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Memorial Day in a pandemic: Virus doctors stop for siren, online tributes abound

President, IDF chief lament effects of social distancing on bereaved, but reassure them Israelis are embracing them from afar

Names of fallen Israeli soldiers are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as Israel marks Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror, April 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Names of fallen Israeli soldiers are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as Israel marks Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror, April 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel live blogged Monday’s events as they happened.

Syria says some damage from missile strike

Syria’s SANA state news agency says some damage was caused from a pre-dawn Israeli missile strike near Damascus.

It claims most Israeli missiles, fired from Lebanese airspace, were shot down.

The report does not detail the damage. It says there were no causalities.

There is no comment from Israel.

Shopping center manager demands stores reopen

The CEO of the Big chain of outdoor shopping centers is demanding that his tenants open up shop after many of them remained closed Sunday in protest of a lack of government help and other concerns.

On Sunday, the government agreed to earmark NIS 6 billion to help businesses return to the marketplace, in what was seen as a bid to end the retailers’ protest.

“As we’ve said all during this crisis, without strong tenants — there are no healthy shopping centers. We’ve stood by you patiently. Now the time has come to fully return to normal,” CEO Hay Galis writes in a letter, according to Hebrew-language media.

Galis is demanding that stores reopen starting Thursday following Independence Day at all of its 22 shopping centers across the country. He says centers on Sunday were full of shoppers.

“Nobody has permission to lose out,” he adds.

According to current regulations in place, malls must remain closed, but open-air shopping centers may reopen.

Japan extends entry ban to 14 more countries

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that his country is adding 14 more countries, including Russia, Peru and Saudi Arabia, to the entry ban list as the country steps up border control as the coronavirus infections continued to spread in the country.

Japan has already banned entry from more than 70 other countries, including Israel, banning foreigners with records of visiting those countries in the past two weeks, while invalidating visas for the rest of the world. The additional step on the 14 countries will take effect Wednesday, Abe says.

The entry ban and the visa restrictions, initially set to end on April 30, are extended until the end of May.

Japan is now under a month-long state of emergency through May 6, for now. Officials and experts are now gauging its effect and whether to extend the measure.

Japan has 13,385 confirmed cases, as well as 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year, with 364 deaths, according to the health ministry.

— AP

Conference of Presidents may delay tapping ex-HIAS chair

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will reportedly vote to delay by the appointment of Dianne Lob as the group’s head for a year.

Dianne Lob. (Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations via JTA)

The umbrella group has come under pressure from right wing groups after nominating Lob, a former head of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which has championed refugee rights and opposed the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Under the proposal, to be voted on by the Conference’s members Tuesday, Lob will only take helm of the Conference on April 21, 2021, according to Jewish Insider.

Arthur Stark will remain as chairman until then, and Lob will be chair-elect, under the proposal.

Number of coronavirus cases worldwide nears 3 million

The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide is nearing 3 million, though early hotspots are only reporting a handful of new infections.

The number of cases stands at 2,971,639, with 206,542 fatalities and 865,925 recovered, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

South Korea has reported only 10 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, its 26th straight day below 100.

A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus stands on a hilltop at a public park in Beijing, Saturday, April 25, 2020. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)

In China, where the virus originated, only three new cases are reported. Monday marks 12 days since the last death from the virus.

New Zealand meanwhile reports on five new infections. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there has been no widespread community transmission of the virus and the country has so far managed to avoid the worst scenarios for an outbreak.

Former Likud minister Gideon Patt dies, 87

Former Likud minister Gideon Patt has died at age 87, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Gideon Patt in 1987 (Moshe Shai/Flash90, File)

Patt, a Jerusalem native, served as an MK from 1970 to 1996. During that time he spent several stints at a number of ministries, including Tourism, Science, and Industry.

After leaving politics, he headed Israel Bonds until 2002.

No cause of death is given.

US to claim it never left Iran nuclear deal so it can force arms embargo

It may have looked like US President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reportedly preparing to assure the world that the US did no such thing.

As part of a plan to push the UN to reimpose an arms embargo later this year, the US is planning on claiming that it technically remains party to the accord, and as such can invoke a snapback clause that would force the reimposition of sanctions in place before the accord, according to the New York Times.

Russia, which has expressed interest in renewing arms sales to Iran, would likely veto any Security Council resolution to reimpose the arms embargo, meaning the US would need to re-enter the deal, or claim it never left, to invoke a clause that would essentially render the full accord null and force the UN to reimpose the sanctions, according to the report.

The move would also force Iran back to the table to negotiate a new deal, according to US officials quoted in the report.

The original deal curbed Iranian nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief, and also enshrined a UN resolution placing an arms embargo on Iran. The small arms section of the embargo expires in 2020.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he leaves after announcing his decision about the nuclear deal with Iran during a speech from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, May 8, 2018. (AFP / SAUL LOEB)

Trump had described the nuclear deal as “disastrous,” and pledged to withdraw from it on the campaign trail.

On May 8, 2018, Trump said the US was “withdraw[ing] from the Iran nuclear deal,” and described his “exit” from the accord, before signing a presidential memorandum reinstating US sanctions.

“The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them,” Trump said at the time.

Only 68 new cases of coronavirus confirmed in last day

The Health Ministry announces one person has died of the coronavirus overnight, bringing the total death toll to 202.

The number of confirmed cases is up to 14,466, an increase of only 23 infected over the night before, and representing only 68 new cases in the last 24 hours, a massive drop in the number of cases.

The number of people on ventilators is down to 96, down from 99 reported overnight.

The ministry says 129 people are in serious condition, down from 133 the night before.

The number of recovered stands at 6,796, up from 6,731 the evening before.

 

 

Tel Aviv stocks bounce amid hopeful signs

Israel’s stock market has jumped on the opening bell, with the benchmark TA-35 and TA-125 indexes each gaining over 0.7 percent in just minutes.

Boursas in Europe are also seeing gains, as investors look ahead to meetings of US and European central bankers this week for additional measures to reverse the deepest global slump since the 1930s.

Asian stock markets gained earlier after Japan’s central bank promised more asset purchases to shore up financial markets and more governments prepared to revive struggling economies by reopening businesses.

Tokyo’s benchmark surged 2.8% and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney also gained.

 

Fuel usage plummets as Israelis stay home

New government figures showing a sharp drop-off in fuel usage in March give a snapshot of a nation in lockdown.

Israelis used 26 percent less unleaded fuel (benzene) than in March the previous year. Jet fuel usage was down a whopping 47% as global air travel ground to a halt.

With deliveries of essential goods continuing, though, diesel fuel usage was only down 11%.

The empty Ayalon highway near the entrance to Tel Aviv’s usually buzzing business district, April 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel began to gradually impose lockdown regulations beginning in mid March, confining many Israelis to their homes and shutting schools, stores and other sites.

Travel restrictions banning some visitors and requiring others to self-quarantine were put in place in early March.

Three civilians killed during airstrike — Syria

Three people were killed and four injured by shrapnel, including a child, during an Israeli airstrike against targets outside Damascus, Syrian state media reports.

The Syrian state news agency SANA does not specify if the shrapnel came from the incoming missiles or from the Syrian military’s own air defenses.

Syrian media reported that the airstrikes attributed to Israel targeted the Mezzeh military airfield outside Damascus.

It earlier claimed to have downed most missiles, with some unspecified damage being caused by others.

Syrian war monitor says Israel hit areas south of capital

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, says that areas where militias loyal to Iran are based, south and southwest of Damascus, were attacked by Israeli missiles before dawn.

The watchdog says some of the missiles, shot from Lebanon, were downed by Syrian air defenses, appearing to confirm a state media report.

It does not publish information about casualties or damage.

 

Israel Prize presenter won’t speak to winning rabbi to protest homophobic comments

Television presenter Sharon Kidon, who is set to award the Israel Prize to Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, says she will not speak to him to protest disparaging comments he has made about LGBT people.

Ariel is set to receive the prize for Torah scholarship on Wednesday. On Sunday, the High Court rejected a petition by The Aguda — Israel’s LGBT Task Force to have the prize revoked over Ariel’s past comments.

In 2014, Ariel, then the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, wrote a ruling forbidding the renting of apartments to lesbian tenants. He also referred to homosexuals as “disabled” and said they needed treatment, according to the Jerusalem Open House, which also protesting him winning the prize.

Saying she finds Ariel’s comments “hurtful to a wide swath of our nation,” Kidon tweets that after discussions with organizers “we decided to respect the festive atmosphere and so I will not personally speak to Rabbi Ariel.”

Four Iran-linked militiamen reported killed in overnight Syria strike

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights now says that at least four pro-Iranian militiamen were killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel outside Damascus earlier this morning.

A number of Iranian buildings were also destroyed in the attack, according to the Britain-based Syrian war monitor.

It says three civilians were killed by shrapnel, though it’s unclear if it came from the missiles or from air defense projectiles during the predawn exchange.

— Judah Ari Gross

Fighter jets scream over Jerusalem in Memorial Day practice run

Israeli fighter jets are zooming over Jerusalem throughout the day as they train for a flyover that will take place tomorrow during Memorial Day, the military says.

Residents of the capital can expect to see low-flying aircraft during these practice runs.

Ordinarily, the air force holds its annual flyby on Independence Day, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic the military has changed its plans. Instead, a number of fighter jets will fly over the Mount Herzl military cemetery as a “salute” during the national memorial ceremonies.

On Independence Day, four aerial acrobatic planes will fly over the country’s hospitals as a show of support for the nation’s healthcare professionals.

Video shows those jets as well practicing over the Tel Aviv area.

— Judah Ari Gross

Czechs open back up for businesses as virus recedes

The Czech Republic has entered another phase of relaxing restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic, opening stores with up to 2,500 square meters (26,900 square feet) of space.

At the same time, the zoo and botanical parks, fitness centers and driving schools are back to business. Public gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed, up from two.

The government rules on social distancing and mandatory face masks remain in place.

In a boost for the economy, the three Czech plants of Skoda Auto that belong to Germany’s carmaker Volkswagen renewed production on Monday. The company employs some 34,000 people.

One person died of COVID-19 on Sunday for a total of 221, while 73 patients with the disease needed intensive care in hospitals, the second lowest number since April 1.

— AP

Returning to work, UK’s Johnson tells Brits to have patience

Returning to work after a serious bout with COVID-19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is advising his countrymen to show patience and not rush a rollback on restrictions.

“I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS and I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict,” he says according to a transcript of his remarks sent out by 10 Downing Street.

Johnson was briefly in intensive care with the virus and has been recovering behind the scenes, but is now retaking the helm of the British government.

The UK has been one of Europe’s hardest hit countries, with over 150,000 cases and over 20,000 deaths.

Minister says anti-Semitism being driven by pandemic

Anti-Semitism around the world is being fueled by the coronavirus crisis, Foreign Minister Israel Katz says, calling on his government to aid Jewish communities in the Diaspora being ravaged by the pandemic.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz attends a Likud party rally, ahead of the Israeli general elections, in the Northern Israeli town of Safed, February 24, 2020. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

“Anti-Semitism, which was already on the rise before the crisis, has gotten another boost [from the coronavirus]. And it is threatening Jewish communities that are being shaken by the virus’s blows, both medically and economically,” he says at a memorial ceremony for diplomats and foreign service officers killed in the line of duty. “We can’t allow this phenomenon to become legitimized by repetition. We need to join hands with Diaspora Jewish communities, along with various Jewish organizations, to uproot this scourge wherever it shows its head,” he says.

The comments come a week after Jewish groups reported that anti-Semitic incidents were on the rise amid world instability, including among people who blame COVID-19 on a Jewish conspiracy.

Authorities reportedly delayed taking seriously ill girl to hospital

An 11-year-old girl remains in serious condition at Rambam Hospital in Haifa after contracting the coronavirus, where she is on a ventilator and in an induced coma, but stable. She is the first person under 19 to suffer serious complications from the virus.

According to Channel 12, citing an official report, health workers from the Leumit health fund refused for days to move the girl from a hotel where she quarantined to a hospital, despite her suffering from a high fever. Instead, they only gave her medicine.

“We complained again and again that the girl’s situation was worsening, but they did not agree to move her,” said a source in the hotel, which is being managed by the IDF’s homefront command.  “Only after the Home Front Command war room applied pressure was she taken to a hospital.”

The girl was first moved to Poriya hospital in Tiberias, but as her condition worsened, she was transferred Sunday night to the larger Rambam hospital.

Russia surpasses China infection total

Russia has surpassed China with its total number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday.

The Russian government reports a total of 87,147 cases reached on Monday, which is almost 4,000 more than China’s official toll of 83,912. Almost 6,200 new infections were registered in the past 24 hours.

The actual number of infections in both countries is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. Many also believe that governments in both Russia and China could be manipulating the statistics for political purposes.

Russia has reported fewer than 800 deaths from the virus, far lower than any other country with comparable numbers.

Russia had been reporting comparatively low numbers of coronavirus cases until April, and the Kremlin insisted the situation was under control.

In mid-April, Russians were supposed to vote for a constitutional reform that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036, and Kremlin critics argued the government was downplaying the crisis ahead of the vote.

In late March, Putin postponed the vote indefinitely. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has been growing exponentially since then.

— AP

Iran records lowest new infection total in over month; Spain deaths climb

Iran has recorded 991 new cases in the last day, the lowest daily total in 40 days, according to Press TV.

The number of deaths from the virus rises by 96, to 5,806.

The country has been the hardest hit in the Middle East and was one of the first hotspots outside of China.

A shopper clad in a face mask and latex gloves, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, inspects ginger from at a spice merchant in Tajrish Bazaar in Iran’s capital Tehran on April 25, 2020 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

In Spain, 331 new coronavirus deaths over the last 24 hours have been recorded, up from Sunday’s 288.

The total death toll stands on Monday over 23,500, while the number of infections is over 200,000 according to the latest count of the Health Ministry, which records only cases confirmed through lab tests.

With supervised children under 14 allowed to enjoy one hour out every day since Sunday, Spaniards are now setting eyes on the next relaxation of the confinement, now entering its seventh week. From Friday on, people of all ages will be allowed to go on walks or practice sports outdoors, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has announced.

— with AP

MK forcibly removed from committee meeting on changes to law

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg struggled with Knesset ushers and was physically removed from a committee meeting after being booted by committee head Eitan Ginzburg.

Ginzburg ordered that Zandberg be kicked out after she interrupted him a number of times during a discussion of possible changes to Israel’s Basic Law being considered as part of a coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White.

Before being kicked out, Zandberg said she missed the days when Likud MK Miki Zohar, widely viewed as a Netanyahu apparatchik, headed the ad hoc committee.

After the maskless Zandberg refuses one usher’s attempt to get her to leave, two more ushers are called in to physically haul her out of the room, despite her attempts to escape their grips.

As Zandberg is being removed, another MK chides Ginsberg, a freshman lawmaker, for breaking Knesset protocol, so he threatens to kick out that lawmaker as well.

The controversial changes to the Basic Law have sparked angry rows between lawmakers, and during the meeting, the Knesset legal adviser warned that the power sharing agreement had a long list of problems that may not pass legal muster.

Ministers meet to discuss reopening schools

Ministers have begun a cabinet meeting on reopening schools.

According to Army Radio, both the National Security Council and the Health Ministry support the plan to reopen some schools gradually beginning next week.

However the Health Ministry had asked to push off a decision until Thursday, when it is expected to get new data about chances of children getting ill from the virus.

Lapid says he would vote with Netanyahu to sink rotation agreement

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is threatening to torpedo former partner Benny Gantz’s ability to become prime minister as part of a rotation agreement with Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Bibi knows, and I say here now in front of the cameras, that any time Bibi wants to cancel this law, we will tell him yes,” Lapid says at a committee discussion on changes to a law that would allow a power sharing agreement to move forward.

“At any moment, when Bibi does not feel like keeping the rotation, all he has to do is come to me and say, we want to reverse these laws to their original,” he says.

Lapid and Gantz had joined together to form the Blue and White party as an alternative to Netanyahu, but last month Gantz split off and agreed to join Netanyahu and become prime minister in 18 months.

A number of the law changes are being proposed to shackle both sides’ hands to either keep the rotation or not have Netanyahu, who is under criminal indictment, be disqualified.

Lapid says he doubts Netanyahu would ever allow the rotation to go ahead anyway.

Lapid in recent days has criticized Gantz with a choler once reserved for Netanyahu, calling him “despicable,” and his defection “the biggest fraud in the country’s history.”

Israeli firm says drug helped six virus sufferers recover

Israel-based Redhill BioPharma says six coronavirus patients treated with its anti-inflammatory drug opaganib have shown marked improvement, and five have been able to be weaned off of oxygen.

Three of the patients have already been released from hospitals, it says.

The drug was approved earlier this month for compassionate use in Israel and Italy.

“Preliminary findings from all six patients analyzed have shown that all the patients demonstrated objective significant measurable clinical improvement within days following treatment initiation with opaganib,” the firm says in a statement. “Opaganib was well tolerated and showed clinical improvement both with and without hydroxychloroquine.”

It says it has asked the FDA for an okay to move ahead with a trial in the US and is kicking off clinical trials in Israel and Italy.

Redhill’s stock is up over 11 percent in after-hours trading.

 

Reactions to Lapid: You must be joking

Reacting to Yair Lapid’s statement saying he would help Netanyahu keep Gantz out of power, Blue and White predicts he would actually be digging his own political grave.

“If Lapid drags Israel to new elections with Bibi, he’ll end up under the Knesset electoral threshold,” the party says in response, according to Channel 12 news.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says he hopes the opposition leader-to-be was having a laugh.

“I was surprised to hear Lapid’s statement about saving Netanyahu at Gantz’s expense. I hope it was said in jest or taken out of context,” he tweets.

 

US gives Iraq one more month to wean itself off of Iranian oil

The US has again granted Iraq only a month-long sanctions waiver enabling the government to continue importing gas and electricity from Iran, two Iraqi officials say.

The issuance of another 30-day waiver was communicated to the Iraqi government in a phone call from the US State Department, without a formal notification in writing, the two Iraqi officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The latest exemption is the second time the US has issued a relatively small window of time for Iraq to prove it is making progress in becoming less reliant on Iranian imports, a key condition to qualify for the waiver. Earlier, a 30-day waiver was granted for March and it expired on Sunday. Previous waivers had lasted three to four months.

Iraq depends on Iranian energy imports to meet one third of its energy needs, especially during the scorching summer months.

— AP

Arab League to meet on West Bank annexation plans

The Arab League says it will convene an urgent virtual meeting this week to discuss how to galvanize opposition to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

The extraordinary meeting — scheduled for Thursday at the request of the Palestinian leadership — will bring together Arab foreign ministers via videoconference, rather than a face-to-face meeting, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Palestinian protesters hold up placards as they demonstrate against a US-brokered peace proposal in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on February 11, 2020 (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

The Arab League’s deputy secretary Hossam Zaki says the ministers will “discuss in their virtual meeting providing political, legal and financial support to the Palestinian leadership to confront the Israeli plans.”

It comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz signed a deal for a unity government that could accelerate the plans to annex parts of the West Bank in the coming months.

— AFP

Ministers vote to reopen schools next week — reports

Hebrew-language media news sites are reporting that ministers have okayed a plan to begin reopening kindergartens and elementary schools on Sunday.

There is no official statement on a cabinet decision.

According to Army Radio, the decisions is contingent on a situational assessment on Friday.

Kindergartens, 1st-3rd grades to reopen first

Under the government plan, toddlers and children through third grade will be the first to return to school on Sunday.

They will be split into groups of 15 students and won’t have school every day of the week, reports say.

The decision is conditioned on another assessment on Friday.

Finance minister criticizes cabinet for ‘week to week’ virus policy

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon criticizes the government’s handling of the pandemic policy, saying a long-term plan with target dates of each stage of reopening the economy must be adopted.

“You can’t live from week to week,” Kahlon says, according to Army Radio. “We must build a plan that indicates exit points from the restrictions, that will clarify precisely when each thing reopens.”

Gaza restaurants to reopen as lockdown eases

Restaurants in Gaza will be allowed to reopen today, the economy ministry in the Hamas-run enclave announces, following pleas from restaurant owners to ease economic suffering.

Under the decision based on health ministry recommendations, restaurants must continue to observe social distancing rules, it says.

Since the middle of March, the Hamas government has imposed strict measures to avoid a widespread outbreak of COVID-19.

Schools, universities, mosques and restaurants have been closed.

So far Gaza has recorded only 17 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, all Palestinians returning from outside the Gaza Strip.

AFP

IDF: Gazan with knife nabbed after entering Israel

The Israel Defense Forces says a resident of the Gaza Strip crossed the border fence into Israel before being apprehended by Israeli forces.

The Palestinian man was found to be carrying a knife, the military says.

He is sent back to Gaza after questioning, according to the army.

High Court rejects petition by bereaved families on Memorial Day cemetery visits

The High Court of Justice rejects a petition by the families of fallen IDF soldiers and terror victims against the government’s closure of military cemeteries on Memorial Day, which begins tonight and ends tomorrow evening, amid the pandemic.

The government will close the military sites this afternoon to visitors to prevent gatherings and the spread of the virus. The move has been protested by relatives of the fallen.

Sheba Medical Center nurse of 46 years dies of virus, 2 weeks after sister

The Sheba Medical Center says a nurse who has worked at the hospital since 1974 has died of the coronavirus.

Hospital staff stand for a minute of silence in the memory of Susie Levy, whose sister succumbed to the virus just two weeks ago.

Levy was the head nurse in the hospital’s ear, nose and throat unit.

“During her 46 years of work, she stood out for her professionalism, her dedication, and her wisdom… Her exceptional contribution to the wellbeing of patients, her compassion, her generosity and her warm smile that characterized her every day, has been and will continue to be a symbol and a model for emulation,” says the hospital.

Military cemeteries shuttered ahead of Memorial Day

Military cemeteries are now closed to visitors ahead of Memorial Day under a government order.

The sites will remain closed until Thursday morning, as the country is placed on lockdown for Memorial Day and Independence Day to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Memorial Day will begin at 8 p.m., with a two-minute siren in memory of Israel’s 23,816 fallen. It will be followed with the traditional ceremony at the Western Wall with the president and army chief of staff, though without an audience.

Some hotels and B&Bs to be permitted to reopen Sunday

The government approves the reopening of ground-floor rooms in hotels and bed and breakfasts on Sunday, in what is described by Hebrew reports as the first stage of the revival of Israel’s suffering tourism industry amid the pandemic.

Netanyahu confirms schools to resume Sunday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms a government decision to gradually reopen schools beginning Sunday.

Children through third grade will return to school in the first stage.

Netanyahu says the decision could be changed if infection rates spike before then.

82-year-old man dies of virus, raising toll to 203

An 82-year-old man dies of COVID-19 at the Maayanei Yeshua hospital in Bnei Brak, raising the country’s virus death toll to 203.

Private kindergartens say they’ll remain shut next week

Private kindergartens say they won’t reopen next week over disputes with the Finance Ministry, reports say.

“We won’t agree to the Finance Ministry’s demand that we put our financial losses on the parents,” a statement by a group representing the private daycare centers says, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

UK health service warns of deadly coronavirus-linked illness affecting children

Britain’s National Health Service sends an alert to doctors, warning them of an emerging condition that could be fatal in children and is apparently linked to COVID-19.

“It has been reported that over the last three weeks there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multi-system inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK.

“The cases have in common overlapping feature of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters consistent with severe Covid-19 in children.

“There is a growing concern that a SARS-CoV-2-related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases.”

Pentagon downplays Iran military satellite as ‘tumbling webcam’

The head of the US Space Command says the Pentagon believes that Iran’s first successful launch of a military satellite into space does not pose any intelligence threat.

The Nour satellite placed into orbit on April 22 is classified by the US military as a small 3U Cubesat, three adjoined units each no more than a liter in volume and less than 1.3 kilograms (one pound) each, says General Jay Raymond in a tweet late Sunday.

“Iran states it has imaging capabilities — actually, it’s a tumbling webcam in space; unlikely providing intel,” he writes.

“#spaceishard,” Raymond adds to the tweet.

While Raymond downplays any threat from the satellite, the United States has warned that Tehran’s ability to place it into space represents a significant advance in its long-range missile capability, posing a greater threat to US forces and allies in the Middle East.

AFP

Waking up from virus coma, Jerusalem man learns parents died of COVID-19

A Jerusalem man who was hospitalized in serious condition with the coronavirus learns his parents died of COVID-19 days apart, the Kikar Hashabat website reports.

Bayla Porush, 52, died of the virus last Monday and her husband, Zvi, 58, succumbed Friday.

Moti Porush, 30, had been sedated and on a ventilator in serious condition and was unaware of their deaths, according to reports over the weekend.

Kikar Hashabat says he has since swiftly recovered and been discharged from the hospital.

Zvi (L) and Bayla Porush, who died of COVID-19 within days of each other (Courtesy)

Nearly half of New Yorkers knew COVID-19 victim, poll suggests

Almost half of New Yorkers knew someone who died of the new coronavirus, according to a poll which finds overwhelming support for confinement measures opposed elsewhere in America.

More than 16,000 New York City residents are thought to have succumbed to COVID-19, out of at least 153,000 confirmed infections, since the Big Apple declared its first case in early March.

Some 46 percent of people in NYC surveyed by the Siena College Research Institute say they personally knew someone who had passed away from the deadly virus.

Sixty percent respond that they knew someone who had tested positive.

The poll quizzes 803 registered state voters between April 19 and 23.

It finds that 87 percent were in favor of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to extend New York’s lockdown until at least May 15.

AFP

NYC clinics set to start ‘self-swab’ coronavirus tests

New York City-run health clinics will soon take a new tack on coronavirus testing, using a procedure that lets people collect samples themselves at a health care worker’s direction, Mayor Bill de Blasio announces.

He says the “self-swab” tests would allow for more and easier testing and make it safer for test-seekers and health care workers alike.

“This is something we’re going to start using aggressively because it will be better for everyone,” the Democrat says.

Up to this point, testing has mainly been done by health care workers inserting a swab deep into a person’s nostrils. The feeling often makes someone sneeze or cough while the health care professional is right there, city Health and Hospitals President Dr. Mitchell Katz says.

The new method is set to start within the next few days at eight community testing sites around the city. The process will work like this: A health care worker will explain how to administer the test, and then the person would take a nasal swab, with a health professional watching via a mirror to offer guidance, Katz says. The person getting tested then will spit into a cup for a second sample for cross-checking. The samples will then be given to a health care worker and tested.

AP

Gas found off Lebanon not commercially viable, says minister

Drilling off the Lebanese coast has shown some traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar says.

“Initial drilling results showed the presence of gas at different depths in the geological layers” of block 4, he tells reporters at a news conference.

But around two months after drilling started “no gas reservoir, no commercial reservoir was found,” he says.

Anticipation had been high in Lebanon for the results of gas and oil exploration, with many hoping a major hydrocarbon discovery could help redress the debt-burdened economy.

A consortium composed of energy giants Total, Eni and Novatek was awarded two of Lebanon’s 10 exploration blocks in 2018 — block 4, and block 9 near the Israeli border.

French oil firm Total has yet to release its full report on the exploration of block 4, with Ghajar saying it would be ready in two months.

AFP

Iranian interpreter joins Israel-led ‘We are the World’ in sign language

An Iranian woman has taken part in a video created by an Israeli woman, Shani Bibi, that brings 48 interpreters together for a sign language rendition of “We are the World.”

The clip is shared on Bibi’s Instagram account.

 

Netanyahu seeks gradual reopening of open-air markets

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders officials to formulate a plan for the gradual reopening of open-air markets, which have been closed over fears of crowding as part of the coronavirus restrictions.

New York nixes Democratic presidential primary due to virus

In an unprecedented move, New York has canceled its Democratic presidential primary originally scheduled for June 23, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic members of the State’s Board of Elections vote Monday to nix the primary. New York will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on June 23.

New York Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs has said that the cancellation of the state’s presidential primary would mean a lower expected turnout and a reduced need for polling places.

“It just makes so much sense given the extraordinary nature of the challenge,” Jacobs said last week.

Local election officials and voting groups have called on the state to use federal funds to purchase cleaning supplies and protective gear, and boost staff ahead of 2020 elections.

Both the state’s Democratic Party and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have said that they did not ask election commissioners to make the change, which is allowed, thanks to a little-known provision in the recently passed state budget that allows the New York Board of Elections to remove names of any candidates who have suspended or terminated their campaign from the ballot.

AP

School likely won’t resume in parts of Beit Shemesh, Netivot

Channel 12 reports that schools are unlikely to gradually resume next week in parts of the towns of Beit Shemesh and Netivot, which have been hit hard by the virus and remain under localized lockdown.

In Jerusalem, however, students up to third grade are set to head back to class on Sunday, barring any sudden spikes in infection rates.

False belief poison cures virus kills over 700 in Iran

The false belief that toxic methanol cures the coronavirus has seen over 700 people killed in Iran, an official says.

That represents a higher death toll than so far released by the Iranian Health Ministry.

An adviser to the ministry, Hossein Hassanian, says that the difference in death tallies is because some alcohol poisoning victims died outside of a hospital.

“Some 200 people died outside of hospitals,” Hassanian tells The Associated Press.

Alcohol poisoning has skyrocketed by 10 times over, in Iran in the past year, according to a government report released earlier in April, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The national coroner’s authority says that alcohol poisoning killed 728 Iranians between February 20 and April 7. Last year, there were only 66 deaths from alcohol poisoning, according to the report.

Separately, the Iranian health ministry spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour said that 525 people have died from swallowing toxic methanol alcohol since February 20, state TV reports.

Jahanpour says that a total of 5,011 people had been poisoned from methanol alcohol.

He adds that some 90 people have lost their eyesight or are suffering eye damage from the alcohol poisoning.

Hassanian also says the final tally of people who lost their eyesight could be much higher.

Iran is facing the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East with 5,806 deaths and more than 91,000 confirmed case.

Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It causes delayed organ and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and even coma.

AP

Memorial siren to sound at 8 p.m., bringing country to standstill

A siren is set to bring Israel to a standstill at 8 p.m., marking the official start of Memorial Day.

The somber minute of silence will be followed by the official ceremony at the Western Wall, which will be attended by the president and IDF chief of staff, but with no one in the audience.

As siren sounds, Israel stops to remember its fallen soldiers, terror victims

As the siren wails, Israelis pay tribute to the country’s fallen soldiers and terror victims — from their homes and balconies.

As a result of the pandemic, it is the first Memorial Day in which visits to military cemeteries have been banned, along with gatherings and the traditional memorial ceremonies held across the country.

The government has imposed stricter lockdown measures over Memorial Day and Independence Day on Wednesday to prevent crowding and an outbreak of the coronavirus.

Forty-two soldiers and civilians were killed since last Memorial Day and the number of Israeli casualties of war stands at 23,816, according to figures released by the Defense Ministry on Friday. Since last Memorial Day, 75 new names were added to the roster of those who died defending the country since 1860.

President addresses official memorial ceremony at empty Western Wall plaza

The official Memorial Day ceremony begins at the Western Wall, where top military officials and the president gather to remember fallen, without an audience and with all present wearing masks and observing social distancing.

President Reuven Rivlin’s voice cracks as he begins his televised speech, while addressing the bereaved families who cannot attend.

“This year, you are alone in your rooms, listening to the echoes of their voices. We cannot come to your homes, we cannot stand alongside you at the military cemeteries. We cannot embrace you,” he says.

The siren “shatters the silence and breaks our hearts,” he says.

President Reuven Rivlin wears a protective mask during the national opening ceremony for Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 27, 2020. (video screenshot)

Addressing the pandemic, he says, “And suddenly, it seems the world is moving more slowly.”

The isolation, he says, amplifies “what is gone, the vacuum, the missing, the pain.”

Participants wear masks at the national opening ceremony for Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, April 27, 2020. (video screenshot)

“What is with you, beloved families?” he asks, addressing the bereaved.

“I know… you don’t need this Memorial Day to remember… Today is for us, so that we can — even for a moment — get to know the names and the faces, the lives and the stories of the sons and daughters of this country, of your beloveds, which will become ours.”

“This year, we can’t cry together. This year, we can’t look into your eyes.”

But Israel will remember “the unfathomable price” that was paid in human lives for Israel to exist, he promises.

IDF chief to bereaved families: Despite distance, we’re all with you

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi notes the difficulty of commemorating Memorial Day in the age of the coronavirus, in a speech at the Western Wall.

“Bereaved families, even now, despite the distance, all of Israel is with you, through all kinds of screens. Every person in their home is stopping, is sympathizing, is dedicating time to the memory of your sons and daughters,” Kohavi says.

“These are complicated times, which bring worry and concern from the lingering danger. The time of a crisis is like the time of a war. It pushes aside the trivial and minor and makes the important things, the ethical things and the sanctity of life stand out,” he says.

In his speech at the ceremony bringing in the Memorial Day, Kohavi warns Israel’s enemies that the military is there to confront them.

“Against enemies and armies of terror who don’t stop harming the citizens of the State of Israel — the IDF is there: ready, powerful and aggressive. We will be there for every mission, prepared and determined, and we see victory as the only way to achieve our goal,” the army chief says.

Judah Ari Gross

Israelis to go out to balconies to sing ‘Hatikvah’

Israelis are going out to their balconies to sing the Hatikvah anthem to coincide with the conclusion of the official ceremony.

The ceremony is currently reciting prayers and will end shortly with the anthem.

Go out to sing Hatikvah, ceremony urges

The official Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall ends with the Kaddish mourner’s prayer, “El Malei Rachamim” prayer, and — now — Hatikvah.

It urges Israelis to go outside to sing now.

Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony kicks off

The 15th annual joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony has begun. It is being live-streamed from Tel Aviv and Ramallah simultaneously.

The event is led by Combatants for Peace and The Parents Circle Families Forum and is being carried out in both Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles in English as well.

The ceremony is met each year with some controversy and protests, but this year, amid the pandemic, passes uneventfully.

with Jacob Magid

Among those stopping for siren: Doctors, medics fighting COVID-19

Photos emerge of doctors at the coronavirus unit at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, who stopped for the minute-long siren to remember Israel’s fallen.

The Magen David Adom emergency service also posts photos of its medics bowing their heads.

Treasury said planning to reopen malls next week

The Finance Ministry plans to announce the reopening of malls next week, according to a report by the Ynet news site.

Malls have remained closed despite the government’s decision this week to allow most stores to reopen.

PA ordered by Israeli court to pay $150 million to terror victims

An Israeli court has ordered the Palestinian Authority to pay nearly $150 million in damages to the families of people killed in terror attacks.

The decision comes following a lawsuit brought by Shurat Hadin, an Israeli legal advocacy group, on behalf of relatives of victims from a number of attacks, mostly carried out during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s. A previous court ruling from last year found the Palestinian Authority to be liable for those attacks, along with other actors.

In its decision Friday, the Jerusalem court ruled that the funds would come from tax money that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians. Shurat Hadin had asked that more than $2 billion be paid in compensation.

The court gave Israel until next month to request that the order be annulled. Israel might consider appealing if it fears the freezing of the funds could destabilize the cash-strapped Palestinian government.

“We continue to fight even 20 years later and we will not rest until we achieve justice for terror victims,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the head of Shurat Hadin.

Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian official who coordinates the Palestinian Authority’s communication with Israel, called the decision “piracy and and theft of Palestinian money.”

Under interim peace deals, Israel collects customs duties and other taxes on behalf of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, and transfers the funds to the Palestinians each month. These transfers cover a sizable chunk of the Palestinian government’s budget.

Israel has in the past frozen the transfers to penalize the Palestinians for certain policies or actions.

Agencies

Singers pay tribute to soldiers, victims with pre-recorded concerts

Israel’s main television stations are broadcasting the annual concert tribute to its soldiers and terror victims, which features top singers crooning war and memorial tunes, peppered with personal tributes to the fallen.

The annual show, which is usually performed live, was pre-recorded this year, due to the virus restrictions.

It is being livestreamed by Kan:

Year after synagogue attack, Poway remembers victim Lori Gilbert-Kaye

One year after a shooter attacked the Poway of Chabad during services, killing a beloved member, the synagogue’s rabbi stands alone in the sanctuary of the empty building to lead a memorial.

Rabbi Mendel Goldstein remembers Lori Gilbert-Kaye as kind and “beautiful” inside and out in the one-hour taped memorial released Sunday on the San Diego-area Chabad’s website.

Goldstein is the son of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot and lost a finger in the April 27, 2019, attack. Gilbert-Kaye, 60, died while shielding the rabbi with her body.

The senior Goldstein stepped down as head of the Poway Chabad in November and did not appear in the memorial.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed in a shooting at a San Diego County synagogue on April 27, 2019 (Facebook)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former British chief rabbi, and Rabbi Yosef Jacobson, a Chabad rabbi and speaker from Teaneck, New Jersey, also pay tribute to Gilbert-Kaye.

“The pain is real. The loss of Lori is ever-present,” Goldstein says. “But we know our focus must be on the future, on becoming better people and better Jews.”

JTA

Just 112 new virus infections recorded in 24 hours

The Health Ministry says the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has climbed to 15,555, an increase of 112 in the past 24 hours.

The death toll rises to 204.

There are 126 people in serious condition, 96 of them on ventilators, while another 78 are moderately ill.

The ministry says 7,200 people have recovered from the virus.

Italy’s daily increase in virus cases is the lowest since March 10

Italy has registered its lowest day-to-day number of new cases of COVID-19 since practically the first day the nation was put under lockdown to contain what would become one of the world’s worst outbreaks.

According to data from the Italian health ministry, 1,739 cases new cases were confirmed in the 24-hour period ending Monday evening. The previous time the nation saw such a low daily number occurred on March 10, when 77 new cases were registered. Italy now has 199,414 known cases. It registered 333 deaths since Sunday evening, raising to 26,977 the number of known deaths in the country, which has Europe’s highest death toll in the pandemic.

Some of Italy’s lockdown rules will be partially eased on May 4, but many restrictions on retail shops, museums and other businesses will last two or more weeks beyond that date.

Scientists advising the government are concerned the contagion rate will start soaring again when Italians start moving around more with newly regained freedoms. Premier Giuseppe Conte has decided that re-opening society will come gradually, since there is no vaccine against COVID-19.

AP

At memorial, Bnei Brak mayor thanks IDF for virus measures in city

Speaking at a Memorial Day event, Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein thanks the IDF for its handling of the pandemic lockdown in the ultra-Orthodox city.

“This is the place to express, on my behalf and on behalf of all residents of our city, thanks and appreciation to the hundreds of IDF soldiers and their commanders from various terrific units, for their welcome… actions to benefit the 210,000 residents during the difficult days of the coronavirus pandemic. These actions were performed with all their hearts and souls,” he says, according to Ynet.

Bnei Brak became the first major Israeli city to experience a full lockdown after a serious outbreak. Those measures have since been lifted.

Rubinstein speaks at a Memorial Day event for residents of the city. He says 387 former residents are among the country’s fallen soldiers and terror victims.

Global coronavirus death toll hits 208,973

The novel coronavirus has claimed at least 208,973 lives since its outbreak in China in December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT on Monday.

More than 2,997,540 cases are registered in 193 countries and territories. Of these cases, at least 818,700 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only the most serious cases.

Since 1900 GMT Sunday, 4,277 new deaths and 67,952 new cases were recorded worldwide. The countries with the most deaths over the 24-hour period were the United States with 1,388, France with 437 and Britain with 360.

The US has the highest number of total deaths with 55,563 out of 979,077 cases.

Italy has the second highest toll with 26,977 deaths out of 199,414 cases, followed by Spain with 23,521 deaths and 209,465 cases, France with 23,293 deaths and 165,842 cases, and Britain with 21,092 fatalities and 157,149 cases.

AFP

WHO: World should have listened when we sounded virus alarm on January 30

The World Health Organization’s director-general says that the agency had sounded the highest level of alarm over the novel coronavirus early on, but laments that not all countries had heeded its advice.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus points out that the WHO warned that the COVID-19 outbreak constituted a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” on January 30, when there were no deaths and only 82 cases registered outside China.

“The world should have listened to WHO then, carefully,” he tells a virtual press briefing.

The organization has faced scathing criticism from US President Donald Trump, who earlier this month suspended Washington’s funding of the organization, after accusing WHO of downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak and kowtowing to China, where the novel coronavirus first surfaced late last year.

Trump has provided no evidence to support his claims.

Tedros insists that the UN health agency had provided sound advice from the beginning “based on the best science and evidence.”

But, he stresses, “We do not have any mandate to force countries… to take our advice.”

When the WHO announced on January 30 that the novel coronavirus represented “the highest level of emergency… every country could have triggered all its public health measures,” Tedros says.

“I think that suffices the importance of listening to WHO’s advice.”

“We advised the whole world to implement a comprehensive public health approach, and we said find, test, isolate, and do contact tracing,” he says.

“You can check for yourselves: countries who followed that are in a better position than others. This is fact.”

AFP

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Israeli firm says drug helped six virus sufferers recover

Israel-based Redhill BioPharma says six coronavirus patients treated with its anti-inflammatory drug opaganib have shown marked improvement, and five have been able to be weaned off of oxygen.

Three of the patients have already been released from hospitals, it says.

The drug was approved earlier this month for compassionate use in Israel and Italy.

“Preliminary findings from all six patients analyzed have shown that all the patients demonstrated objective significant measurable clinical improvement within days following treatment initiation with opaganib,” the firm says in a statement. “Opaganib was well tolerated and showed clinical improvement both with and without hydroxychloroquine.”

It says it has asked the FDA for an okay to move ahead with a trial in the US and is kicking off clinical trials in Israel and Italy.

Redhill’s stock is up over 11 percent in after-hours trading.