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Netanyahu: Lockdown was unavoidable, claim I did it to end protests is ‘absurd’

PM blames ‘populist politicians’ for soaring virus rates, says he’s working on getting faster testing and a vaccine; 59 Israelis have died of COVID-19 since last night

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at his official residence in Jerusalem on September 17, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at his official residence in Jerusalem on September 17, 2020. (Screen capture: YouTube)

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

Virus czar says full lockdown will have ‘tremendous’ economic cost

The government’s coronavirus czar reiterates his opposition to the new lockdown restrictions, saying the economic harm will be “tremendous.”

The lockdown is set to begin on Friday at 2 p.m., and will see nearly all businesses closed, flights canceled, prayers and public protests severely curtailed, public transportation scaled back dramatically and Israelis still ordered to remain within 1 kilometer of their home.

“I recommended a [less severe] tightening of the lockdown, but the government decided otherwise and I respect that,” Gamzu says during a tour of Jerusalem’s virus-hit hotspots.

“Obviously when you lock down more tightly you slow the infection rate more significantly, but the economic cost is tremendous. Even so, the government has the authority to make that call. It made the decision after careful consideration, and if they decided on a tighter closure, that’s okay. We’re going to go with that. It will help stop infections.”

He adds: “The morbidity rate is very worrying. We could maybe have closed less, but it’s okay that the government made this decision. It’s a message to the public. If the government reached the point where it’s imposing such a hermetic seal of all commerce and economic activity, that should say something about how widespread the infections have become.”

The government’s decision to tighten lockdown measures follow recommendations by the cabinet’s coronavirus committee on Wednesday night and was approved in a cabinet vote Thursday morning. It is set to win final approval in Knesset legislation later Thursday.

EU urges new measures to head off virus second wave

The European Commission urges EU members states to better explain and enforce social distancing and hygiene rules to halt a dangerous new wave of coronavirus infections.

Health commissioner Stella Kyriakides says: “In some member states, the situation is now even worse than during the peak in March. This is a real cause for concern.

“All member states need to roll out measures immediately and at the right time at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks.”

Europe has now had more than five million coronavirus cases, and several countries have begun reimposing local lockdown rules to head off a return to uncontrolled spread.

The death rate has not returned to the levels seen earlier this year, but cases of new infections are soaring once again in many areas.

AFP

Iran: Saudi Arabia a ‘wretched creature’ among Arab nations

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of distorting facts and shifting the blame for its own “crimes,” after the Saudi king slammed the Islamic Republic in a UN address.

King Salman alleged in a speech Wednesday to the UN General Assembly that Iran had “targeted” oil facilities in the Sunni-ruled kingdom last year. He also accused Iran of “expansionist activities” and “terrorism.”

Iran’s foreign ministry hits back on Thursday.

“Saudi Arabia has for years tried to escape realities and not answer for its crimes by adopting a policy of projecting the blame and distorting the facts,” spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says in a statement.

Riyadh and Washington accuse Tehran of involvement in September 2019 attacks on Saudi oil facilities claimed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels. They also allege Tehran arms the Houthis for attacks on the kingdom. Iran denies the charges.

The Islamic Republic, for its part, accuses Saudi Arabia of committing war crimes in Yemen, where the kingdom leads a military coalition against the Shiite Houthi rebels.

In the statement, Khatibzadeh calls Riyadh “the main financial and logistical supporter of terrorism in the region” and the “origin of takfiri terrorist thinking.”

Officials in Shiite Iran use the term “takfiri” to refer to Sunni jihadists.

“Continuous field and political defeats in Yemen have brought Saudi Arabia to delusion,” Khatibzadeh says.

The foreign ministry spokesman calls the kingdom a “wretched creature” among Arab countries over its support for US pressure against Iran and attempts to expand ties with Israel.

AFP

Sudan to okay Israel ties in ‘coming days’ in deal with US — report

Sudan and the US have reached a “declaration of principles on the role of Arab normalization with Israel in establishing peace in the region and preserving the rights of the Palestinians,” pro-Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat reports.

The deal is set to be announced in the coming days, the report says.

As part of the deal, the US and Sudan reached an agreement to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and provide it with financial aid, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat. The well-known daily is owned by a member of the Saudi royal family.

“Khartoum conditioned its position on normalization in exchange for the fulfillment of demands which include an aid package and access to loans from international financial institutions,” the newspaper says.

Yesterday, Sudanese head of state Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan returned from three days of direct talks in Abu Dhabi with the United States. In a statement, his government called the talks “frank and sincere” and said that he would present the results to the country’s ruling Sovereignty Council.

According to al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Burhan will announce the deal after the Sovereignty Council — which includes both military and civilian leaders — formally approves the agreement.

Aaron Boxerman

Fatah, Hamas agree to hold Palestinian elections in coming months

Fatah and Hamas have agreed to hold pan-Palestinian elections in the coming months following reconciliation talks in Istanbul, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad tells Anadolu News.

According to a statement by Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee official Wasil Abu Yousef, legislative elections will take place in the next six months.

Palestinian legislative elections have not been held since 2006, when a Hamas victory over Fatah lead to a bloody struggle for control of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Legislative Council has not met since 2007.

Several similar announcements that Palestinians would return to the ballot box fizzled out over the past 13 years. Local municipal elections have been held in the West Bank three times; Hamas has largely boycotted the proceedings.

Al-Ahmad said that no elections would be held unless East Jerusalem Palestinians are allowed to participate — long a key demand of Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel bans the PA from operating inside Jerusalem, and has never agreed to previous Palestinian requests for East Jerusalemites to vote in PA elections.

Aaron Boxerman

Israeli comedy show nominated for international Emmy

Israeli comedy show “Chamishim” (“Fifty”) has been nominated for an International Emmy award, Deadline reports.

The show focuses on an Israeli single mother on the cusp of 50 years old, who is penning a screenplay about a woman grappling with the looming age milestone.

TV: Israelis uncooperative with contact tracers, 40% lie

A Channel 12 report, which does not cite the source for its figures, claims many Israelis with COVID-19 are uncooperative with contact tracing, with some 40 percent lying or refusing to disclose to investigators with whom they’ve been in contact and where.

Contact tracing has been conducted haphazardly by the Health Ministry, which has been criticized for failing to cut the chains of infection. The military has in recent months been tasked with the role, but its contact tracing unit may not be up and running until November.

7 EU countries flagged as of ‘high concern’ due to soaring virus rates

Seven European Union countries — Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Malta — are of “high concern” due to rising COVID-19 death rates, the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention warns.

The Stockholm-based EU agency’s latest assessment report says these countries had “an increased proportion of hospitalized and severe cases,” and “increasing or high death notification rates are already observed… or may be observed soon,” owing to a spread among older people.

AFP

Joblessness rates soar as over 120,000 register for unemployment in week

The Employment Service says 120,752 more people have registered as unemployed in the past week, since the government began implementing a lockdown.

For the vast majority — 93,766 — this is the second time they were laid off or placed on unpaid leave since the start of the pandemic in March.

Overall, 854,367 Israelis are registered as unemployed.

Dozens rally outside Knesset against Netanyahu’s curbs on demonstrations

Dozens of protesters gather outside the Knesset to protest the government’s new lockdown measures, which will see demonstrations significantly curtailed until after the holidays in mid-October.

The protesters are demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s decision to limit the weekly rallies outside his Jerusalem residence.

The new rules are set to come into effect on Friday afternoon.

The rally comes as lawmakers are set to approve the regulations.

Jobs czar frets about ‘lost generation’ of the young and unemployed

The head of the Employment Service, Rami Garor, warns of a prospective “lost generation” of young workers, amid soaring joblessness rates.

“We would like to remind you that hundreds of thousands have not yet returned to work since March, including employees in sectors that were badly hurt by the crisis,” he says. “As we warned, such a long unemployment period is likely to force hundreds of thousands into ‘chronic unemployment,’ to create a lost generation of youth experiencing long-term unemployment, as well as other repercussions.”

“We must do everything to ensure that the return to work after the lockdown is fast, otherwise the ramifications will linger for a long time,” he adds.

 

Facebook oversight board on content to start operating in October

Facebook’s long-awaited oversight board that will act as a referee on whether specific content is allowed on the tech giant’s platforms is set to launch in October.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said two years ago that he was setting up the quasi-independent board, following intense criticism that the company wasn’t moving fast enough to remove misinformation, hate speech and malign influence campaigns. The board is intended to rule on thorny content issues, such as when Facebook or Instagram posts constitute hate speech.

“We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the Board to review cases,” it says in a statement Thursday.

If those tests go to plan, the board said it would start accepting and reviewing appeals from users in mid to late October.

The board was initially expected to start operating in early 2020 but the launch was delayed.

“Building a process that is thorough, principled and globally effective takes time and our members have been working aggressively to launch as soon as possible,” the board says.

The board’s 20 members are a multinational group that includes legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists.

It will start by hearing appeals from users whose content has been taken down by Facebook before expanding to appeals from users who want the company to remove content. Facebook can also refer cases to the board on its own.

Its decisions and the company’s responses will be public. Rulings will be binding in individual cases, but broader policy findings will be advisory.

AP

Charlie Hebdo, Hyper Cacher attacks trial suspended after accused falls ill

The trial in Paris over the January 2015 terror attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a kosher supermarket was suspended for one day Thursday after one of the accused fell ill in the box.

The defendant, Nezar Mickael Pastor Alwatik, will undergo diagnostic tests including for COVID-19, his lawyer says.

Judge Regis de Jorna announces in court that the trial was being suspended until Friday at 9:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) to allow time for the medical exams.

Pastor Alwatik’s lawyer Marie Dose says her client had been suffering from “a lot of fever, coughing, vomiting and headaches.”

She says such symptoms were worrying in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and warned that hearings should not even resume Friday if his test result was not yet in.

The defendant was taken to the Fleury-Merogis prison outside Paris for the tests.

AFP

5,000 said to leave country ahead of possible airport closure

Five thousand travelers leave the country in anticipation of a potential closure of Ben Gurion Airport as part of the lockdown measures, Channel 12 reports.

It remains unclear when and if the main international airport will close. The government has said a decision on the issue will be presented to ministers later today.

Austria issues travel warning for Israel, bans apres ski parties

Winter sports-mad Austria announces a ban on apres-ski parties, which were blamed for creating coronavirus hotspots earlier this year, and issues travel warnings for Israel, Paris, Prague and other destinations, but removes Sweden, Australia, Japan and others from the list.

Even as infections are rapidly rising again in the Alpine country, authorities are adamant that Austria’s world-famous ski resorts — which generate a huge amount of tourist revenue — will still open in the coming winter season.

Thousands of tourists from all over the world became infected at tightly-packed ski-slope bars around early March.

AFP

El Al protests sale to student, claims it’s a front for his non-Israeli father

El Al is protesting its sale to an American Israeli yeshiva student, claiming Eli Rozenberg, 27, is merely a front man for his father, who is not an Israeli citizen and therefore by law can’t own the Israeli national carrier.

A letter by airline officials to government ministers accuses Kenny Naftali Rozenberg of creating the Kanfei Nesharim company under his son’s name to bypass the Israeli law and gain control over the airline. The younger Rozenberg “has no independent means and lacks business experience,” the letter says.

The airline asks the ministers to block the sale.

Rozenberg’s Kanfei Nesharim company bought a controlling 42.85% stake in the airline with a $150 million offering.

Eli Rozenberg, the new controlling shareholder of El Al (Courtesy)

Russia reports highest daily cases since July — but it’s still lower than Israel

Russian health officials have reported 6,595 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily surge since July.

In Moscow, more than 1,000 new cases are recorded Thursday for the first time since June.

The number of daily new cases started to grow in late August in Russia, which has the fourth largest caseload in the world at 1.12 million infections. There have been nearly 20,000 confirmed deaths.

Officials have repeatedly dismissed speculation of a second lockdown, saying the increase was expected and Russia’s health care infrastructure was prepared for it.

Russia was the first country in the world to approve a vaccine against the virus last month. The move elicited criticism from experts worldwide because the shots were tested on a few dozen people. More studies are needed to establish the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.

Russia’s daily rate is still lower than Israel’s, which recorded 6,808 new infections on Wednesday, although Russia’s population is 16 times larger than that of the Jewish state.

with AP

Jordan, Egypt, EU urge Israel-Palestinian talks

The foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, France and Germany urge Israel and the Palestinians to engage in “credible dialogue” to restore “hope” to the peace process.

“Ending the stalemate in peace talks, the creation of political horizons and the restoration of hope through credible dialogue must be a priority,” they say in a statement.

The meeting comes after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain formally established full diplomatic ties with Israel, the third and fourth Arab states to do so after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since 2014, and a US peace plan announced in January has been welcomed by Israel and rejected outright by the Palestinians as biased.

After Thursday’s meeting, the ministers stress “the urgency of the resumption of serious, meaningful and effective negotiations on the basis of international law and agreed parameters directly between the parties or under the UN umbrella.”

“We call upon the parties to commit to past agreements and to resume credible dialogue on this basis,” they say.

The meeting is also attended by the EU’s envoy for the peace process.

The ministers also meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who reiterates a long-held position that ending the conflict required “a two-state solution with an independent (and) viable Palestinian state” based on pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinians’ capital.

AFP

7 dead in botched Egypt prison break

Egypt holds military funerals for three policemen killed as they prevented four convicts on death row from escaping a notorious Cairo prison.

The four men convicted to hang on terror charges were shot dead by security forces in the rare escape bid from the heavily-fortified Tora prison complex, the interior ministry says.

It says the three policemen also died in the botched prison bust, without giving the circumstances.

Local press carries reports of families in mourning as military funerals were held for the policemen.

AFP

Ministers may permit restaurant deliveries during lockdown

The Health Ministry and Finance Ministry are likely to allow restaurants to offer deliveries during lockdown, Channel 12 reports.

The final government regulations on the lockdown have yet to be officially publicized.

Police detain two protesters at rally outside Knesset

Police detain two protesters rallying outside the Knesset against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the new lockdown measures, which limit demonstrations.

The two are brought in for questioning on suspicion of “disturbing a police officer, refusing to identify themselves and disturbing the peace,” police say.

Trump heckled as he pays respects to late justice Ginsburg

US President Donald Trump is heckled by protesters as he visited the Supreme Court to pay his respects to the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Trump, wearing a black face mask, and First Lady Melania Trump stand silently behind the flag-draped casket of the progressive justice who died last week.

Anti-Trump protesters on the street can be heard shouting “Vote him out” and “Honor her wish” — a reference to Ginsburg’s stated wish that she would not be replaced on the court until after the election.

AFP

Knesset begins debate ahead of vote on restricting demonstrations

The Knesset plenum begins a debate ahead of a parliamentary vote to allow the government to restrict protests during the coronavirus pandemic.

The existing law says demonstrations must be allowed.

Lawmakers will vote on the amendment that paves the way for the government to ban protesters from gathering beyond a kilometer (0.6 miles) from their homes and in groups of more than 20 during the upcoming lockdown beginning on Friday afternoon.

During Wednesday’s acrimonious government meeting on the issue, a compromise was reached allowing for continued protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, where demonstrators have gathered regularly for months to call for Netanyahu’s resignation.

A team from the police, the Health Ministry and the attorney general’s office developed a framework allowing for up to 2,000 protesters to take part in the Balfour Street demonstrations. As with prayer gatherings and protests elsewhere in the country, they will be divided into 20-person “capsules” and keep two meters’ distance from each other. All protesters at Balfour must live within a kilometer of the site in downtown Jerusalem.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters harass Likud minister, hurl fertilizer at the Knesset

Anti-government protesters chased a Likud minister outside the Knesset, calling him “garbage” and “corrupt,” Channel 12 reports.

The incident took place when MK Dudi Amsalem walked from the parliament to the nearby Finance Ministry. Protesters ran after him, shouting slogans until security intervened and shut the gates to the ministry so the activists could not enter the building after Amsalem, the report says, describing the minister as shaken by the encounter.

The demonstrators also brought sacks of fertilizer to the Knesset, hurling it in fistfuls at the parliament while shouting, “This is the symbol of the stench of corruption,” the network says.

During that protest, police detained two for questioning.

Republican Senate leader promises ‘orderly transition’ after US vote

US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell pledges that the results of the November 3 presidential election will be implemented in an orderly way, a day after US President Donald Trump refused to guarantee he will hand over power if he loses the vote.

“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792,” McConnell says in a tweeted statement.

AFP

IMF says global economic outlook better than June prediction

The global economic outlook is less bleak than in June, an IMF spokesman says, signaling that the organization’s forecast will be raised when it is released next month.

“The recent incoming data suggests that the outlook may be somewhat less dire than at the time of the (World Economic Outlook) update on June 24, with parts of the global economy beginning to turn the corner,” the International Monetary Fund spokesman says.

But the spokesman adds, “the outlook remains very challenging,” with emerging markets other than China facing a “precarious” situation due to the coronavirus.

AFP

Social equality minister says visits to nursing homes must continue

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, a member of the high-level coronavirus cabinet, says visits to nursing homes must continue amid the pandemic.

“Family members must continue their visits to relatives in nursing homes, otherwise the residents will simply die of loneliness,” she tells Army Radio.

Numerous assisted living facilities and retirement homes have seen serious COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.

Flights departing Israel in next 24 hours won’t be canceled — minister

Transportation Minister Miri Regev says flights scheduled to depart Tel Aviv in the next 24 hours won’t be canceled, ahead of an expected closure of Ben Gurion Airport amid rising coronavirus rates.

The government has yet to unveil its plan for the airport during the upcoming lockdown, which begins Friday afternoon.

Chinese company says coronavirus vaccine ready by early 2021

A Chinese pharmaceutical company says the coronavirus vaccine it is developing should be ready by early 2021 for distribution worldwide, including the United States.

Yin Weidong, the CEO of SinoVac, vows to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration to sell CoronaVac in the United States if it passes its third and final round of testing in humans. Yin says he personally has been given the experimental vaccine.

“At the very beginning, our strategy was designed for China and for Wuhan. Soon after that in June and July we adjusted our strategy, that is to face the world,” Yin said, referring to the Chinese city were the virus first emerged.

“Our goal is to provide the vaccine to the world including the US, EU and others,” Yin says.

Stringent regulations in the US, European Union, Japan and Australia have historically blocked the sale of Chinese vaccines. But Yin says that could change.

SinoVac is developing one of China’s top four vaccine candidates along with state-owned SinoPharm, which has two in development, and military-affiliated private firm CanSino.

AP

Gantz, Lapid, Netanyahu to make public statements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he’ll make a press statement later tonight, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid separately announce press conferences to address the impending lockdown.

Gantz is set to speak at 8:15 p.m., followed by Lapid 10 minutes later. It’s not immediately clear when Netanyahu will speak.

Google Maps shows COVID-19 hotspots

Google is updating its free mapping service this week with color-coding that maps out areas with a large number of COVID-19 cases, the search giant says.

Tapping the new “COVID-19” option in a layers feature in a top corner of the screen will enhance maps using the latest 7-day average of cases per 100,000 people in areas being viewed, it says.

A label will also let users know whether the number of COVID-19 cases in a particular spot is trending up or down, according to Maps product manager Sujoy Banerjee.

The tool is meant to provide “critical information about COVID-19 cases in an area so you can make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do,” Banerjee says.

Data used in the COVID layer comes from sources including Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins hospital, the New York Times, and Wikipedia, which get information from public health organizations such as the World Health Organization and government health ministries, according to Banerjee.

The Covid layer is rolling out this week worldwide in versions of the map app tailored for mobile devices powered by Apple or Google-backed Android software, the California-based company said.

Google Maps already featured pandemic-related tools such as letting users know when public transit was likely to be crowded.

“While getting around is more complicated these days, our hope is that these Google Maps features will help you get where you need to be as safely and efficiently as possible,” Banerjee says.

AFP

US Jewish group seeks to ban Iran from Tokyo Olympics

The American Jewish Committee launches an online campaign to ban Iran from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, citing its rights abuses.

“To allow Iran to participate in the Tokyo Games would be to signal approval of the country’s gross and systematic violations of human rights,” says the AJC letter to IOC President Thomas Bach. “Barring Iran would send a powerful message: that athletes are to be protected, that sport is to be practiced freely, and that discrimination and abuse by any country that is part of the Olympic family will not be tolerated. Only thus will the Olympic spirit, a spirit of peace, freedom, and coexistence, truly be upheld.”

The petition says: “Iran’s record of abuse in sports is just one area of an elaborate tapestry of wholesale violations of basic human rights carried out by the Islamic Republic against its own citizens.”

Health official: There will be no limits on incoming flights to Israel

Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto says the government decision will allow incoming flights to continue uninterrupted during the lockdown.

He tells Channel 12 that departing commercial flights will be canceled, but adds that some exceptions will be made, such as for emergencies and foreign students who must return home. It’s unclear from his remarks how the airlines would operate under such a framework.

Grotto also says there will no limits on outdoor exercise during the lockdown, with Israelis allowed to “run a 10k and return” if they so wish. He also says police won’t prevent Israelis from riding their bicycles during the upcoming Yom Kippur holiday.

Health Ministry: 41 people died of COVID-19 since this morning

The Health Ministry records 41 coronavirus deaths since this morning, bringing the national toll to 1,376. Fifty-nine people have succumbed to the virus in the past 24 hours alone.

According to the ministry, 6,499 new coronavirus cases were confirmed between Wednesday night and Thursday evening. Of the 59,842 active cases, 685 are in serious condition, 164 of them on ventilators. Another 255 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. Overall, 1,367 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

The ministry says 14 percent of virus tests have returned positive so far today. It says 56,307 tests were conducted yesterday.

In apparent last hurrah before lockdown, hundreds protest against Netanyahu

Hundreds of protesters gather at junctions and bridges across the country to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The rallies organized by the “Black Flags” movement comes as the government is set to limit demonstrations during the upcoming lockdown.

Will the virus lockdown rules be softened?

The Ynet news site, in an unsourced report, says the government may soften the lockdown rules to match the closure in the spring.

Such a step would allow additional businesses to operate. The regulations announced last night shut down most of the economy.

Rivlin hopes Abraham Accords pave way for reconciliation with Palestinians

President Reuven Rivlin says he hopes the normalization deals with UAE and Bahrain will pave the way for cooperation with the Palestinians.

“The historic Abraham Accords have opened the door to a new era of cooperation across the Middle East. I hope that they will lead to a future of trust with our Palestinian neighbors as well,” he says in pre-recorded remarks to the Jerusalem Post conference.

“No one can help us but us,” he says, addressing the Palestinians. “We have to trust you and you have to trust us, so that each of us can understand how to live together. This is a must. This is our future. This is our interest. Let us build confidence and look into the future.”

Litzman to vote against new regulations, citing synagogue closure

Former housing minister Yaakov Litzman, who quit the cabinet in protest of the government’s coronavirus policies, says he’ll vote against the new government regulations in the Knesset, since they enable the closure of synagogues.

Under the regulations, synagogues are permitted to remain open with restrictions on the Yom Kippur holiday, but not otherwise, and prayer is permitted outdoors in socially distanced groups of up to 20.

“Everyone should go to synagogue and fast, as it should be,” he says.

Litzman is the leader of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party.

Hundreds also rally outside PM’s residence in Jerusalem

Hundreds of protesters congregate in Paris Square in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence, calling for the premier to resign over his corruption charges and decrying his handling of the pandemic.

The demonstrators are seated on chairs situated two meters apart to uphold social distancing rules.

Gantz: We eased 1st lockdown too quickly, were too late on contact tracing move

Defense Minister Benny Gantz admits the government’s failures in curbing the coronavirus.

“The decision on reopening the economy [after the first lockdown] came too quickly. The decision to move the contact tracing system to the military came too late,” he says.

“But all of this is less important right now. And what we must do now is take action,” he says.

“This is one of the most serious crises we’ve experienced,” says Gantz, citing the high daily infection rates gripping Israel, among the world’s highest per capita.

“I won’t be dragged into populism, into obsessiveness or cynicism, but rather am focused on saving lives and saving our society,” he says.

“This is not a fight between prayer and protest,” but is rather an effort to save lives, says Gantz. Those who seek to pray “and endanger people’s lives” can do so outside their homes. Those who seek to protest “and endanger people’s lives” can do so outside their homes, he adds.

Gantz pleads for unity, saying wars are only won when the people are unified.

TV report lays out infection targets for lifting lockdown

Channel 12 reports on the government’s conditions for lifting the lockdown.

They are: A basic reproduction number (the number of other people each coronavirus carrier infects) of less than 1, for a week.

Less than 5% of tests returning positive.

Up to 500 daily cases.

Fewer than 50 serious cases.

The government is able to cut the chains of infection within 48 hours.

Fewer than 10 virus hotspots around the country.

Lapid: We shouldn’t have been forced to lock down, gov’t has failed

Opposition leader Yair Lapid rips into the lockdown rules but urges Israelis to follow the regulations.

“The State of Israel is entering a lockdown it didn’t need to enter.”

“It’s Netanyahu’s failure. It could have been managed differently, it should have been managed differently,” he says.

He says it’s untrue that the world is helpless in the face of the second wave of the virus, “It’s another lie over which the government has lost public trust.” He says governments around the world that prepared were able to keep numbers down.

Lapid says the government doesn’t have a plan. But he says the lockdown rules must be observed.

“We will pray responsibly, we will protest responsibly… We won’t let Netanyahu turn this into a war between secular and religious [people],” he says.

“The government isn’t protecting us; let us protect ourselves,” says Lapid.

Laying out his own plan, Lapid says the government needs an exit strategy; a financial plan for the self-employed; contact tracing; a spokesperson for the virus response; and to transfer authority to local councils to handle the virus. He says ministers who violate the rules should resign, including the prime minister.

“We must rebuild public trust,” he says.

Lapid presents chart showing Israel’s staggering virus rates

During his remarks, opposition leader Lapid shows a Financial Times chart showing Israel’s daily virus cases far above the rest of the world.

New confirmed cases of Covid-19 in European Union, United States, Brazil, United Kingdom and Israel: Seven-day rolling average of new cases, per million, September 24, 2020 (Financial Times screenshot)

Restrictions on protests, prayer approved in 1st Knesset vote

An amendment to the coronavirus laws that will allow the government to restrict protests and prayer services clears its first Knesset vote.

It is moved to committee ahead of the second and third readings in the plenum.

Netanyahu: ‘Populist politicians’ to blame for soaring virus rates

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the “difficult” lockdown rules “are essential to save lives.”

In a televised press conference, he thanks healthcare workers and police officers.

“This is an emergency situation,” he says, calling it “the coronavirus war.”

He says the second coronavirus wave is hitting many countries, some of whom imposed local lockdown measures, “some of them on areas larger than the State of Israel.”

Israel is the first developed country to impose a second nationwide lockdown.

“Only if we work together,” will be “defeat the virus. And we will defeat it,” says Netanyahu.

He is praising the government’s response to the first wave of the virus, even as the number of daily cases in the country is around 7,000 — among the highest in the world.

“When you open the economy, the infections rise,” he says, adding that lifting the rules caused Israelis to flout the rules.

Netanyahu blames “populist politicians” who said “the disease is not a disease,” for the rise in infections.

Netanyahu specifically slams Lapid, accusing him “endangering the lives of Israeli citizens.” He also slams Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who rolled back some of the government’s restrictions in parliament several months ago.

Netanyahu says 59 people have died since last night, “This is a terrible price.”

He says he’s read a lot of research that says 20% of those who recover, including the young, will suffer chronic complications as a result of COVID-19.

“An entire generation, hundreds of thousands, who will carry scars for the rest of their lives,” he says.

“Wake up. Enough is enough. We’re in a new reality. We must take action. And we must do it now. A tight closure, specifically during the holidays… when there are five work days.”

Netanyahu: We’re working on getting faster testing and a vaccine

Netanyahu says the government is planning to ease some restrictions after two weeks, when the Simchat Torah holiday ends — though he immediately adds that it will depend on infection rates.

Two weeks later, additional rules will be lifted, he says, without elaborating. Provided the infections stabilize, Israel will return to the “traffic light” plan which bases restrictions on local infection rates, says Netanyahu.

Netanyahu says he’s working on securing fast coronavirus testing for Israel, within minutes rather than hours.

“This will very much help the economy and our routine.”

And he says he’s been convinced that a vaccine is on its way.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Because it’s obvious to me, there will be a vaccine.”

“A vaccine is on its way to humanity. And we need to ensure a vaccine is en route to Israel,” he says.

Netanyahu: ‘Absurd’ to claim that I’d impose lockdown to prevent protests

Netanyahu says it’s “absurd” to say that he’s imposing the stringent nationwide lockdown in order to block the protests against him. He says “these anarchist and ludicrous protests” actually help him politically.

The rallies “help us politically, the public is sick of them,” he says, but adds that while “it doesn’t hurt politically, it hurts the faith of the people.”

“The demonstrations … show contempt for the rest of Israelis who are being disciplined,” says Netanyahu.

“[The demonstrations are] incubate the virus and incubate anarchy — [we’ve had them in Israel] at a scale nowhere else in the world,” he adds.

“The right to demonstrate, like the right to pray, the right to earn a living, the right to transportation, are very important rights, sacred rights in a democracy. But they are not unlimited rights. The right to life is also a right.”

The demonstrations are being restricted under the new lockdown rules.

Netanyahu defends decision to ignore experts’ recommendations

Netanyahu also dismisses the claim that the lockdown will cost the economy NIS 30 billion.

He defends his decisions not to heed the coronavirus czar’s recommendation for a softer lockdown.

“I respect the experts but the citizens of Israel didn’t elect bureaucrats,” he says.

Finance minister: Defense industries, construction can continue during lockdown

Finance Minister Israel Katz says he persuaded the government to exempt several industries from the lockdown.

“After a difficult fight, we managed to change the framework for shutting down the private sector to allow many factories that were set to close — in the high-tech and defense industries — and [allowes] construction to continue operating during the lockdown,” says Katz, according to Army Radio.

Lapid to Netanyahu: Stop blaming the whole world for your failure to curb virus

Yair Lapid hits back at Netanyahu over his claim the opposition leader and other “populist politicians” are to blame for the massive coronavirus outbreak.

“Netanyahu, we get it. I’m to blame. [Coronavirus czar Ronni] Gamzu is to blame. [Likud MK Yifat] Shasha-Biton is to blame. The protesters are to blame. The public is to blame! Maybe you should stop blaming the whole world for your terrible failure. You are the prime minister. This is your failure,” he tweets.

Justice minister to Netanyahu: Stop inciting against the protesters

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the coalition’s Blue and White party also lashes out at Netanyahu after his press conference.

“It’s embarrassing to see that Netanyahu has chosen to continue to incite against the protesters tonight,” he tweets.

“Everyone is to blame but the prime minister. The protesters at Balfour [Netanyahu’s residence] are not responsible for the crisis, and they will be [able] to exercise their democratic right without restrictions after the lockdown is lifted,” adds Nissenkorn.

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Hundreds also rally outside PM’s residence in Jerusalem

Hundreds of protesters congregate in Paris Square in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence, calling for the premier to resign over his corruption charges and decrying his handling of the pandemic.

The demonstrators are seated on chairs situated two meters apart to uphold social distancing rules.