The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Lebanese delegation chief Waseem Yassin indicates in a statement that the maritime negotiations with Israel are unlikely to bring immediate results, but expresses optimism that they will in due time.
Lebanon and Israel met today for about an hour and a half for the first border talks in 30 years, in a bid to settle a dispute over demarcating gas-rich exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean.
The negotiations are being held under UN auspices and with American mediation.
Both sides have stressed that the issues to be settled are thoroughly technical and do not presage a future normalization of ties.
“It is a first step in the thousand-mile march of the demarcation of the southern borders,” Yassin says, without mentioning Israel once by name. “Based on the supreme interest of our country, we are looking forward to the wheel of negotiations running at a pace that enables us to achieve this within a reasonable timeframe.”
— Aaron Boxerman
Likud rebel Yifat Shasha-Biton has told Knesset colleagues she will not vote with her party until parts of the lockdown are lifted, Channel 13 news reports.
According to the report, the lawmaker wrote in a party WhatsApp group that she woke up sobbing due to the fact that ministers are waiting until next week to vote on easing the lockdown, and has decided that she will not back her party until the restriction on traveling more than 1 kilometer is lifted, and small businesses are allowed to reopen.
Shasha-Biton has butted heads repeatedly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by using the Knesset’s coronavirus oversight committee, which she heads, to overturn restrictions on movement and business activity. Netanyahu and his allies have repeatedly threatened to fire her, but have never done so.
Avichai Mandelblit’s office says he won’t be cowed by threats, after coalition whip Miki Zohar warned the attorney general could face damaging disclosures about him if he doesn’t quit or drop charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Zohar claimed that a recording aired by Channel 12 news, in which Mandelblit is heard complaining about then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, supported an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the attorney general had been blackmailed by the state attorney, prosecutors and police into filing the charges as part of a “witch hunt” aimed at ousting the premier.
“Threats will not deter the attorney general from doing his job,” the attorney general’s office says, calling the claim that he was blackmailed or otherwise affected by ulterior motives “ridiculous and baseless” and adding that the charges were prepared by many people and are currently being scrutinized by a panel of judges.
“As clarified yesterday, there is no link or connection between words uttered out of anger in a private conversation between friends years ago, when Dr. Mandelblit was offended by the treatment he was receiving, and the cases related to the prime minister and others,” the attorney general’s offices adds.
Armed Islamic Jihad members burst into a Khan Younis mosque in Gaza at dawn on Wednesday and abducted three young men praying there, according to local reports.
In a statement, the Gaza division of the Islamist terror group called it “a saddening event,” and promised to conduct an internal investigation, without explicitly stating whether its members were responsible.
The Hamas Interior Ministry says it is also investigating the incident, saying that “no one is above the law.”
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, when it formally expelled the Fatah party, its main political rival, to the West Bank.
Islamic Jihad has remained in Gaza and enjoys a degree of autonomy from the other terror group’s rule due to the strength of its militias.
— Aaron Boxerman
Opposition leader Yair Lapid is speaking out against an apparent act of sabotage at the offices of the Haaretz newspaper, a leading liberal voice.
On Twitter, Lapid calls it an “attempt to silence the free press by the instigated supporters of a leader who see democracy and free speech as a threat to the state,” apparently referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Police said a man caused damage to the newspaper’s breaker box and verbally harassed reporter Gidi Weitz. A suspect was arrested.
Germany has agreed to provide more than a half billion euros to aid Holocaust survivors struggling under the burdens of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization that negotiates compensation with the German government says.
The payments will be going to approximately 240,000 survivors around the world, primarily in Israel, North America, the former Soviet Union and Western Europe, over the next two years, according to the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also referred to as the Claims Conference.
“There’s this kind of standard response for survivors, that ‘we’ve been through worse, I’ve been through worse and if I survived the Holocaust, through the deprivation of food and what we had to go through, I’ll get through this,’” says Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, in a telephone interview from New York with The Associated Press.
“But if you probe deeper you understand the depths of trauma that still resides within people.”
Many are also on the poverty line, and the additional costs of masks and other protective gear, delivery groceries and other pandemic-related expenses has been crushing for many, Schneider said.
“You’re teetering between making it every month,” he says. “Having to decide between food, medicine and rent.”
The new funds are targeted to Jews who aren’t receiving pensions already from Germany, primarily people who fled the Nazis and ended up in Russia and elsewhere to hide during the war.
Schneider says about 50 percent of Holocaust survivors in the US live in Brooklyn and were particularly hard-hit when New York was the center of the American outbreak, but now numbers are looking worse in Israel and other places.
“It’s a rolling calamity,” he says.
A Greek court sentences extreme-right Golden Dawn party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and six other former lawmakers to 13 years in prison, imposing the near-maximum penalty for running a criminal organization blamed for numerous violent hate crimes.
A seventh party official is sentenced to 10 years.
The landmark ruling follows a five-year trial of dozens of top officials, members and supporters of Golden Dawn, an organization founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980s that rose to become Greece’s third-largest political during a major financial crisis in the previous decade.
Eleven other former parliament members are jailed for between five and seven years for membership of a criminal organization, while a party associate is given a life sentence for the murder of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas in a 2013 attack that triggered the crackdown against the party.
Arrests will be carried out after the court hears final arguments for probation considerations.
Golden Dawn was blamed for orchestrating multiple attacks, mostly in Athens, against immigrants and left-wing activists, many resulting in serious injury.
A joint statement from the US and UN says an initial meeting between Israel and Lebanon on resolving a maritime border dispute was “productive.”
“During this initial meeting, the representatives held productive talks and reaffirmed their commitment to continue negotiations later this month,” the statement reads.
The next meeting is scheduled for October 28, according to Israeli reports.
The Defense Ministry says it is purchasing 8 million coronavirus test kits for the Health Ministry at a cost of upwards of NIS 100 million.
“The purchase is meant to support the Health Ministry’s goal of expanding the level of testing to 100,000 daily coronavirus tests from November,” the Defense Ministry says.
Almost all of the kits will be purchased from Israeli companies, the ministry says.
The 8 million sets of swabs will be purchased from the 3BY factory in the Tefen Industrial Zone in northern Israel and the necessary chemical solutions will be made by the Novomed factory in Jerusalem and Beit Emek Biological Industries near Beit She’an, according to the ministry.
— Judah Ari Gross
The Civil Administration has advanced approval for 2,166 new homes in settlements across the West Bank, official figures show, ending an eight-month lull in settlement expansion.
Many of the approved homes are in isolated areas of the West Bank outside of settlement blocs that Israel may hold onto in a future peace deal.
A total of 1,313 homes were given final approval, while another 853 were okayed for an advanced planning stage. Among those are over 500 homes in Har Gilo, south of Jerusalem, which will grow from 1,600 homes once given final approval.
The settlement of Kfar Adumim, east of Jerusalem, says it has gotten approval to add 132 new homes.
The Peace Now organization says the settlement uptick signals Israel’s rejection of Palestinian statehood and deals a blow to hopes of a wider Israeli-Arab peace.
“Netanyahu is moving ahead at full steam toward solidifying the de facto annexation of the West Bank,” it said in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s decisions.
A similar number of homes are up for approval at another meeting Thursday.
— with AFP
Iran’s IRNA news outlet is reporting on a major cyber attack against two government institutions.
A spokesperson says the attack did not cause any significant damage and is being investigated. He says the country has dealt with larger attacks in the past.
Unconfirmed reports in Iranian media earlier pointed to possible attacks on ports and banking, US-funded Radio Farda reports.
Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu says Israel is looking into the possibility of shortening the time required for mandatory quarantine.
Gamzu says the drop in infections and readiness of the system to test people quickly and swiftly contact trace makes the move a possibility.
“We have enough tests to allow it. It’s being worked on in the Health Ministry,” he says.
Israel currently required 14 days of quarantine for anyone coming from abroad and anyone who was in contact with a confirmed carrier.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who is with Gamzu at Home Front Command headquarters, confirms that he spoke to Germany about getting vaccines quickly once one comes out, when he was in Berlin last week.
The Israel Press Council is sounding the alarm about attacks on journalists and calling on police to take action.
“The Press Council warns against turning reporters into targets of attack. The council calls on the police to act with determination and take steps to nip any threat in the bud, including locating [suspects] and investigating threateners — and bring them to justice.”
The statements notes two recent attacks, including one on Haaretz and its reporter Gidi Weitz earlier today and an attack on Channel 12 reporter Ohad Hemo, who was assaulted by settler youth in the West Bank on Tuesday.
It calls on the public to document any cases of attacks on journalists online or in person.
The Palestinian Authority is condemning a move by Israeli authorities to advance 2,166 settlement units in the West Bank, deeming it “madness.”
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, says that expanding settlements “eliminates any real opportunity for a just and comprehensive peace. This Israeli policy will lead the region to the edge of the abyss.”
“We call upon the international community to intervene immediately and with urgency — to pressure the Netanyahu government to stop this settlement madness,” Abu Rudeineh says.
The PA has long opposed the expansion of West Bank settlements, which they say endanger their aspirations to establish a viable and contiguous Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
— Aaron Boxerman
Roni Numa, a former general who has led and assisted official efforts to deal with the coronavirus crisis in the Haredi community, says the infection rate has dropped significantly among ultra-Orthodox.
Numa puts the positive test rate at 12.8 percent, about double recent nationwide numbers, but well below rates of over 20% seen in the community in past week, which he says is due to a lag.
“We are seeing a delay in the downward trend among the Haredi public,” he says, according to Walla news. “The positivity rate … is indeed on a delay from the general population, but it’s going down.”
He adds that “we are still not far enough from Sukkot to understand what that holiday did to us, and so we need to understand if the holiday had a negative effect.”
The Knesset has officially scheduled a vote on a normalization treaty with the United Arab Emirates for 11 a.m. on Thursday.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin will deliver remarks after which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present the agreement. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid will also deliver an address, a spokesperson says.
The debate will be opened up for any Knesset member or minister to give a four-minute speech. So far some 100 people have signed up, meaning the debate may take more than six hours.
The Knesset is expected to overwhelmingly support the deal, with only the Joint List expected to oppose the agreement, calling it an arms deal, not a peace treaty.
The Israel Defense Forces informs the family of a Palestinian man suspected of killing a soldier, Amit Ben-Ygal, that it plans to seal off the room in which he lived, the military says.
The army had initially intended to destroy the entire building, but was blocked by the High Court of Justice, which cited the fact that the family was unaware of and uninvolved in the alleged crime.
Nazmi Abu Bakr is suspected of throwing a brick that struck Ben-Ygal in the head, killing him, while the soldier was taking part in a raid in the West Bank village of Yabed on May 12.
Instead, the military will seal off Abu Bakr’s room and fill it with concrete.
“The decision to seal off the room in which the terrorist lived was made in accordance with the ruling of the High Court, which canceled the confiscation and demolition order that had been issued against the terrorist’s house,” the IDF says.
— Judah Ari Gross
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is encouraging Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel, in what would be a massive boost for the Jewish state amid normalization by two other Gulf Arab kingdoms.
Bahrain, which tightly coordinates its foreign policy with Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates on September 15 signed the so-called Abraham Accords with Israel at the White House.
Meeting Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Pompeo says the agreement “contributed greatly to our shared goals for regional peace and security.”
“They reflect a changing dynamic in the region, one in which countries rightly recognize the need for regional cooperation to counter Iranian influence and generate prosperity,” Pompeo said.
“We hope Saudi Arabia will consider normalizing its relationships as well. We want to thank them for the assistance they’ve had in the success of the Abraham Accords so far.”
Pompeo also says the United States “supports a robust program of arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” saying the effort helps “protect its citizens and sustains American jobs.”
Schools are closed, but yeshivas — Orthodox Jewish seminaries — are seemingly welcoming boarding students back after the Sukkot holiday break.
A video from Ashdod shared by Kan shows over a dozen students at one such institution moving in, with no social distancing and almost no masks.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) October 14, 2020
Some experts have pointed to the opening of yeshivas in late August as a major factor in the massive spike in infections Israel saw in September, especially in the ultra-Orthodox community. Schools had promised to quarantine students and impose various safety valves, but reports have indicated few kept to them.
Roni Numa, a coronavirus coordinator working with the ultra-Orthodox community, said earlier that some ultra-Orthodox towns may be forced to remain under lockdown for weeks after the rest of the country opens up.
France is bracing for possible curfews and other coronavirus restrictions as hospitals and intensive care units take in more patients.
French President Emmanuel Macron will give a nationally televised interview Wednesday night to speak about the virus, his first in months. French media reports say Macron will step up efforts on social media to press the need for virus protections among young people.
France’s government has already put Paris, seven other cities and the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe under maximum virus alert, closing bars, banning student parties and capping the size of gatherings.
Bar and other business owners have organized numerous protests in response, saying they won’t survive the consequences of the crisis.
But with hospitalizations still rising, authorities are discussing tougher measures, including a possible overnight curfew in areas where infections are spreading fast. The government is seeking volunteers to pitch in at hospitals.
The COVID-19 patients occupy a third of intensive care units nationwide. France reported about 180 positive cases per 100,000 people during the last week and higher concentrations in some cities.
France has 798,000 confirmed cases and nearly 33,000 deaths.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has told Civil Services Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz that he cannot block a search committee from finding a new state prosecutor.
Hershkowitz had said that the Justice Ministry could not conduct the search for a replacement to Shai Nitzan after 10 months due to the fact that the Justice Ministry did not have a sitting director-general.
But Mandelblit says there is no reason to not allow the search to go ahead.
“There’s a great public importance in quickly forming the committee to nominate someone for a central and important role in the law enforcement system,” he writes.
A passenger plane from the United Arab Emirates has crossed Israel for the first time, making its way from Milan to Abu Dhabi.
A video captures the Etihad plane making its way over Israel. It’s as exciting as it sounds.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev says Israel and the Emirates are working hard to get direct flights between the countries off the ground.
Israel already hosted two Etihad planes earlier this year carrying coronavirus aid for Palestinians.
Channel 12 news is threatening to sue MK Yair Golan (Meretz) for a tweet accusing a journalist at the station of being part of a “criminal enterprise,” together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his backers.
Golan tweeted earlier in the day in reaction to a report from Amit Segal in which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was heard on a recording complaining about the state prosecutor. Allies of Netanyahu have pushed the recording as proof that Mandelblit should resign or withdraw the charges. That includes coalition whip Miki Zohar, who threatened to put out more dirt on Mandelblit.
“Now it’s clear how the criminal enterprise operates. Netanyahu gathers the recordings, Amit Segal published them and Miki Zohar threatens. Organized crime.”
In a letter from its lawyer, Channel 12 writes that Golan is “committing the civil infraction of serious libel,” and demands he apologize.
The letter also notes that the channel and Segal are reserving the right to take legal action against him.
As of now, Golan has not apologized and the tweet remains up.
In a video, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pats himself on the back for the lockdown, which he says is working, and adds that he will support the reopening of the airport, which the Knesset approved earlier in the day.
Infection numbers are going down every day,” Netanyahu says. “And I’m going to make sure we exit this lockdown as quickly as possible, but cautiously, responsibly and gradually.”
He says ministers will vote Thursday on a separate plan for high-infection cities, and on more financial help for those suffering due to the lockdown.
He also says he will support the airport opening on Thursday, after experts told him there was no health issue.
A Health Ministry official admitted last week that the airport closure had no basis in health science, but was done because it would not be fair for some to be able to escape the lockdown by jetting off.
US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett won’t say whether a president can pardon himself but says she agrees no one is above the law.
Under questioning Wednesday from Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, President Donald Trump’s choice for the high court offers no view on the pardon issue. Multiple investigations are looking into Trump’s taxes, his businesses and his associates.
Barrett would not offer her thoughts on whether Trump would be able to pardon himself. But she agrees with Leahy’s assertion “no one is above the law.”
Barrett is in her third day of hearings and has repeatedly refused to say how she’d rule on various issues, including abortion and the Affordable Care Act.
Republican senators are moving at a break-neck pace to confirm Barrett before the November 3 election. Democrats say the process is being rushed.
The Health Ministry announces over 40 new deaths since the early morning, bringing the toll to 2,098, up from 2,055.
At the same time, new infections appear to be decreasing, with the health ministry announcing only 1,370 new infections since midnight.
The testing positivity rate on the day remains at 5.4 percent, matching the months-long low reached Tuesday. The rate may go up as more figures are tallied, however.
The number of patients in serious condition also continues to slide, and is now down to 755, the lowest figure since September 29. The ministry says there are 241 patients on ventilators.
The number of recovered cases has crossed the 250,000 mark, reaching 251,711.
On the eve of the Knesset debate about Israel’s treaty with the United Arab Emirates, former defense minister and current opposition lawmaker Moshe Ya’alon levels harsh criticism at the government for keeping sensitive parts of the agreement secret from parliament.
He charges that doing so could harm Israel’s national security.
Citing reports saying Israel okayed the sale to Abu Dhabi of US-made F-35 jets and other “advanced weaponry that could be detrimental to Israel’s qualitative military edge,” Ya’alon says he has demanded the agreement be presented to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee or to a classified subcommittee in its entirety. “My request went unanswered,” he laments.
“The international reports and their confirmation by various international actors involved in the agreement stand in contradiction to the prime minister’s concealment of information from the Knesset, and the security cabinet, and raise worrying questions,” Ya’alon tells The Times of Israel. “This is not in keeping with responsible leadership and management.”
“I was privileged to contribute for many years to the development of these important relations but how can a peace accord, as important and welcome as it is, be brought to the Knesset for approval without giving the Knesset Members, who are the representatives of the people, the opportunity to examine it all?” Ya’alon continues.
“The Knesset is not a rubber stamp and I am certainly not one,” he adds.
Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, was a longtime member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party until the prime minister fired him as defense minister.
Ya’alon has been a vociferous critic of Netanyahu ever since.
He refuses to say whether he will vote in favor or against the treaty during tomorrow’s debate.
— Raphael Ahren
Protesters have gathered outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem to rally against the decision not to investigate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a massive bribery scandal involving the purchase of German submarines.
Many of the protesters traveled from around the country to reach Jerusalem, as part of two separate convoys that left the northern border town of Kiryat Shmona at 6 a.m. and the southern town of Beersheba this afternoon, taking advantage of rules blocking travel for protests that expired at midnight.
Several Netanyahu associates have been indicted in the case, which involves contracts to buy military vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, but the attorney general has stressed throughout that he is not a suspect.
Many protesters have outfitted their vehicles with mock submarines.
Professor Yoram Levy says at the rally that “we are not moving from here. The one who needs to move to Caesarea and the wider world that is waiting for him, he should go and we’ll stay here,” Walla reports.
Regular protests against Netanyahu, who is on trial in three other criminal cases, are planned for Thursday night and Saturday night, the Black Flag protest group says.
A poll of Orthodox Jewish potential voters in the US published by Ami Magazine finds that a whopping 83 percent of them would vote for President Donald Trump. Only 13% would cast ballots for Joe Biden and the rest are undecided.
The poll also finds that 76% of respondents believe the media is unfair to the president.
Political surveys of only Orthodox Jews are rare. A survey of Orthodox Jews conducted in January, provided to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, found that 66% of Haredi voters report having voted for Trump, compared to just 32% of Modern Orthodox voters.
Given the small numbers of Orthodox Jews and their concentration in mostly blue states, their votes are unlikely to have a major effect on the 2020 presidential election.
The Ami poll of 1,000 respondents is heavily weighted toward the ultra-Orthodox, who make up some 66% of respondents. Respondents hailed from several states, but many — including some with sizable Orthodox populations — are left out, including Michigan, Arizona and Rhode Island. The margin of error is 3.1%.
— with JTA
A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says Israel’s approval of new settlement homes can “fuel instability,” and hurt the chances for peace talks.
“We are concerned about the reports of Israel’s settlement advancements in the occupied West Bank and will continue to follow developments closely, as the Israeli High Planning Committee finalizes its meetings tomorrow,” Stephane Dujarric says. “The Secretary-General has consistently reiterated that all settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace.”
“We urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from such unilateral actions that fuel instability and further erode the prospects for resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” he adds.
Britain’s health secretary has shifted London into the second-highest COVID-19 alert level amid a rise in cases.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tells the House of Commons that the government acted because infection rates are rising rapidly in the capital and swift action was necessary to control the virus.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan tells the London Assembly that talks were continuing but he expected authorities to move London into the second of three risk categories based on “expert public health and scientific advice” about what is needed to save lives.
Khan has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeking details about what assistance would be provided to businesses and individuals affected by such a move.
“Nobody wants to see more restrictions,” Khan says. “But this is deemed to be necessary in order to protect Londoners’ lives by myself, London council leaders and by ministers.”
Meanwhile, the mayor of the greater Manchester area, with 2.8 million people, says he expects to meet with Johnson’s team on Thursday for talks on whether the region will be classified as a “high risk” area.
That is the highest risk category in the government’s new three-tier regional COVID-19 strategy and would require restrictions such as closing bars and banning social gatherings outside one’s own home.