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UNIFIL soldiers break up ‘short standoff’ between IDF and Lebanese troops

Incident takes place south of Blue Line, but in area deemed contested by Beirut; troops photographed with rifles pointed at one another and peace-keeping force in between them

Vehicles belonging to UN peacekeepers drive along a road along the Israel-Lebanon border near the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Kila on September 1, 2019. (Ali Dia/AFP)
Vehicles belonging to UN peacekeepers drive along a road along the Israel-Lebanon border near the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Kila on September 1, 2019. (Ali Dia/AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.

Hamas said demanding release of 250 prisoners for info on missing Israelis

Hamas has sent Israel a list of 250 Palestinian prisoners to release in exchange for information on two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held by the Gaza-ruling terror group, according to a Lebanese newspaper report.

The Al Akhbar daily says that a German mediator who was involved in the 2011 Shalit deal, which saw Israel release over 1,000 prisoners for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, was again mediating between the sides.

Army Radio quotes a Hamas source as saying the terror group will only return the Israelis it holds if Israel frees the Palestinians released in the Shalit deal who have since been rearrested.

Hamas is believed to be holding Israeli citizens Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are thought to have entered the Strip on their own accord, as well as the remains of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, IDF troops killed during the 2014 Gaza war.

India to extend nationwide virus lockdown to May 3

NEW DELHI — India’s nationwide lockdown, the biggest imposed in the world over the coronavirus pandemic, will be extended until at least May 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says today.

The current three-week-old lockdown of the nation of 1.3 billion people had been scheduled to end at midnight Tuesday.

“From the economic angle, we have paid a big price,” Modi says in a nationwide address. “But the lives of the people of India are far more valuable.”

— AFP

Sea of Galilee rises to highest level in 16 years

The Sea of Galilee rose 1.5 centimeters overnight to bring it to 208.985 meters below sea level, the highest it has been in 16 years.

North Korea has fired suspected cruise missiles, South Korea says

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says North Korea has fired several suspected cruise missiles off its east coast.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff says in a statement that the projectiles — presumed to be cruise missiles — were fired from the North’s eastern Kangwon province on Tuesday morning.

It says South Korea’s military is monitoring possible additional launches by North Korea. It gave no further details.

In recent weeks, North Korea has carried out a series of short-range missile and other weapons tests amid stalled nuclear talks with the United States.

— AP

Number of virus cases in Israel up to 11,868; 117 dead

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 11,868, up 282 from the night before.

The Health Ministry also announces one more fatality from the virus, bringing the death toll to 117.

According to the ministry figures, 181 people are in serious condition, 136 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 168 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 2,000 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.

Ya’alon hits out at former ally Gantz over coalition talks with Netanyahu

Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon hits out at his former ally Benny Gantz over the Blue and White party’s coalition talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

“The president of the state refrained from imposing the formation of a government on a defendant with three severe indictments. The defendant Netanyahu fears (justly) the High Court of Justice, which will prevent a defendant from forming a government,” Ya’alon writes on Twitter.

He is referring to Netanyahu’s reported concerns that the High Court may rule that a lawmaker under indictment cannot be tasked with assembling a government. The court rejected a petition on the matter Sunday, saying it was premature, but that it could be refiled if Netanyahu is handed the mandate to form a government.

Reports have said Netanyahu is seeking legal guarantees that Gantz could not take over for him as prime minister if the High Court rules he cannot be tasked with assembling a coalition.

“Who is helping Netanyahu bypass the chief justice of the High Court? Benny Gantz! Who received the mandate to fight against corruption and strengthen the rule of law,” Ya’alon says.

He adds: “Not even the epidemic covers the embezzlement of trust and the shame.”

Gantz, Netanyahu resume talks on forming ‘national emergency government’

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz and Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu are now meeting for talks on forming a “national emergency government,” their parties say in a joint statement.

The two are being accompanied by their respective negotiations teams.

The meeting comes after the parties reported “major progress” following talks last night at the Prime Minister’s Residence between Netanyahu and Gantz.

Jerusalem, Bnei Brak continue to lead Israel with most virus cases

The Health Ministry publishes a breakdown of coronavirus cases by city, with Jerusalem leading the country with 2,258 confirmed infections.

Following Jerusalem is the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which has 2,053 cases.

Among communities with over 5,000 residents, Bnei Brak has the highest number of cases per 100,000 people at 1051.21.

Following Bnei Brak for highest infection rate are Kiryat Ye’arim (682.5), Kochav Yaakov (662.64), Kfar Chabad (654.37), Efrat (599.48), Elad (594.53), Mitzpe Ramon (440.79), Migdal Haemek (379.92), Or Yehuda (344.40) and Modiin Illit (323.81).

The infection rate in Jerusalem is 246.89, less than four times that of Bnei Brak.

Likud, Blue and White said discussing fresh elections if PM barred from forming government

The Likud and Blue and White parties are discussing including in their coalition agreement a clause to dissolve the Knesset and send Israel to fresh elections if Prime Minister Netanyahu is barred from forming a government due to his indictment on graft charges, the Ynet news site reports.

The report notes this would effectively put the responsibility on the High Court for a fourth consecutive round of elections if it rules a Knesset member under indictment such as Netanyahu cannot be tasked with assembling a coalition.

Lapid: Don’t call potential Likud-Blue and White coalition an emergency government

Yesh Atid-Telem chief Yair Lapid is now weighing in on his former ally Benny Gantz’s talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu on forming a new government.

“The attempts to portray the formation of the government as an emergency government without any clause in the negotiations that deals with the health and economic crisis is an insult to the public,” Lapid writes on Twitter.

“The fifth Netanyahu government with 34 ministers is mainly looking out for a prime minister with three serious indictments. At least don’t call this an emergency government,” he adds.

Lapid also comments on a report that Likud and Blue and White are discussing including in their coalition agreement a clause requiring fresh elections if Netanyahu is barred from forming a government due to the corruption charges against him.

“This has has a name. It’s called an immunity law,” he says.

Report shows Israel trailing numerous states in number of virus tests per 1 million people

The Health Ministry says 9,459 coronavirus tests were performed over the past 24 hours.

It is unclear if the statistic, which is included in a ministry report, refers to the number of tests processed in laboratories or the number of samples taken from suspected carriers of the virus.

The report also shows Israel is trailing a number of countries in the number of tests per million people, including Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

Ministers said to argue about pizza deliveries after Passover, Ashkenazis and Mimouna

Channel 12 news is reporting details from last night’s cabinet meeting to approve a nationwide lockdown for the end of the Passover and the start of Mimouna.

According to the network, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich called it a ruse that did not fool anyone.

“The prime minister announces [the lockdown] in a press conference, and only afterwards do the ministers have to approve the decisions that were already made,” he is quoted saying.

The ministers then reportedly squabbled over whether a clause barring bakeries from reopening until Thursday at 2 a.m. would prevent pizza deliveries after Passover over ends Wednesday evening.

They ultimately decided the clause did not apply to deliveries.

The report says ministers also argued over whether the lockdown should continue through Thursday, as Israelis celebrating Mimouna could try to hold family gatherings during the day.

“Ashkenazis formulated the emergency directives and didn’t know the Mimouna holiday continues on Thursday,” and is not just on Wednesday evening, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan reportedly said.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is said to have warned of the severity of further extending the lockdown and no change was made.

The cabinet meeting was chaired by Foreign Minister Israel Katz, as Prime Minister Netanyahu was meeting with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz for coalition talks.

81-year-old man dies of coronavirus, bring death toll to 118

The number of coronavirus deaths in Israel rises to 118 as an 81-year-old man treated at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv dies from COVID-19.

The man had preexisting medical conditions, according to the hospital.

UK accused of underreporting virus deaths among elderly

LONDON — The boss of one of Britain’s biggest nursing home operators says the number of reported coronavirus deaths among elderly residents is much higher than has been officially reported.

The government says outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in one in eight UK care homes.

But David Behan, chairman of home operator HC-One, says cases of the new coronavirus had been reported in 232 of the firm’s homes — two-thirds of the total. He says 311 residents have died with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Ros Altmann, a former government minister who campaigns for older people, says frail elderly people are being overlooked in the pandemic. She says “we must not forget that the mark of a civilized society must reflect how it treats its most vulnerable and oldest citizens.”

The UK’s official daily tally of COVID-19 deaths, which stands at more than 11,000, includes only people who have died in hospitals. Deaths in other settings are reported separately once a week. Figures are due later today.

— AP

Medical workers said to warn of rising infections in East Jerusalem

Medical personnel are warning of a rise in coronavirus infections in East Jerusalem, the Haaretz daily reports.

“If this breaks out in the east of the city everyone will get [it], both in the east and in the west,” Dr. Samar Awar tells the newspaper.

He estimates there at least 40 cases in the Silwan neighborhood, where he volunteers.

Awar also says that East Jerusalem residents have heeded the call to stay at home, but warns this may not last if greater food supplies are not brought to the area.

“Ultimately people will go to bring food for their children, even if this means they’ll be infected. The government needs to bring food to the neighborhoods,” he says.

Police to deploy in large numbers to enforce nationwide end-of-Passover lockdown

Police are readying to deploy in force throughout Israel to enforce a nationwide lockdown that will begin at 5 p.m. today.

Some 44 checkpoints will be set up on highways to prevent intercity travel, police say, with around 9,000 officers assisting with enforcement.

Police will also be patrolling inside cities to prevent people from going to each others’ homes and to ensure bakeries don’t open when Passover ends Wednesday evening.

Spain’s virus death toll passes 18,000 as rise in new cases lowest since start of lockdown

MADRID — Spain reports 567 deaths from the new coronavirus, a slight increase after a one-day decline, bringing the total number of fatalities to 18,056 — officially the third highest in the world behind the United States and Italy.

The number of new infections rises by 1.8 percent to 172,541 cases, according to the health ministry, the smallest increase since the country imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 14 to curb the spread of the virus.

— AFP

Iran reports fewer than 100 virus deaths for first time in a month

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says today that the number of lives lost in the country to the novel coronavirus dropped to double figures for the first time in one month.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says 98 deaths from the COVID-19 disease were recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll to 4,683.

“Unfortunately, we lost 98 of our compatriots infected with the disease… but after a month of waiting, this is the first day that the death toll has been double figures,” he tells a televised news conference.

— AFP

Police under fire for ending musical prayer service in Bnei Brak

Police are coming under fire from ultra-Orthodox politicians and media outlets after entering an apartment in Bnei Brak to stop a musical prayer service that was being broadcast live on the internet.

In video of the incident, a police officer can be seen climbing down from a ladder to a balcony outside an apartment in which Hasidic singers Yoeli and Ruli Dikman were performing.

The officer walks past them to open the door to let other policemen into the apartment, before returning to take the microphone and unplug the musical equipment.

Video from another angle shows a group of officers repeatedly ringing the doorbell and knocking on the door of the apartment.

“This break-in is outrageous and unacceptable,” Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein says in response.

Kikar HaShabbat, an ultra-Orthodox news site on which the prayers were being broadcast, accused the police of “brutally” breaking up the service.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says he received dozens of complaints about the incident and asked police to look into the matter. He also says people should refrain from judgment based solely on the video.

Police say officers were sent to the apartment following complaints about excessive noise coming from speakers on a balcony. After the officers left, police say, the noise resumed and because no one opened the door, the officer had to enter the apartment through the balcony.

Italy begins allowing some stores to reopen

ROME — In Italy, bookstores, stationary stores and shops selling baby clothes and supplies are allowed to open nationwide today, provided they can maintain the same social-distancing and sanitary measures required in supermarkets.

But there is no coherency to the openings, with some regional governors and individual shop owners still deciding to keep their doors shut for now.

Hard-hit Lombardy and Piemonte keep their bookshops and stationary shops closed, while central Lazio postpones any opening for another week to allow stores to put in place sanitary measures to protect both staff and shoppers alike. Veneto is allowing them to open two days a week under a gradual loosening that the governor termed “lockdown light.”

Another segment of workers allowed back on the job today are forestry workers, to clear dead trees ahead of the warming weather that brings with it forest fire season.

While the list of commercial activities allowed to reopen seemed random, officials offer the explanation that students needed to restock up on school supplies, new parents needed to outfit their growing babies. And Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini argues that books are an “essential good” for Italians cooped up at home.

“The same distancing and security measures as supermarkets will be required, but they’ll reopen,” Franceschini tweets. “It’s not a symbolic gesture, but the recognition that even books are an essential good.”

— AP

Government tells High Court it’s weighing more tasks for Shin Bet against virus

The government tells the High Court of Justice it is considering tasking the Shin Bet with other roles to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, after authorizing the domestic spy agency to track the phones of carriers of the virus and those they were in close proximity to.

Responding to a High Court petition against the controversial phone tracking program, the government says these additional tasks would be “to improve the effectiveness of the aid given to the Health Ministry, so it will be possible to work to slow the spread of the virus while partially removing the restrictions on freedom of movement.”

It doesn’t, however, give any details on what further measures are under consideration.

Worldwide coronavirus death toll passes 120,000

PARIS — The novel coronavirus has killed more than 120,000 people worldwide, nearly 70 percent of them in Europe, according to a tally compiled today by AFP from official sources.

A total of 120,013 deaths have now been recorded since the epidemic first emerged in China in December, 81,474 of them in Europe.

The figures are collated using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

— AFP

High Court rejects petition to lift lockdown on Jerusalem neighborhood

The High Court of Justice rejects a petition from residents of Ramot to lift the lockdown on the Jerusalem neighborhood.

Ramot is one of some two dozen neighborhoods in Jerusalem that the government restricted movement into and out of as part of measures to contain the coronavirus.

Police officers at a temporary checkpoint at the entrance to the Ramot neighborhood in Jerusalem, April 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz and Netanyahu wrap up meeting, party negotiators to tango after holiday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz have concluded their meeting aimed at reaching an agreement to form a unity government.

While no deal was officially inked, the sides sent out a joint statement saying the parties’ negotiators would pick up where the chairmen left off on Wednesday night after the Passover holiday concludes.

IMF: Mideast economy set for worst slump in decades

The Middle East and North Africa economy will contract by 3.3 percent this year, the biggest slump in four decades, hammered by the coronavirus and low oil prices, the International Monetary Fund says.

In its World Economic Outlook, the IMF says the damage would be much worse than the region’s last major shock, the 2008-09 global financial crisis, when it managed to post modest growth.

The region, which includes all Arab countries and Iran, will suffer its worst economic performance since 1978 when it was convulsed with unrest and shrank by 4.7 percent, according to World Bank data.

The IMF says that all the Arab countries apart from Egypt will see their gross domestic product (GDP) fall this year.

Saudi Arabia, the region’s heavyweight which is just emerging from an oil price war with Russia that saw crude prices crash, is headed for a 2.3 percent contraction.

“The fast deterioration of the global economic outlook as the epidemic has spread and the breakdown of the OPEC+ agreement among oil suppliers have weighed heavily on commodity prices,” the global lender says.

Its report was prepared before the OPEC+ grouping — which takes in OPEC producers and allies — reached agreement on Sunday to cut output by nearly 10 million barrels per day, the largest in history.

From mid-January to end-March, oil prices dropped by 65 percent or $40 a barrel and natural gas prices declined by 38 percent, the IMF said.

It also projects prices to remain below $45 a barrel through 2023, around 25 percent below the average last year.

— AFP

Defense officials to weigh Memorial Day-Independence Day lockdown — report

Officials in the National Security Council and Defense Ministry will meet on Wednesday night to discuss recommending that a lockdown be enforced from the eve of Memorial Day on April 27th until the end of Independence Day on April 29th, Channel 12 reports.

Defense officials are concerned about crowding at cemeteries and where bereaved families and many other traditionally gather to pay respect to those who have fallen.

The Defense Ministry is preparing to perform all state ceremonies at cemeteries for the public who will not be able to attend.

Each cemetery will have a military representative, a Defense Ministry representative and an IDF rabbi.

They will recite the kaddish in memory of every fallen soldier and place a flower and pennant on every grave.

 

Yamina MK calls for gradual restoration of economy beginning on Sunday

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked calls on the government to begin easing coronavirus restrictions on Sunday in order to gradually restore the economy.

She highlights the hi-tech, manufacturing and service industries as ones that should be allowed to begin functioning first.

“Barbers, cosmetician, and salespeople also deserve to earn a living. The public has shown maturity and caution. With masks, hand washing and social distancing as much as possible so we can return to a routine, albeit a different one.”

Police yet to have interrogated hilltop youth from ‘quarantine outpost’ after firebombing attack

Police have not yet interrogated any of the hilltop youth currently residing in an IDF established outpost in the southern West Bank near where a price tag attack took place last night, Channel 13 reports.

Police said yesterday that they were looking into whether the far-right extremists had been responsible for hurling rocks and pepper spraying three Palestinians before firebombing their two cars.

The army established an outpost for them to quarantine for two weeks after coming in contact with a COVID-19 carrier. The 20 far-right extremists were subsequently taken to an isolation hotel in Jerusalem, but they refused to separate there. Astonishingly, authorities agreed to transfer them to an alternative site in the south. On their way there though, the teens wreaked havoc on the bus and bashed all of its windows.

Still apparently unwilling to charge the teens, the army instead agreed to build them a tent outpost where they have been lodging for the past week. The IDF has let them sleep together in one tent, in violation of the coronavirus guidelines, which require individuals who have come in contact with a carrier to quarantine alone.

Country grinds back to halt as final day of Passover lockdown comes into effect

A nationwide lockdown for the end of the Passover holiday and the Mimouna festival, which will see intercity travel banned and bakeries shuttered until Thursday morning, has gone into effect.

From Tuesday at 5 p.m. until Thursday at 5 a.m., Israelis will be barred from leaving their hometowns, or in the case of Jerusalem, the neighborhoods in which they live, according to the restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Bakeries and restaurants will remain closed until Thursday morning at 2 a.m., though supermarkets will be permitted to operate from Wednesday evening and food deliveries are permitted. This was to prevent crowds from gathering after Passover ends to purchase breads and other “unleavened” goods that many traditionally refrain from consuming during the holiday.

Gaza health ministry: 34-year-old Gazan dies in mysterious explosion

A 34-year-old man has died in an explosion near his home in a refugee camp close to Rafah near the Gaza border, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry reports.

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, reportedly announced the death of one of its fighters today after an accidental explosion in Rafah.

71-year-old Tiberias nursing home resident dies of coronavirus

A 71-year-old resident of a nursing home in Tiberias has passed away due to complications from the coronavirus, the Baruch Padeh Medical Center in the northern city announces.

The woman became Israel’s 119th victim of the coronavirus.

She suffered from preexisting conditions, the hospital says.

Bedouin men filmed harassing Jewish farmer outside of West Bank settlement

Footage from the Honenu legal aid group shows a group of Bedouin men assaulting a Jewish farmer near the settlement of Rimonim in the central West Bank earlier today.

The right-wing NGO says the assailants have been detained by the army for questioning.

Obama to endorse Biden in video on Tuesday

Former President Barack Obama plans to endorse Joe Biden in a video on Tuesday, giving the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee a boost from the party’s biggest fundraiser and one of its most popular figures.

The move has been confirmed by a person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity to discuss the plans.

Obama and Biden are close friends from their two terms in the White House, when Biden served as vice president. Biden leaned heavily on his affiliation with the former president throughout the Democratic primary, touting their relationship and framing his pitch as an extension of Obama’s presidency.

But Obama stayed above the fray in the primary, rarely speaking out about the intraparty fight. The former president offered his private counsel to any Democratic presidential contender who asked for it, but made no efforts to bolster any one candidate’s campaign — including Biden’s, despite their long history.

Obama’s endorsement, however, comes considerably earlier than in 2016. He backed Hillary Clinton in June of that year as her contentious primary fight with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dragged on.

This cycle, the primary came to a much cleaner and quicker end, with Sanders endorsing Biden on Monday.

The former vice president now has the support of all of his former Democratic primary rivals except for Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts senator is expected to formally throw her support behind Biden soon, according to a person familiar with her plans.

— AP

Two new drive-through testing sites to open in northern Arab towns

Two new drive-through coronavirus testing sites will begin operating tomorrow in the northern Arab towns of Tarshiha and Rameh, Magen David Adom reports.

78-year-old man becomes Israel’s 120th victim of coronavirus

A 78-year-old man died due to complications from the coronavirus, the Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem announces.

The hospital says the man had suffered from several preexisting conditions.

He became the 120th victim of the coronavirus.

His relatives were able to visit the ICU in order to say goodbye to their grandfather.

90-year-old man dies of coronavirus, becoming country’s 121st victim

A 90-year-old man died due to complications from the coronavirus, the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem announces.

The hospital says the man had suffered from several preexisting conditions.

He became the 121st victim of the coronavirus.

Driving home from meeting with PM, Gantz vows to continue working toward unity

Blue and White chairman publishes a tweet while being driven home from his coalition negotiation meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

“I commit to continuing to make the right decisions for the citizens of Israel and to work for unity and reconciliation… Happy holiday to all, follow the guidelines and take care of yourselves,” he says.

Rivlin apologizes once again for violating virus guidelines during Passover Seder

President Reuven Rivlin issues another apology for violating the government’s coronavirus guidelines when he hosted his daughter for the Passover Seder last week.

“I was wondering whether to write again before the holiday. Sometimes, it is better to speak out and accept the anger face-on. You were angry with me this week about a wrong decision I made that had no justification. This holiday, I am doing things differently,” he tweets.

PA announces three new coronavirus cases in West Bank

Palestinian Authority government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem says three more coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the West Bank, bringing the total number of Palestinian cases beyond the Green Line to 275.

The three new cases include a worker in an Israeli nylon factory, the father of a worker in an Israeli paint factory who contracted the virus, and the paint factory worker’s coworker, Melhem says.

Government numbers show jump in packaging waste for month of March

Environmental Protection Ministry figures for March show that the weight of packaging waste collected for recycling in March increased by 37% compared to last year, while the volume of electronic waste collected from homes doubled.

The Tamir Corporation, which supplies the orange bins for the recycling of packaging and wrapping, added another 11,000 households to its scheme last month.

Some 22,000 large electrical appliances (“white” appliances) were picked up from recycling in March 2020, compared to about 10,500 products in March 2019.

— Sue Surkes

WATCH: Obama endorses Joe Biden

Sea of Galilee rises to highest point in 16 years

The Sea of Galilee rose by a centimeter and a half yesterday, reaching its highest level in 16 years, Haaretz reports.

According to officials who measure the water level every day, it’s currently at 208.985 meters (685.65 feet) below sea level. This is the first time the figure has dropped below 209 meters since 2005.

The level is just 18.5 centimeters (7.28 inches) below the “upper red line,” above which the lake would be in danger of overflowing.

UNIFIL soldiers break up ‘short standoff’ between IDF and Lebanese troops

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon broke up a “short standoff” between Israeli and Lebanese troops south of the Blue Line border demarcation between the two countries, a UNIFIL spokesman tells The Times of Israel.

The incident took place between the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh and the northern Israeli town of Metulla, Andrea Tenenti says, saying that while it was south of the Blue Line, Lebanon deems the area to be contested.

“Tension increased. Our troops were in the middle with the aim of preventing misunderstandings and decreasing tension,” Tenenti says. “Shortly after the situation went back to normal.”

A photo from the scene shows Israeli and Lebanese troops with their weapons cocked at one another.

The IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Relatives allowed to wave at Ben Gurion arrivals before they’re taken to isolation hotels

Haaretz reports that Israelis were able to greet their relatives who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport earlier today, but were forced to do so from afar.

The travelers were then taken to a hotel where they will complete 14 days of quarantine before returning to their families.

Several of them who spoke to Haaretz express frustration over the fact that they’re being forced to stay at an isolation hotel when they have the means to self-isolate in their own homes.

New York City to manufacture thousands of virus test kits

New York will start making tens of thousands of coronavirus test kits a week, its mayor announces, as the city looks to boost testing capacity with a view to ending its shutdown.

Bill de Blasio says manufacturers in the Big Apple would start producing 50,000 tests per week beginning next month because they are not receiving enough kits from federal agencies.

The city will also start buying another 50,000 kits from a company in Indiana beginning Monday, he adds, meaning New York will soon have 100,000 new tests a week.

“For the first time, we’re going to have a truly reliable major supply of testing,” the NY mayor tells reporters.

— AFP

India extends world’s biggest virus lockdown

India’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the biggest in the world covering 1.3 billion people, will be extended until May 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says.

The move comes despite complaints from millions of poor, a vast underclass who have been left almost completely without support as jobs have vanished and incomes dried up.

“From the economic angle, we have paid a big price,” Modi says. “But the lives of the people of India are far more valuable.”

“From the experiences of the last few days it is clear that the path we have chosen is correct.”

India’s three-week-old lockdown, in force since March 25, was scheduled to end at midnight Tuesday.

Modi says there would be “limited relaxations” from April 20 for districts with no cases, and new guidelines for industry and agriculture would be released Wednesday.

The announcement comes as debate rages around the world on how to lift restrictions so the economic carnage of the pandemic can be eased without a new spike in infections.

Official figures suggest South Asian nations have so far been relatively unscathed by the epidemic, with around 10,800 cases and 353 deaths in India.

Some experts say not enough tests have been conducted and the true number of infections is much higher.

And with some of the most crowded cities on the planet, there are fears that numbers could take off and overwhelm the shaky healthcare system.

Several states including Maharashtra — home to Mumbai and with the highest number of cases — Tamil Nadu and Odisha already announced lockdown extensions.

The World Health Organization Tuesday praised India’s decision to extend the lockdown, saying “it would go a long way in arresting the virus spread.”

— AFP

New York state’s single-day virus death toll rises but infections slow

New York state recorded 778 coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, up from 671 the day before, but new hospital admissions and infections were down, Governor Andrew Cuomo says.

The rise in the single-day toll brought the total number of deaths in the state — America’s coronavirus epicenter — to 10,834, Cuomo tells reporters.

The 24-hour toll is close to the state’s single-day high of 799 reported on Thursday of last week.

But Cuomo says infections continued to slow, with the average rate of hospitalizations and intubations down.

The governor adds that new hospital admissions were around 1,600 on Monday, down from a high of more than 3,400 recorded in early April.

“We are reducing the rate of infection,” Cuomo says.

“We are changing the curve, every day. We’ve shown that we control the virus, the virus doesn’t control us,” he adds.

New York has borne the brunt of America’s deadly outbreak, accounting for almost half of the country’s fatalities.

— AFP

Channel 13: Lack of progress suggests PM leaning against inking deal with Gantz

The lack of progress in coalition negotiations in the past day between Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has Channel 13’s Sefi Ovadya believing that the premier is leaning against agreeing to a deal.

Ovadya suggests Netanyahu recognizes that Gantz is losing his leverage and that time is on his side.

Haredi settlement refused to distribute IDF food kits because ‘they weren’t kosher enough’ — report

The Israel Defense Forces prepared hundreds of Passover food packages for residents of the ultra-Orthodox Modi’in Illit settlement, but the municipality refused to distribute them because “they weren’t kosher enough,” Channel 13 reports.

8-day-old baby becomes Israel’s youngest virus patient; in ‘good’ condition

An eight-day-old baby becomes Israel’s youngest coronavirus patient, Channel 12 reports, adding that the newborn is in “good” condition.

The baby is in Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center.

WATCH: Virus brings out the jackals in deserted Tel Aviv park

With the coronavirus keeping Israelis indoors, dozens of jackals have taken over a deserted park in Tel Aviv, scavenging for food in what is usually a site for joggers and families.

The normally timid animals wander freely among palm trees and across the grass of Hayarkon Park, an oasis in the Mediterranean city that was also a magnet for cyclists and picnickers until the arrival of COVID-19.

The disease has cost over 120 lives in Israel.

Hayarkon prides itself as the lung of Tel Aviv, complete with a river and enough space for tourists to pitch tents during last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, when hotels were fully booked.

Now, rare human visitors wear masks and use their phones to photograph jackals, apparently the park’s new occupants.

Normally, the dog-like animals would only venture out from their burrows or the bushes at night in more secluded parts of the park to search for scraps left by visitors, zoologist Yariv Malichi tells AFP.

“But once you take away the trash people are littering in the park, jackals have a problem — they need to find another food source,” he explains.

“They are wandering far from their territories searching for food,” before nightfall, he says.

“They really feel comfortable in the park without people.”

Two jackals play in Hayarkon Park, in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 13, 2020. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

The official from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said the lack of food has been more acute because the coronavirus crisis has struck right in the middle of the jackals’ breeding season.

On pathways lined with yuccas and prickly pear cacti, the occasional helmeted cyclist can encounter the animals, who also appear undisturbed by joggers.

Malichi says he has not heard of any incidents with the animals, but warned against them growing too familiar with humans.

“Our concern is that jackals will change their behavior and get used to people because some people are throwing meat” to them, he said.

“Once a wild animal is making the connection ‘human equals food’, the danger is there, they’ll start approaching people expecting to get food,” he says.

“It can be a small kid or a grown-up man, they don’t care,” Malichi says. “Leave them alone, don’t feed them.”

— AFP

Police bust prayer service being broadcast from apartment after noise complaint

Police busted a prayer service being broadcast from an apartment in central Israel after neighbors complained of noise, Channel 13 reports.

The two worshipers inside did not appear to be breaking the coronavirus guidelines, but evidently neighbors were not happy with the tune choice of the piano and guitar players.

The network says the officers were forced to scale the apartment building from the back in order to pull the plug on the jam session after the residents refused to let them in.

US diplomats warned White House of dangerous testing labs in Wuhan two years ago

US diplomats sent two official cables to Washington in 2018, warning of “risky studies” being carried out on bats at a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan, The Washington Post reports.

“The cables have fueled discussions inside the US government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus — even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge,” the paper reports.

This is not to say that there’s evidence that the coronavirus was engineered, but it still may have come from a lab, which spent years testing bat coronaviruses in animals, University of California at Berkeley scientist Xiao Qiang tells the Post.

Ukrainian officials: Fires out near Chernobyl nuclear plant

Ukrainian emergency officials say they have extinguished forest fires in the radiation-contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but acknowledged that grass was still smoldering in some areas.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by aircraft have been battling several forest fires around Chernobyl for the past 10 days. They contained the initial blazes, but new fires raged closer to the decommissioned plant.

Emergencies Service chief Mykola Chechetkin reports to President Volodymyr Zelensky that rains helped firefighters put out the flames, but acknowledged that it would take a few more days to extinguish smoldering grass.

Chechetkin says emergency workers have prevented the fire from engulfing radioactive waste depots and other facilities in Chernobyl.

The 2,600-square-kilometer (1,000-square-mile) Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the 1986 disaster at the plant that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe. The zone is largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained despite orders to leave.

Ukraine’s emergencies service said radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the plant, were within norms after the forest fires.

President Zelensky urges Ukrainians not to panic.

“We all remember the lessons of April 26, 1986,” he said in an online statement Tuesday. “No one is hiding the truth from you. Right now the truth is that the situation there is under control.”

On Monday, activists warned that the blazes were getting dangerously close to waste storage facilities.

Yaroslav Yemelyanenko, a member of the public council under the state agency in charge of the closed zone around the plant, said one fire was raging within 2 kilometers (about 1.2 miles) from one of the radioactive waste depots.

Last week, officials said they tracked down a person suspected of triggering the blaze by setting dry grass on fire in the area. The 27-year-old man said he burned grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish the fire when the wind caused it to spread quickly.

On Monday, police said that another local resident burned waste and accidentally set dry grass ablaze, triggering another devastating forest fire. They said he failed to report the fire to the authorities.

Blazes in the area have been a regular occurrence. They often start when residents set dry grass on fire in the early spring — a widespread practice in Ukraine, Russia and some other ex-Soviet nations that often leads to devastating forest fires.

— AP

Number of virus cases in Israel up to 12,046; 123 dead

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 12,046, up 178 from this morning and 460 from 24 hours ago.

The Health Ministry also announces that six people have died since this morning, bringing the number of total deaths to 123.

According to the ministry figures, 175 people are in serious condition, 133 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 168 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 2,195 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.

Lockdown of Arab town with rising virus cases said being considered

The mayor of Deir al-Asad says the Arab Israeli town could be put on lockdown after the Health Ministry warned of a “very high” contagion rate there.

“The Health Ministry raised the suggestion of a lockdown and if there is a need we won’t oppose this because the main thing is the health of the residents,” Ahmed Dabbah tells the Haaretz daily.

Dabbah met earlier with representatives of the Health Ministry, Interior Ministry, police and IDF’s Home Front Command, after which he says it was decided that those with the virus will be taken out of the community and that a hotel in Nahariya will be rented to house them.

It was also agreed that a lockdown will begin in Deir al-Asad and neighboring Bi’ina starting tomorrow if residents don’t adhere to Health Ministry directives.

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Italy begins allowing some stores to reopen

ROME — In Italy, bookstores, stationary stores and shops selling baby clothes and supplies are allowed to open nationwide today, provided they can maintain the same social-distancing and sanitary measures required in supermarkets.

But there is no coherency to the openings, with some regional governors and individual shop owners still deciding to keep their doors shut for now.

Hard-hit Lombardy and Piemonte keep their bookshops and stationary shops closed, while central Lazio postpones any opening for another week to allow stores to put in place sanitary measures to protect both staff and shoppers alike. Veneto is allowing them to open two days a week under a gradual loosening that the governor termed “lockdown light.”

Another segment of workers allowed back on the job today are forestry workers, to clear dead trees ahead of the warming weather that brings with it forest fire season.

While the list of commercial activities allowed to reopen seemed random, officials offer the explanation that students needed to restock up on school supplies, new parents needed to outfit their growing babies. And Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini argues that books are an “essential good” for Italians cooped up at home.

“The same distancing and security measures as supermarkets will be required, but they’ll reopen,” Franceschini tweets. “It’s not a symbolic gesture, but the recognition that even books are an essential good.”

— AP