the world over, Independence Day is still a time of a celebration,” agency chairman Isaac Herzog says in a statement. “While we may be apart during this crisis, the unity among world Jewry has only strengthened and we have all the more reason to sing: Am Israel Chai!”

El Al offering one-off flights to and from London, Paris

El Al announces it will offer special one-off flights on Thursday to and from London and Paris.

The Israeli airline says it will also offer a flight this week to Miami.

Apart from these flights, El Al says it will extend its suspension of commercial travel until at least May 9.

PM to head meeting on strategy for return to schools

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will chair a meeting tomorrow in which he will  hear “the different alternatives for gradual return of the education system,” according to a statement from his office.

Today, the director of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz and the deputy head of the National Security Council Eitan Ben David are holding a series of preliminary discussions with Education Minister Rafi Peretz, director general of the ministry Shmuel Abuav, and representatives of the National Security Council, the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry, the statement adds.  

According to the plan being presented by the Education Ministry, after Independence Day this coming week, preschools will reopen and students in kindergarten classes will be divided into groups of 15, with each group attending school for half of each week to limit the spread of the virus.

Students in grades 1 through 3 will also return to school in groups of 15. Students in grades four, five and six, and middle school and high school pupils, will continue remote learning.

Kids in at-risk programs would also return to school after Independence Day, while high schoolers who need extra help to catch up would be able to do so in groups of 10.

Independence day poll: Record high in Israelis sense of ‘belonging’

Ninety percent of Israelis feel that they are “a part of Israel and share in its problems,” a new poll released by the Israel Democracy Institute released ahead of Independence Day this week finds, the highest results for the question in the past decade.

In the poll, 92.5% of Jewish Israelis and 77% of Arab Israelis of respondents answered that they feel a sense of belonging “very much” or “quite a lot.”

Between 2014 and 2019 the rate of those who felt a sense of belonging was between 83% and 87%. The rate among Arab Israelis was only between 35% and 62%.

The sharpest increase took place among ultra-Orthodox Israelis – from 68.5% in 2019 to 93.5% today.

 

Iran says virus cases pass 90,000

The number of coronavirus cases in Iran passes 90,000, according to official figures, as Tehran announces its lowest number of new deaths in weeks.

Health authorities have registered 1,153 new cases of the COVID-19 illness since midday Saturday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 90,481, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says.

Sixty additional fatalities were recorded, with the overall death toll reaching 5,710, he adds. It is the country’s lowest number of officially declared deaths since March 10.

Iran announced its first coronavirus cases in February, and is the worst-hit country in the Middle East.

— AFP

Rivlin to foreign diplomatic corps: ‘We have never needed each other more’

Ahead of Israel’s Independence Day on Wednesday, President Rivlin and Foreign Minister Israel Katz host the annual a reception for the diplomatic and consular corps in Israel, this year via videoconference.

“This year, we celebrate seventy-two years of the independence of the State of Israel in very different times. We are all facing a global challenge, the coronavirus that makes no distinction between nations, races or religions. It has claimed many lives and many people are suffering. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those, all around the world, who have lost loved ones, and those who are ill,” Rivlin tells diplomats attending online.

“Overcoming this global challenge demands global cooperation and unity,” he adds. “Although we are apart, we have never needed each other more. It demands sharing experience and know-how. We hope that Israel’s technology and innovation, of which we are so proud, can contribute to the global effort to find solutions to make our world safer and healthier.”

President Rivlin and Foreign Minister Katz host a videoconference reception for the diplomatic and consular corps in Israel, April 26, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Katz says: “I know that being away from your homes and families at this time is not easy, but I am sure that together we will come out of this difficult period even stronger and more united than in the past. Next year in Jerusalem.”

Dean of the Diplomatic Corps Ambassador Hennadii Nadolenko of Ukraine thanks the president on behalf of the diplomats, saying, “On this day we not only mark the rebirth of the Jewish national state, we also honor the achievements of Israel that brought worldwide admiration. It is not a secret that many of us view Israel as a modern, innovative economy and a prosperous country.”

Liechtenstein to test fertility bracelets for virus warning

Liechtenstein will put fertility monitoring bracelets on some 2,200 people to see if they can pick up early signs of coronavirus, according to the managers of the experiment.

If successful, the project will give doctors a better chance of dealing with the virus spread, by isolating patients, giving targeted support and also protecting healthcare workers, they say.

“The aim is to see whether a sensory bracelet, which is already successfully being used to monitor women’s fertility cycles, can detect COVID-19 infection early,” the Dr Risch Group laboratory and its partner, the Swiss start-up AVA which developed the technology, say in a statement.

The bracelets allow women to identify the best time to conceive by monitoring five indicators during sleep — skin temperature, resting pulse rate, bloodflow, breathing rate and heart rate variability.

This same data, the companies says, can also be analyzed to fight the coronavirus.

“The underlying hypothesis is that this will allow the creation of a new algorithm that enables identification of COVID-19 at an early stage even when no typical disease symptoms are present,” the statement adds.

— AFP

Netanyahu ‘confident’ he’ll annex parts of West Bank ‘a couple of months from now’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that he is “confident” he will be able to fulfill his election promise to apply Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank “a few months from now.”

“For decades I have been fighting those who sought to deny the millennial connection of the Jewish people to our homeland. I’m proud to say that the decades-long struggle has borne fruit. Three months ago, the Trump peace plan recognized Israel’s rights in all of Judea and Samaria. And President Trump pledged to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Jewish communities there and in the Jordan Valley,” Netanyahu says in a recorded speech broadcast on a Christian Evangelical event marking the 100th anniversary of the San Remo conference.

“A couple of months from now, I’m confident that that pledge will be honored. That we will be able to celebrate another historic moment in the history of Zionism. A century after San Remo, the promise of Zionism is being realized,” Netanyahu adds.

According to the wording of the “emergency government” deal between the Likud and Blue and White parties, from July 1, 2020, Netanyahu “will be able to bring the agreement reached with the US on the application of sovereignty [in the West Bank] for the approval of the cabinet and or the Knesset.

In addition, “the law will be passed as quickly as possible… and will not be disrupted or delayed by the chairmen of either the House or the Foreign Affairs and Defense committees.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Government watchdog probes large store chains’ coronavirus protest shutdown

The Israel Competition Authority says it is probing possible unlawful action by hundreds of large businesses who coordinated with each other to remain closed, despite government approval to reopen, in protest against the government as they demand compensation for the recent closures and ongoing restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The authority, which oversees fair trading and antitrust laws, says in a statement that it had sought information regarding the protest by the Association of Fashion and Commerce Chains, “to ensure that retailers’ activities are not in conflict with the law.”

“To the extent that the results of the checks show that the actions taken may have infringed competition in a manner that violates the provisions of the law – the Authority will not hesitate to take enforcement action,” the statement says.

Some 200 chains, including leading stores in clothing, optics, home decor, camping and sports gear, as well as cafes and restaurants, chose not to open their doors even as many pandemic restrictions were lifted at midnight Saturday.

According to a government decision Friday, all stores that are not in shopping malls or outdoor markets are allowed to operate from Sunday if they adhere to guidelines regarding cleanliness, protective gear and social distancing.

But large business owners are demanding government compensation for operation losses, in line with those announced for small businesses.

11-year old girl from Tiberias in critical condition with COVID-19

The condition of an 11-year-old from the northern town of Tiberias suffering from COVID-19 has deteriorated and is now defined as “critical,” according to the Poriya Hospital where she is being treated.

The girl was rushed to the hospital two days ago with high fever and vomiting and is now suspected of having cardiac inflammation, Poriyah says. She was put on a ventilator this afternoon and is being transferred to Rambam Hospital in Haifa this evening.

Government cancels 500 meter limit from homes for exercise

The government votes to cancel the emergency order limiting Israelis to 500 meters from their house for walks or runs, allowing citizens to now carry out exercise wherever they like.

For the time being, activities other than exercise are still limited to 100 meters from the home

A week ago, the government extended the range Israelis can go on walks or runs to 500 meters from their homes, up from 100.

Italy reports 260 virus deaths, lowest since March 14

Italy reports its lowest coronavirus death toll in over a month as the government prepars to announce a gradual easing of the country’s lockdown.

The 260 daily fatalities are the lowest reported by the civil protection service since March 14. Italy’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 26,644 — second only to the United States.

— AFP

PA shutters 60 shops for violating coronavirus restrictions

Palestinian Authority police have shuttered 60 commercial shops in the northern West Bank city of Jenin for violating the PA’s coronavirus emergency protocol, the Wafa official Palestinian news site reports.

The stores were not adhering to the guidelines that only allow certain merchants to open their doors, maintain good hygiene, and limit the amount of customers inside.

— Jacob Magid

PA health minister says no new coronavirus cases in past 24 hours

Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila announces that there have been no new coronavirus cases in the Palestinian territories over the past 24 hours and that the numbers have held at 325 and 17 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively.

There have been two Palestinian deaths in the West Bank and another two in East Jerusalem.

— Jacob Magid

Gov’t said to revise decision to lift 500 meter exercise limit in embarrassing U-turn

A government decision to cancel the emergency order limiting Israelis to 500 meters from their house for walks or runs has reportedly been revised in a U-turn from the cabinet, following an apparent embarrassing miscommunication from the Health Ministry.

According to Channel 12 news, ministers were told, to their surprise, moments before this afternoon’s cabinet meeting that they would be voting on lifting the limitations to allow citizens to carry out exercise wherever they like, based on new recommendations from the health ministry officials.

After the vote and the publication of the new emergency order, Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar-Siman Tov contacted the cabinet secretary to say that the ministry’s recommendation was only for professional athletes and that the cabinet needed to revise the vote, the channel says.

A week ago, the government extended the range Israelis can go on walks or runs to 500 meters from their homes, up from 100. For the time being, activities other than exercise are still limited to 100 meters from the home and the change would not have altered that.

— Raoul Wootliff

After flip-flop, ministers OK lifting 500 meter limit after Independence Day

Cabinet Secretary Avishai Braverman says that ministers have now voted to cancel the emergency order limiting Israelis to 500 meters from their houses for walks or runs, to come into effect on Thursday, after Independence Day.

Earlier, a ministerial decision on the immediate lifting of the restriction was revised in a U-turn from the cabinet, following an apparent embarrassing miscommunication from the Health Ministry.

PM and finance minister agree on additional NIS 6 billion for re-employment of workers

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Kahlon say that, together with the governor of the Bank of Israel, they have decided to allocate an additional special budget of “up to NIS 6 billion for retention and return of workers to the work force.”

In the coming days, a proposal to expand the economic relief package beyond the currently promised NIS 80 billion will be submitted to the Knesset, a joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry says.

The fund is set to start operating immediately after Independence Day.

The detailed model for allocating the budgetary framework to the new program will be announced in the coming days, they say.

Syrian government ends school early for over 4 million students

More than four million students in Syria confined at home due to the coronavirus will not resume classes this year, but will advance to the next grade, the government says.

The decision comes weeks after schools were closed in mid-March to combat the spread of the virus, leaving many students and teachers to adapt to distance learning.

“All primary and secondary school students will move on to the next class,” the government announcement says, according to state news agency SANA.

According to the education ministry, 557,000 students will sit, as originally planned, for their matriculation examinations.

— AFP

Labor party central committee said to okay entry to Netanyahu-led government

Members of the Labor Party’s central committee voted in favor this evening of joining the new government being formed by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, according to party sources.

The final results of the vote are expected at around 9.30 p.m.

Labor chief Amir Peretz formally agreed last week to join the government, after campaigning in the last two elections against being part of a coalition headed by Netanyahu due to the premier’s indictment on graft charges.

Peretz is set to be economy minister, while fellow Labor MK Itzik Shmuli will receive the Ministry of Labor and Social Services.

— Raoul Wootliff

Foreign Ministry decries Egyptian TV show predicting Israel’s destruction

The Foreign Ministry condemns a new Egyptian TV drama set in the year 2120 that predicts Israel’s destruction, as well as the breakup of the United States.

A Foreign Ministry statement says the series “is completely unacceptable, especially because the two states have had a peace treaty for the past 41 years.”

The Egyptian series “El-Nehaya” — Arabic for “The End” — is about a computer engineer living in a dystopian future dominated by cyborg clones. It is one of the many dramas and soap operas that air each night during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began last week.

In the first episode, a teacher tells a class of students about “the war to liberate Jerusalem,” which he says occurred less than 100 years after Israel’s founding in 1948. The teacher says Jews in Israel “ran away and returned to their countries of origin” in Europe. He makes no mention of what happened to Jews in Israel whose families came from other Middle Eastern countries — roughly half the Jewish population.

A holographic map of a divided US is also shown, with the teacher saying that “America was the central supporter of the Zionist state.”

There was no immediate comment from the Egyptian government.

— AP

Virus cases reach 15,443 with 145 new infections, lowest daily tally since March 20

Israel’s confirmed coronavirus cases reach 15,443, the Health Ministry says, with 145 new infections recorded over the previous 24 hours — the lowest daily tally since March 20.

The country’s death toll was 201, one higher than the morning’s count.

The Health Ministry says 133 people are in serious condition, 99 of whom are on ventilators, while 82 people were moderately ill. There have now been 6,731 people in Israel who recovered from the coronavirus.

Israel has registered 23 deaths per million citizens, according to the Worldometers tally, which places it at around 40th in the world, slightly better than the world average of some 26 deaths per million.

Anti-Semitic flyers left at homes and on cars in southwestern Montana city

Two pamphlets that were described by local media as anti-Semitic were placed in front of homes and on cars in Livingston, Montana.

One of the flyers discovered on Wednesday morning in the small southwestern Montana city read “With Jews You Lose,” and shows a declining line graph representing the “value of a $1 federal reserve note in 1913 dollars,” the Livingston Enterprise reports.

That flyer lists the website of a group called The Brother Nathanael Foundation, which is based in Priest River, Idaho, and is listed as a “General Hate” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.

A second pamphlet featured a photo of the late John F. Kennedy and included an anti-Semitic quote falsely attributed to him, according to the newspaper. The flyers also referenced Israel, the Federal Reserve and kicking secret societies and Zionists out of the country, Livingston Police Chief Dale Johnson told the Enterprise.

At least one of the people who found a flyer outside their homes was Jewish, according to the paper. Livingston has a few dozen Jewish residents among its population of roughly 7,000.

— JTA

Labor party central committee okays entry into Netanyahu-led government

Members of the Labor Party’s central committee vote by 62% to 34% in favor of joining the new government being formed by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.

Speaking after the online vote, Labor cheif Amir Peretz, who is set to be economy minister in the new government, says, “This evening, we won sweeping backing of the party members to influence the government from within, and to change the agenda and economic policy of the government to one of social democracy.”

“We are not joining the right-wing government, we are joining an egalitarian unity government with rotation. Our strategic cooperation with Benny Gantz will put the labor movement in its place as a leading and influential political movement in Israel,” Peretz says.

— Raoul Wootliff

High Court: No security agency coronavirus track of public without legislation

Justices say extension of emergency measures permitting Shin Bet to gather cell phone location data of those diagnosed can only be extended if work starts on enshrining it in law.

Over the past few weeks, the internal security agency has been working with the Health Ministry in a controversial program to retrace the movements of coronavirus patients by making use of the masses of phone and credit card data at its disposal, which it generally is only permitted to utilize for counterterrorism.

Under the government’s public regulations, the security service is not permitted to continue using the data after the program ends, though the Health Ministry is allowed to use the information for an additional 60 days for research purposes, presumably to retrace the path of the outbreak.

The tracking, which uses cellphone location data, credit card purchase data and other digital information, aims to alert and order into quarantine people who were within two meters, for 10 minutes or more, of someone infected with the virus within the past two weeks.

Labor MK accuses leader of ‘stealing’ votes by joining Netanyahu government

Labor MK Merav Michaeli reacts to the party’s central committee approving joining a Netanyahu-led government by accusing party leader Peretz and fellow MK Itzik Shmuli of perpetrating the “worst act of political con-man-ship, stealing the votes of the Israelis who chose them.”

She calls the coalition agreement “an embarrassing collection of lies and distortions,” but refrains from immediately announcing her next step. She says the decision will be appealed at the Supreme Court, and that she will make a decision after the ruling is issued.

Michaeli thanks those who opposed the decision, adding that many others would have voted against it had there been a secret ballot, but supported it following “violent pressure” to avoid losing their jobs. She vows to continue fighting for the future of the Labor party.

Meretz leaders slam Labor for joining government, call on activists to leave party

Following the decision of the Labor party central committee, Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the Meretz party which is further to the left than Labor, repeats his call for Labor activists to join his party, saying it “won’t turn its back on you and won’t betray your trust.”

Horowitz accused Labor party leader Amir Peretz and prominent Labor MK Itzik Shmuli of “humiliatingly and dishonorably burying the Labor party and crawling to a criminal defendant to receive jobs on the margins of the most bloated and corrupt government in the history of the state.”

Other Meretz members reacted similarly, with MK Tamar Zandberg saying Peretz and Shmuli had “sold out” Labor’s values and would be “remembered in history books as a pair of opportunists who robbed a party to receive a ministerial portfolio.”

Gantz calls Peretz to congratulate him on party approving joining government

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz congratulates Labor leader Amir Peretz, following the Labor party’s central committee approval of an agreement to join the “emergency government” being formed by Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a phone conversation with Peretz, Gantz says that Labor “showed national responsibility during the most severe medical, economic and social crisis that the State of Israel has ever known,” according to a statement from Blue and White.

— Raoul Wootliff

New York announces lowest death toll this month, may partially reopen May 15

New York, which has ground to a halt to stop the coronavirus pandemic, may start reopening manufacturing and construction after May 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo says.

The US state on Sunday reported 367 fatalities in the previous 24 hours, the lowest number since March 30 when 332 people died.

COVID-19 has now killed 16,966 people in New York state, accounting for around a third of the deaths in the United States.

Cuomo says that any easing of measures would take place first in the north of the state and not in the New York City metropolitan region, by far the hardest-hit area in the US.

— AFP

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Health minister denies donations to his Hasidic sect swayed decision on IKEA opening

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman pushes back strongly after a report says the owners of IKEA Israel gave millions of shekels in donations to the Gur Hasidic sect Litzman belongs to.

The report from TheMarker came after the reopening of IKEA stores was met with criticism, as the government regulations allowing them to reopen did not extend to smaller businesses.

“The reports about the ties between the managers of the IKEA chain and ultra-Orthodox elements that led to the opening of the chain are nonsense that isn’t worth relating to,” a statement from the Health Ministry says.

The statement stresses that the decision to allow IKEA to open was made by ministry officials and at the request of the Finance Ministry, while denying any ties between Litzman and Shulem Fisher, one of the owners of IKEA Israel.

“It’s surprising that during an emergency in which the entire [health] system is working to save lives with dedication and responsibility, there are those who publish false information and baseless details,” it says.