High Court to hear petition against West Bank waste-to-energy plant
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Poll: Bennett’s Yamina would surge, pick up 21 seats, if elections held

Television survey gives Likud 31 seats and indicates Netanyahu still seen as best-suited to be PM; but respondents report deep dissatisfaction with his handling of pandemic

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

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

Shin Bet says it foiled Hamas bombing by Arab Israeli

The Shin Bet security agency says it foiled a Hamas bombing attack at Bilu Junction in central Israel.

It says an Arab Israeli man, Mahmoud Miqdad, 30, was arrested on August 15 over the plot. Miqdad, the son of a Bedouin Israeli mother and Gazan father, was able to travel freely between Israel and Gaza and was recruited by Hamas to carry out terror attacks against Israelis, it says.

In late 2019, Miqdad agreed to carry out an attack. The Shin Bet says he then gathered intelligence for Hamas — including handing over information on the location of the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries — and scouted for a target. In recent months, he was also trained in Gaza in bombmaking.

He began assembling the bomb in June and chose his target — a bus stop at the Bilu Junction, it says.

He was arrested before making the attempt and will be charged today over the security offenses.

Nine of his family members, including his brother, have also been arrested over their possible involvement.

Days after school year opens, 172 students, 62 teachers get COVID-19

The Education Ministry says 172 students and 62 teachers have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the school year last week, according to the Walla news site.

Another 4,360 students and 720 teachers are in quarantine.

Murder charges filed against Palestinian who fatally stabbed rabbi

A murder indictment is filed against a West Bank Palestinian man for stabbing to death Rabbi Shai Ohayon in the central city of Petah Tikva last month.

Prosecutors file indictments at the Lod District Court of murder under aggravated circumstances against Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat, 46, from the village of Rujeeb in the northern West Bank. He is also accused of “unlawful possession of a knife in the circumstances of an act of terrorism.”

Rabbi Shai Ohayon, who was stabbed to death in an apparent terror attack at Segula Junction on August 26, 2020 (Courtesy)

Court papers say that Dweikat confessed the crime to investigators. Throughout his investigation, the defendant did not “show any empathy, remorse, or regret for the victim or his family,” prosecutors note.

Ohayon was a 39-year-old father of four.

Sivan Ohayon, wife of Rabbi Shai Ohayon, and family members arrive for a court hearing of Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat, the Palestinian accused his August murder in Petah Tikva, seen at the Lod District Court, on September 7, 2020. (Flash90)

Hours before nightfall, still no final list of 40 cities with nightly curfew, closed schools

Health and government officials are struggling to finalize a list of the 40 cities that will be placed under nightly curfew to stem the spread of the coronavirus, amid heavy pushback by municipal leaders, according to public radio reports.

The nightly closures are to begin tonight, after being approved by the cabinet on Sunday.

Army Radio quotes a health official who insists the list will be sealed by nightfall. The 40 cities and towns are so-called red zones with the highest infection rates.

The curfews will be in effect every day between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Non-essential businesses will be closed during the curfew. Schools will be closed at all times.

 

Liberman: Don’t listen to government’s virus rules, use common sense

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman urges Israelis not to comply with the government’s “illegal” health regulations.

“The rules are illegal, don’t follow them, but rather use common sense,” says Liberman, according to Hebrew media reports.

Lapid set to reject call for open primaries, deflecting leadership challenge

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid will soon announce that he won’t allow the party to hold open primaries and say a decision on how to elect the party leader will be made only next year.

He will make the announcement at the weekly faction meeting, according to Hebrew reports.

Last week, a prominent Yesh Atid lawmaker said the centrist party has an “urgent” need to hold leadership primaries, which would be its first since it was founded in 2012 by Lapid. MK Ofer Shelah announced he would contend for the leadership if primaries are held ahead of national elections, which many analysts believe are likely early next year.

Greece to lift restrictions on Israeli travelers

Greece will no longer cap the number of Israeli tourists allowed in the country or limit their movements to a handful of cities, the Foreign Ministry says.

Israeli tourists still require a negative coronavirus test 72 hours before traveling to Greece, however.

The announcement comes after Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to his Greek counterpart.

Ashkenazi says the easing of restrictions “is proof of the strong ties” between Athens and Jerusalem.

The announcement comes despite the rising number of virus cases in Israel.

Lapid says he’ll green-light a Yesh Atid leadership vote — next year

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid says he’s amenable to hold a leadership vote for the first time since the party’s founding eight years ago.

But Lapid says the party will only decide on how such a vote would be held next year, after its first conference.

“There will be a vote. I welcome it, it’s time, but we will do it without pressure,” says Lapid, days after his fellow party member Ofer Shelah called for leadership primaries and said he would run.

“But no one gives me ultimatums. I won’t allow for the trends that destroyed parties like Labor and Kadima to also destroy Yesh Atid,” says Lapid, referring to contentious primary battles in other center-left parties.

He also rules out open primaries.

Switzerland said it held ‘fruitful’ Iran talks on peace, rights

Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis says he had “fruitful” talks on Monday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif regarding “peace, economic development and human rights.”

The Swiss embassy in Tehran handles US interests in Iran, since ties were cut in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Cassis is expected to meet President Hassan Rouhani as part of a three-day visit to Tehran, celebrating a century of relations between Switzerland and Iran.

“Peace, economic development and human rights – fruitful discussion with my counterpart,” Cassis writes on Twitter following the talks.

According to the US Department of State, Secretary Mike Pompeo had a phone call with Cassis before his Tehran visit, raising speculation the visit involved talks on Tehran-Washington relations.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh denies the “speculations” on Monday, saying it was a planned visit delayed over the novel coronavirus outbreak and “not related to Iran and the US.”

“I’m glad we could establish together the Swiss Humanitarian Channel for the transfer of food and medical supplies to the people of Iran,” Cassis says on Twitter.

Known by its acronym SHTA, the Swiss channel is a payment mechanism aimed to enable food, medicine and other humanitarian aid to be sent to Iran without breaking US sanctions.

Humanitarian goods are theoretically exempt from sanctions, but international purchases of such supplies are almost impossible since banks are wary of falling foul of the US over doing business with Iran.

The channel was established and conducted its first transaction earlier this year.

AFP

Health minister lashes ‘irresponsible’ Liberman over call to breach virus rules

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party condemns Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman for urging Israelis not to heed the government’s virus rules.

“Liberman is playing with fire,” tweets Edelstein, charging that the opposition politician is acting “recklessly and irresponsibly and taking advantage of a fragile health and economic situation. Shame.”

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin also lashes Liberman for his remark.

The call is “irresponsible,” says Levin, and will “create anarchy and endanger the health of all citizens of Israel. This is the opposite of serving as a public example and leadership.”

UAE planning to send delegation to Israel on September 22 — report

The United Arab Emirates is planning on sending an official delegation to Israel on September 22, as part of the normalization efforts announced last month, the Reuters news agency reports.

The report is not immediately confirmed by the Israeli authorities.

A source cited by the report says the Israel trip will be confirmed after a date is announced for the signing ceremony in Washington of the Israel-UAE normalization deal, likely in mid-September.

An Israeli and US delegation visited Abu Dhabi last week.

Russian FM in Syria, meets Assad in first visit since 2012

Russia’s foreign minister meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad shortly after landing in the Syrian capital for his first visit since 2012.

Russia has been a close ally of Assad in Syria’s devastating nine-year civil war, lending his government in Damascus vital military, economic and political support. Russian troops have been fighting alongside Syrian government forces since 2015, and President Vladimir Putin has visited the war-torn country twice, including in January this year.

The visit by Sergey Lavrov comes amid a severe economic crisis in Syria and the coronavirus pandemic.

The Syrian pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported that a high-ranking Russian delegation, headed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, arrived in Syria on Sunday. A joint press conference was to be held by Lavrov and Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, later Monday.

The newspaper quoted Syria’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, Riad Haddad, as saying that the Russian delegation’s visit “is of special importance, given the political and economic files that will be discussed,” which he said included progress in the work of a committee to discuss possible amendments to the Syrian constitution and Western sanctions on Syria, as well as efforts to fight terrorism.

Talks between government, opposition and civil society delegations resumed in Geneva late last month, discussing a possible new constitution for the war-battered country. The UN’s envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen has called the talks a prospective “door-opener” to a final resolution of Syria’s long-running conflict.

The pandemic forced the postponement of an earlier meeting in March.

AP

Gaza’s virus cases surpass 1,000, threatening to overwhelm health system

The Gaza Strip saw 182 new cases of the novel coronavirus today, as a wave of cases threatens to overwhelm the coastal enclave, the Gaza Health Ministry says.

Just two weeks ago, Gaza had no confirmed cases of coronavirus. All new arrivals were subject to 21-day quarantine procedures upon arriving in the Strip.

Today, Gaza has 1,054 cases, with viral hotspots detected all across the Strip. Hamas declared a general lockdown, but has recently been loosening restrictions in some less affected areas so as to allow people to go back to work. At the same time, the number of daily new cases has been accelerating.

Experts warn that Gaza’s health system is weak and battered from repeated wars between Israel and the Hamas terror group, as well as a 14-year blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt. As of two weeks ago, Gaza had only 87 ventilators for its 1.8 million residents.

Should the number of active cases pass 2,000, Hamas health officials warned last week, the Gaza health system could collapse.

Aaron Boxerman

Gantz chides Liberman for call to flout virus rules

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is also condemning Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman over his call to Israelis to flout the government’s virus rules.

He calls the comment “irresponsible” and urges him not to use the pandemic to shore up political capital.

“The coronavirus is not here to move [Knesset] seats [from one party to another] or a means for political goading,” says Gantz.

EU warns Serbia over Jerusalem embassy move

The EU voices “serious concern and regret” on Monday over Belgrade’s commitment to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, casting a shadow over the resumption of Serbia-Kosovo talks.

President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti are to meet in Brussels for a second round of EU-brokered face-to-face talks to resolve disputes two decades after clashing in war.

The meeting follows a high-profile summit at the White House where Vucic and Hoti signed statements agreeing to measures to improve economic relations — and in Serbia’s case, committing to moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The EU is still committed to the two state solution in which Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state, and its own diplomatic mission is in Tel Aviv.

The bloc expects prospective members like Serbia to align with its foreign policy positions.

“In this context any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano tells reporters in Brussels.

AFP

Nightly curfews won’t begin tonight — reports

The nightly curfews in 40 high-infection cities and towns won’t begin this evening, after the government fails to finalize a list of the localities in time, Channel 12 reports.

The government on Sunday night approved the move, which was set to go into effect this evening.

Virus czar apologizes for criticism of top ultra-Orthodox rabbi

Virus czar Ronni Gamzu apologizes for his comments against prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.

Kanievsky was reported to tell ultra-Orthodox students not to get tested for the coronavirus, prompting a rebuke from Gamzu who warned he was endangering public health.

Haredi magazine Mishpacha later reported that the rabbi was not referring to a blanket policy, but rather was speaking of specific circumstances regarding students who had been tested two weeks prior and who had since maintained isolated study “capsules.” However there were conflicting reports on the matter, with multiple media outlets, including Channel 12 and Walla news, citing officials close to the rabbi as confirming his rejection of tests without providing caveats.

Gamzu tells Channel 12: “I regret the misunderstanding as a result of the biased publication of the remarks of Rabbi Kanievsky, who I respect and admire, and take back what I said.”

“I checked it and it seems Rabbi Kanievsky never gave an instruction not to get checked, but was rather a decision that was based on the opinion of several rabbis for specific cases of yeshiva students in closed capsules who had already taken coronavirus tests, in accordance with policies that were set in advance,” he says.

Gamzu’s comments against Kanievsky sparked a wave of criticism among Haredim, along with calls for his resignation.

Russia’s Navalny out of induced coma, is responsive — hospital

The German hospital treating Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny says he has been taken out of an induced coma and is responsive.

Navalny, a fierce, high-profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany on August 22, two days after falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia. German chemical weapons experts say tests show that the 44-year-old Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, prompting the German government last week to demand that Russia investigate the case.

Berlin’s Charite hospital says that Navalny’s condition has improved, allowing doctors to end the medically induced coma and gradually ease him off mechanical ventilation. It notes that he is responding to speech but “long-term consequences of the serious poisoning can still not be ruled out.”

He has been in an induced coma in the Berlin hospital since he was flown to Germany for treatment.

AP

High Court to hear petition against West Bank waste-to-energy plant

The High Court has agreed to hear a petition filed by opponents of plans to build a waste-to-energy incineration plant in Maale Adumim, in the West Bank, just outside of Jerusalem.

The project, named the Good Samaritan, has already gone out to the preliminary stage of tender.

The opponents want to convince the court that the decision by the Civil Administration, which governs Maale Adumim, not to rezone the site, earmarked years ago for landfill, means that the public cannot oppose the plan.

They want a new zoning plan for an incinerator, which will allow local residents to express their opinions before a decision is made.

The government and the Civil Administration unsuccessfully argued that the petition should not be heard because the project was at “too early” a stage.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel has frozen plans for waste-to-energy plants within Israel’s borders — but not in the West Bank — to review waste policy in general.

Sue Surkes

Government extends health rules for workplaces

The government extends until October 5 the existing health rules for workplaces, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The rules — which also force workplaces with over 10 employees to appoint someone responsible for health matters — are as follows:

1. Maintaining a distance of two meters between employees, as much as possible

2. Maintaining hygiene and wearing masks

3. Allocating personal equipment or disinfecting equipment passed between employees

4. Scheduling employees in shifts, as much as possible

5. Taking temperatures upon entry

6. Office workers will sit at regular stations at a distance of two meters from other workers or separated by a barrier, as much as possible

7. Eating and drinking will be done in employees’ rooms, as much as possible

8. The employer will facilitate work from home, as much as possible

9. Elevators shall be occupied by no more than 50% of their capacity

10. For office work, meetings shall be held with more than number of employees permitted by the restriction on gatherings, up to 50 people, provided that the employee responsible for coronavirus matters certifies that the meeting could not be held online and as long as food is not served

Saudi court issues final verdicts in Khashoggi killing

Saudi Arabia’s state television says final verdicts have been issued in the case of slain Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi after his family announced pardons that spared five from execution.

The Riyadh Criminal Court issues final verdicts against eight people.

The court orders a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for five, with one receiving a 10-year sentence and two others being ordered to serve seven years in prison.

The trial was widely criticized by rights groups and an independent UN investigator, who noted that no senior officials nor anyone suspected of ordering the killing was found guilty. The independence of the court was also brought into question.

AP

Rivlin scolds Liberman for encouraging flouting of virus rules

President Reuven Rivlin scolds Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman for encouraging Israelis to break the virus rules.

“The fight against the coronavirus pandemic is a fight we all share,” tweets Rivlin. “Calls for civil disobedience harm the principles ensuring our well-being and the well-being of the entire public, specifically during crises. Leaders — opposition and coalition alike — please be careful with what you say.”

Health Ministry confirms nightly curfews postponed until Tuesday

The Health Ministry confirms the nighttime curfews won’t be implemented from tonight, amid disagreements with mayors of the 40 virus hotspots.

The ministry says the local curfews in so-called red zones with high coronavirus infection rates will instead begin on Tuesday night.

The final list of the affected localities will be announced tonight, it says.

Putin, Saudi king discuss joint vaccine production

Saudi King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss the possible joint production of a Russian coronavirus vaccine, the Kremlin says.

In early August, Russia said it had developed the world’s first vaccine against the virus and claimed that more than a billion doses had been pre-ordered by 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia.

Russia’s sovereign wealth fund has provided much of the financing, and it has identified Saudi Arabia as one of the countries interested in the vaccine.

On Monday, Putin and Salman discussed “collective efforts aimed at overcoming the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” a Kremlin statement says, while noting the call had come at the Saudi king’s initiative.

“Particular attention was paid to the perspective of joint production of a vaccine that was developed by Russia,” the statement adds.

It also says that Russia and Saudi Arabia, two major producers of crude oil, would continue to “pursue close coordination” to ensure stable oil prices.

AFP

Gulf Cooperation Council demands apology over insult at Palestinian conference

The Gulf Cooperation Council is demanding a formal apology for comments made by a leader of a minor Palestinian faction at a conference of Palestinian groups.

“It was Palestinian workers who took charge in the Gulf… everyone agrees that Palestinian workers are the most productive in the Gulf. The Gulf people learned from them, and [Palestinians] taught them to read and write and drive and everything,” Maeen Hamid, who leads a Palestinian faction known as the As-Sa’iqa brigades, said at the conference.

“Your existence will be but a week of days should you give us up,” Hamid told the United Arab Emirates.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas convened the conference in Ramallah last Thursday night to discuss plans for national unity in the aftermath of the normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

After decades of under-the-table ties between Israel and the Gulf, there is much speculation about which Gulf country will be next to normalize with Israel. So far, the remaining members of the GCC have committed themselves to the Arab Peace Initiative, which requires the establishment of a Palestinian state before normalization with Israel.

Reaction from not only the UAE, but other countries in the Gulf has been swift. GCC Secretary General Nayef al-Hajraf not only condemns Hamid, but demands an apology from Abbas for what he calls “transgressions,” “incitement” and “erroneous statements.”

“The proceedings of the meeting were broadcast on Palestinian official television channels, so there must be an official apology for the abuse, incitement, and suspicion that some mentioned,” al-Hajraf says.

“We have a historical and emotional bond with the Palestinian people, in every sense of the word. No insipid person shall claim to teach us how to read and write,” tweets former Bahraini foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa.

Aaron Boxerman

Islamic State claims deadly attack in Tunisia resort

The Islamic State group claims responsibility for a knife attack in Tunisia that killed one National Guard officer and wounded another, as security forces round up more suspects.

The attack on Sunday morning in a tourist district of the coastal city of Sousse saw a group of assailants ram a patrol of the National Guard with a vehicle before stabbing the officers.

They were chased by security forces before three of them were shot dead in an ensuing gun battle, the Guard said, labeling the attack a terrorist act.

The Islamic State group says its “fighters” had carried out the attack, in a brief statement by its propaganda arm Amaq on the Telegram messenger service.

“Photos show that one of the attackers was wearing a T-shirt with a specific inscription to Daesh (IS),” says Mokhtar Ben Nasr, former head of the National Counter-Terrorism Commission, while stressing it was difficult to establish precise links between the group and its supporters.

AFP

Netanyahu: Opposition leaders encouraging ‘anarchy’ over virus rules

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the IDF Home Front Command’s contact tracing program, which the coronavirus czar has said won’t be operational till November.

Netanyahu says he’s “very impressed” by the interminsterial cooperation and says the program to cut the chains of infection could be “the best of its kind in the world.”

He touts the government’s efforts to contain the virus and rehabilitate the economy, even as Israel has seen some of the worst infection rates worldwide.

“The Israeli economy has contracted half of what European economies experienced,” he claims.

The prime minister then admits that Israel’s COVID-19 rates are troubling.

“We are experiencing a high infection rate” and may be accelerating, he acknowledges.

The numbers are growing because people aren’t wearing masks and there are gatherings, says Netanyahu.

“The experts are worried about a surprise spike in serious cases” and deaths, he says.

Netanyahu says politicians are encouraging Israelis to stop heeding the government’s health rules and fail to listen to police orders, in a reference to Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

“This is anarchy,” he says.

“Show responsibility, stop this inappropriate… behavior,” he says.

Netanyahu to opposition leaders: Clarify that health rules must be followed

Also visiting the program is Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu.

During his remarks, Gantz also says Israelis must follow the rules.

“You must listen to the instructions. No rebellion… is an answer to what is happening in Israel,” he says, in a rebuke of Liberman’s call for disobedience.

As he speaks, Netanyahu tweets a letter that he sent to the leaders of the opposition Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman, Naftali Bennett, and Ayman Odeh.

In the letter, the prime minister says he expects the politicians to “clarify to the public that the rules must be followed in their entirety.”

Coronavirus czar: Government backs me, I’m not quitting

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, speaking at the same press conference, tells the residents of highly infected areas that government decisions to impose restrictions there are not personal.

“I certainly have nothing against you. We are all responsible for each other,” he says.

He again apologizes to the ultra-Orthodox community “if it felt that we are labeling” them specifically as highly infected areas. Most of the localities set for stricter rules are Arab-majority or ultra-Orthodox.

“Stop the weddings, stop the gatherings. We know it causes infections,” he says.

Gamzu also says he’s not resigning.

“The government is united. I am receiving support — let no one think otherwise,” he says.

Netanyahu: Protesters outside my home ‘turn off phones’ to avoid quarantine

Netanyahu, speaking to reporters, claims protesters outside his home are turning off their cellphones to avoid Shin Bet tracking that would put them in isolation over exposure to the coronavirus at the mass gatherings.

He is asked to address Health Ministry data indicating the weekly demonstrations are not driving up infections, and says, “Permit me to smile.”

“They shut off their phones,” the prime minister says, adding that others are doing likewise to avoid detection.

Will Israel be in a lockdown over Rosh Hashanah? “I don’t know,” says Netanyahu, adding that the government is doing everything to avoid — or at least delay — such a move.

Khashoggi’s fiancee calls Saudi verdict a ‘farce’

The Turkish fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi brands a Saudi court ruling overturning five death sentences in his 2018 murder a “farce.”

“The ruling handed down today in Saudi Arabia again makes a complete mockery of justice,” Hatice Cengiz says in a statement posted on Twitter.

“The international community will not accept this farce.”

The Saudi ruling came after Khashoggi’s sons announced in May that they had “pardoned” the killers, paving the way for a less severe punishment, in a case that tarnished the reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

None of the defendants was named in what was described as the final court ruling on the case.

“The Saudi authorities are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal’s murder,” says Cengiz.

“Who planned it, who ordered it, where is the body? These are the most important questions that remain totally unanswered,” she writes.

AFP

Belarus says hundreds arrested as opposition figure ‘kidnapped’

Belarus says that police have detained more than 600 people at weekend protests and the opposition says a senior figure has been snatched off the streets, as authorities intensify efforts to end weeks of demonstrations.

The opposition’s Coordination Council says one of its high-profile members Maria Kolesnikova has been “kidnapped by unknown people in central Minsk” along with a spokesman and executive secretary.

“Their whereabouts are unknown,” it says, accusing President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of “openly using methods of terror.”

Lukashenko’s main rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says the abductions are an attempt to disrupt the work of the Coordination Council.

AFP

Responding to Netanyahu’s letter, Lapid calls for his resignation

Opposition leader Yair Lapid responds to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s letter, in which the premier accused opposition politicians of undermining the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.

“You failed miserably in dealing with the crisis, both health-wise and economically. Your dangerous, arrogant, and irresponsible statements, and those of your close associates, as well as the failure to make decisions, has led to over 1,000 deaths from the coronavirus,” writes Lapid.

Lapid writes that he expects Netanyahu to “take responsibility, admit your failure, and resign.”

WHO warns against politics in COVID-19 response

The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization says governments that provide “politically motivated” information about the coronavirus pandemic could face a political backlash.

Dr. Michael Ryan says that “trying to present oversimplified, simplistic solutions for people is not a long-term strategy that wins.” He tells reporters in Geneva that “transparency, consistency, honesty” and admitting errors can build trust.

Ryan is speaking in general terms after being asked about conflicting messages sent by the Brazilian government over its COVID-19 response.

Ryan says coronavirus-related messages sometimes come with “political overtones” and he alludes to a saying that trust takes years to build, but seconds to lose.

He says: “If communities perceive that they’re getting information that is being politically manipulated or that it has been managed in a way that is distorting evidence, then unfortunately that comes back to roost.”

AP

Daily virus cases again surpass 3,000

The Health Ministry records another 3,026 virus cases between Sunday evening and Monday evening.

Of the 26,722 active cases, 470 are in serious condition, 139 of them on ventilators. Another 149 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

Another four people have died of the virus since this morning, bringing the toll to 1,026.

The ministry says 19,350 tests were conducted on Sunday, and another 25,000 on Monday.

Liberman doubles down on call to disregard virus rules

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman doubles down on his call to flout the government’s pandemic regulations.

In an interview with Channel 12, he claims Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “making decisions on a solely political basis,” after ultra-Orthodox political leaders Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman “censor” the health information.

“The prime minister is causing anarchy — the government doesn’t meet; there is no budget,” says Liberman.

He again insists Israelis should use their common sense, rather than heeding the government health rules.

“I have much greater faith in Israeli citizens’ common sense than in the little nightly politics between Bibi [Netanyahu] and the Haredim,” says Liberman.

He also compares this position to Ariel Sharon’s disregard for government orders on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which he says saved Israel.

TV poll gives Naftali Bennett’s Yamina 21 Knesset seats

A Channel 13 survey has Naftali Bennett’s Yamina surging to pick up 21 Knesset seats, if elections were held today.

The poll of 707 respondents, with a 3.9% margin of error, gives Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party 31 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. It is followed by Yamina (21), Yesh Atid (18), Joint List (13), Blue and White (11); Shas (7); United Torah Judaism (7); Yisrael Beytenu (6); Meretz (6).

That would give the right-wing bloc 66 seats, compared to 48 for the left.

A plurality of respondents say Netanyahu is the most suited to be prime minister (32%), followed by Bennett (18%), Yair Lapid (13%), with Alternate Prime Minister Gantz trailing at 10%.

Asked if they would obey a lockdown if it is imposed, 64% said yes — fully; 13% partially; 9% would not regard restrictions on holidays and events; 9% said no.

Most (68%) say Netanyahu capitulated to the ultra-Orthodox on the virus restrictions, in flip-flopping on closures of Haredi cities at the last minute. Another 20% disagreed.

The survey finds that 65% are not satisfied with Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis, while 30% are.

The respondents are also split on whether coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu should resign — 45% say no; 34% say yes.

TV report alleges police cover-up of investigator’s conflict in Netanyahu probes

The state comptroller has received a complaint by senior law enforcement officials, reportedly backed up by extensive documentation, which alleges that police covered up a serious conflict of interest by one of the investigators into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, Channel 12 reports.

According to the report, Superintendent Avi Rotenberg did not disclose to his superiors that he was in an extramarital relationship with Judy Nir-Mozes, the sister of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes who has a stake in the paper.

The report says Rotenberg was closely involved in the investigations into Sara Netanyahu’s spending, even as Nir-Mozes spoke out frequently against the premier’s wife. Later, it says, he was asked by his superiors whether there was a conflict in his investigating Arnon Mozes and Netanyahu in the so-called Case 2000, over which both now face criminal charges of bribery. He demurred and did not reveal their relationship.

The report says Roni Ritman, who led the Lahav 443 anti-corruption unit, eventually learned of the connection, and failed to report it to the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department. The connection was only related to the unit — which investigates alleged wrongdoing by police officers — later, when Rotenberg’s wife approached police and warned she would go public with the information.

The Justice Ministry unit was “dismayed” and said it must be investigated.

But then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan let the case sit, and prosecutors later concluded that despite the connection, there was no reason to investigate Rotenberg, since there was no indication he worked to benefit Nir-Mozes during the course of the investigation.

The TV report says the PIID was prevented from investigating over fears that the information would leak and benefit Netanyahu. In 2018, the head of the PIID was replaced and months later, the case was closed.

The television report alleges a widespread cover-up by police and the state prosecution on the conflict of interest by a key investigator.

But all those accused in the report deny the allegations.

Rotenberg, who is now a lawyer in a private firm, says in response: “There was no connection between my acquaintance with Judy Nir-Mozes and the way the investigation was handled, without any agenda.” He also says he was never exposed to the materials of Case 2000, namely the recordings of Netanyahu and Mozes.

The state prosecution calls the allegation “baseless lies.”

Israeli ambassador being investigated for sexual harassment — report

An Israeli ambassador to an unnamed European country is being investigated for sexual harassment, following a complaint by a security guard, Channel 12 reports.

The television report says the guard has accused the diplomat of making comments of a strong sexual nature and of parading around while scantily dressed, in a bid to “embarrass” him.

The guard is also complaining that the security chief at the embassy failed to intervene.

Israeli authorities will question the envoy, the report says.

The diplomat, who is not named, was previously found guilty of sexual harassment 15 years ago while serving as a consul and received a reprimand.

“If the claims are true, the Foreign Ministry views the incident with great severity. There is no room for such behavior in the foreign service,” the ministry says in a statement to the network.

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High Court to hear petition against West Bank waste-to-energy plant

The High Court has agreed to hear a petition filed by opponents of plans to build a waste-to-energy incineration plant in Maale Adumim, in the West Bank, just outside of Jerusalem.

The project, named the Good Samaritan, has already gone out to the preliminary stage of tender.

The opponents want to convince the court that the decision by the Civil Administration, which governs Maale Adumim, not to rezone the site, earmarked years ago for landfill, means that the public cannot oppose the plan.

They want a new zoning plan for an incinerator, which will allow local residents to express their opinions before a decision is made.

The government and the Civil Administration unsuccessfully argued that the petition should not be heard because the project was at “too early” a stage.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel has frozen plans for waste-to-energy plants within Israel’s borders — but not in the West Bank — to review waste policy in general.

Sue Surkes