Justices challenge petitioners calling to block Netanyahu from premiership
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Just 23 new virus cases in last day, as confirmed tally rises to 16,208

Death count climbs by three to 232; 76 of 94 seriously ill patients have been hooked up to ventilators; 9,749 have recovered

Police patrol the beach in Tel Aviv, making sure people are keeping to the government's restrictions in the fight against the spread of coronavirus, April 22, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Police patrol the beach in Tel Aviv, making sure people are keeping to the government's restrictions in the fight against the spread of coronavirus, April 22, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

Parents, kids and schools still awaiting government guidelines

Guidelines on returning to school from the Education and Health ministries that were slated to be published late Saturday have still not materialized, minutes before the first bell rings, punctuating a process that has beset by allegations of chaotic and rushed decision-making.

Nearly half a million schoolchildren are set to return to their classes today for the first time in seven weeks following an unprecedented shutdown, though confusion about the guidelines and fears of a fresh outbreak of the novel coronavirus mean that many will be spending another day at home.

Elementary schools were given the green light Friday to bring back students in first through third grades, but despite the go-ahead, numerous cities and local authorities said they would delay a return to classrooms amid growing dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the matter, with unclear rules in place and unanswered questions about technical aspects of the school openings.

Among towns saying they will not open schools today are Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Haifa, Beersheba, Ramat Hasharon, Bnei Brak, parts of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, Rehovot, Acre, Ashkelon, Safed, Karmiel, Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat.

Additionally, the entire Arab community will not reopen schools this week at all.

High Court set to hear petitions to bar Netanyahu and coalition deal

The High Court of Justice is set this morning to consider whether to block the coalition government agreed upon between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz, a case that could force another election.

Netanyahu, in power since 2009, and the ex-military chief Gantz, faced off in three inconclusive elections in less than a year. With neither man able to form a viable governing coalition in Israel’s deeply divided 120-seat parliament, they agreed to a power-sharing deal last month, saying they aimed to avert a fourth vote opposed across the political spectrum.

Eight separate petitions to be examined by the High Court seek to declare the deal illegal, including one from former Gantz ally Yair Lapid, head of the opposition party Yesh Atid.

Crucially, the court will today consider whether Netanyahu can serve while under indictment, and tomorrow whether the deal is legal.

The hearings will be livestreamed.

with AFP

North and South Korea exchange gunfire at border

North Korea fired multiple gunshots towards the South in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula, prompting South Korean troops to fire back, Seoul’s military says.

The rare exchange of gunfire comes following the reappearance yesterday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after a near three-week absence from the public eye that triggered intense speculation about his health.

A South Korean guard post was hit by several shots from the North, the joint chiefs of staff (JCS) says in a statement, adding no casualties were reported on the South’s side.

“Our military responded with two rounds of gunfire and a warning announcement according to our manual,” Seoul says.

— AFP

Education Ministry says 80% of state schools open

The Education Ministry says that 80 percent of elementary schools in the state-run (mamlachti) system have opened this morning.

Students in first through third grades were given a “festive welcome” while following Health Ministry regulations obligating various social distancing and hygiene stipulations, the Education Ministry says in a statement.

“The ministry is continuing to monitor what is happening on the ground,” the statement adds.

The numbers do not include schools in the Arab community, which has announced that it will not reopen schools this week at all.

Elementary schools were given the green light Friday to bring back students in first through third grades, but despite the go-ahead, numerous cities and local authorities said they would delay a return to classrooms amid growing dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the matter, with unclear rules in place and unanswered questions about technical aspects of the school openings.

IDF detains 5 people trying to enter Israel from Lebanon

The Israel Defense Forces says it has detained five people who tried to cross into Israel from Lebanon overnight.

A military spokesperson says they appeared to be migrants looking for work.

“The suspects were caught as they tried to cross the security fence,” the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Coronavirus death toll rises to 230; new daily infections dive below 50

The Health Ministry announces that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 16,193, an increase of just 41 over the past 24 hours, the lowest since March.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 230, up only three since yesterday.

According to the Health Ministry, 103 people infected with COVID-19 are in serious condition, 82 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 66 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 9,634 people have recovered from the virus, while 6,363 are still sick.

High Court opens deliberations on petition to bar Netanyahu from forming gov’t

The High Court of Justice opens deliberations on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a government while under indictment.

Due to limitations on reporters being present in the courtroom, the hearings are being livestreamed.

 

The veteran premier has been charged with accepting improper gifts and illegally trading favors in exchange for favorable media coverage. He denies wrongdoing and his trial is set to start May 24. Israeli law bars an indicted person from serving as an ordinary cabinet minister, but does not compel a criminally-charged prime minister to leave office.

The complication regarding Netanyahu is that he is not currently an ordinary prime minister. He has been serving as the caretaker head of a transitional government through grinding political deadlock.

According to some interpretations of Israeli law, that makes Netanyahu merely a candidate to become prime minister.

— Raoul Wootliff

Masked and at distance, school classes get underway for first time in 2 months

Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)
Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)
Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)
Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)
Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)
Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)

Tel Aviv pride parade postponed amid coronavirus fears

Tel Aviv’s annual Pride parade, as well as Pride parades in Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba, will not take place in June as planned due to efforts to stem the coronavirus pandemic, organizers announce.

Last year, some 250,000 people took part in the Tel Aviv event with the annual parade coming as the culmination of more than 45 Pride-related events across the country. Numerous virtual events will instead be taking place this year, organizers say.

Despite the cancellations, organizers say they are “hopeful” that Pride parades can take place in the summer at a later date.

Mandelblit said set to assume role of acting state attorney

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will take on the duties of acting state attorney for the coming months amid a freeze on senior appointments and following a row with the outgoing attorney, Hebrew media reports.

Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad’s tenure expires tomorrow. On Thursday, the High Court issued a temporary injunction preventing a three-month extension of his term, which Justice Minister Amir Ohana had been expected to announce. The court issued the ruling in response to a petition by a group of lawyers who said it was “unreasonable” for the justice minister to extend the controversial Eldad’s tenure during a transitional government.

Mandelblit initially opposed Eldad’s appointment, seeing him as unsuited for the post, but ultimately acquiesced to Ohana’s decision. He has, however, since entered into an unprecedented quarrel with Eldad, reportedly convinced he and Ohana are bent on ousting him from his post, possibly at the behest of Netanyahu.

AG’s office argues no legal impediment to indicted Netanyahu forming next coalition

Speaking at the opening of the High Court hearing on whether Benjamin Netanyahu can form the next government while under indictment, Anar Helman, representing the Attorney General’s Office, says that there is no legal obstacle despite “serious crimes of personal integrity.”

“The main consideration that must be taken into account is the realization of the voters’ will. This is the democratic system,” Helman says, arguing that the law differentiates between a prime minister and a minister, who is not allowed to serve under indictment, due to the fact that the prime minister is elected by the people.

Attorney Anar Helman, head of the state prosecution department for dealings with the High Court, speaks at a High Court hearing on Benjamin Netanyahu’s eligibility to form Israel’s next government when under indictment, May 3, 2020 (Screenshot)

“The fact that a person has been indicted for serious crimes of personal integrity does not prevent the Knesset members from recommending him to assemble the government. The Attorney General’s Office believes that there is no impediment that Knesset Member Netanyahu will form the next government,” Helman adds.

— Raoul Wootliff

Iran to reopen many mosques as lockdown eases

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says mosques will reopen across large parts of the country tomorrow, after they were closed in early March amid the Middle East’s deadliest novel coronavirus outbreak.

Rouhani says 132 counties, around one third of the country’s administrative divisions, would “reopen their mosques as of tomorrow.”

“Social distancing is more important than collective prayer,” he adds, arguing that Islam considers safety obligatory, while praying in mosques is only “recommended.”

The targeted counties are “low-risk,” Rouhani says in a televised meeting of the country’s virus taskforce.

— AFP

Rivlin asks to restart visits for state-run hostel residents with disabilities

President Reuven Rivlin has asks Health Minister Yaakov Litzman consider allowing visits by family members to those with physical and mental disabilities living in hostels operated by the state or on its behalf.

“I ask you to take into account the genuine crisis that may be created among those with disabilities who are cut off from their families,” the president writes in a letter to Litzman.

“It is very possible that the severe psychological implications of this kind of isolation justifies a relaxation of the policy of limitations on visits, or at least a clearer distinction between those in risk groups and those for whom isolation is a greater danger to them,” he adds.

Russia reports more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases in new daily high

Russia reports more than 10,000 new cases of coronavirus infections, the first time the country’s daily tally reached five figures.

More than half of the 10,633 new cases reported are in Moscow, where concern is rising about whether the capital’s medical facilities will be overwhelmed.

Russia has recorded more than 134,000 coronavirus infections overall and 1,420 deaths.

— AFP

UNICEF calls for Mideast countries to reinstitute polio, measles vaccinations

The UN children’s agency urges six Middle East countries to greenlight special polio and measles vaccination campaigns put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

UNICEF says the polio campaigns are on hold in Syria, Sudan, Yemen and Iraq, while measles vaccinations are suspended in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Djibouti.

UNICEF says nearly 10.5 million children under the age of five risk missing their polio vaccinations. Nearly 4.5 million children under 15 could miss their measles vaccinations.

Routine vaccinations for other diseases like rubella and diphtheria are continuing, but special campaigns were put on hold because of overwhelmed health systems or governments wanting to avoid crowding at clinics.

— AFP

Court lets El Al pull money from pension fund to cover costs during pandemic

The Bat Yam Regional Labor Court gives the El Al Airline the go-ahead to pull NIS 105 million from its employee pension and compensation fund in order to help cover its costs and avoid collapse after its activities ground to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic.

El Al had initially asked to have NIS 354 million of its NIS 413 million fund freed up for use.

The final figure marked a compromise reached between El Al, the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut labor federation.

El Al planes at the Ben Gurion International Airport on April 12, 2020 (Flash90)

The decision comes as El Al’s employees, most of them now on unpaid leave after the airline stopped nearly all its flights beginning in March, protested that the company’s owners and management were forcing the workers to shoulder the burden of the crisis.

Health Ministry said set to recommend ending ban on visiting grandma

The Health Ministry will reportedly recommend an end to the ban on visits with second-degree relatives, including grandparents, Channel 12 news reports.

Gatherings of up to ten people will be also allowed, with social distancing restrictions of two meters and the wearing of masks.

In addition, malls and markets will reopen in two weeks, on May 17, and restaurants will be able to allow diners to eat on-site from June 15, the report says.

200 protest at PM’s house: ‘Pedophiles can’t teach, graft defendants can’t form governments’

As the High Court debates petitions against Benjamin Netanyahu forming the new government while under indictment, some 200 people from the “Black Flag” protest movement against corruption are demonstrating in front of the Prime Minister’s House in Jerusalem.

“Just as a defendant for pedophilia cannot teach in a school, so too, someone charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust cannot form a government,” organizers say in a statement.

Some 200 people from the ‘Black Flag’ protest movement against corruption demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister’s House in Jerusalem, May 3, 2020. (Courtesy)

“These are fateful days in the history of the State of Israel when it will be decided whether we will continue to exist as a democracy or move to an Erdogan regime where the prime minister is above the law and citizens of the state will be trampled at his feet. We will continue to fight for Israel’s vision of a Jewish and democratic state,” they say.

Healthy man arrested for spending night at coronavirus hotel

Police say they have arrested a Jerusalem resident who allegedly spend the night at a hotel currently being used to house coronavirus patients in good condidtion.

The force says it is investigating the incident.

Health Ministry recommends opening beaches, says government will decide by tomorrow

The Health Ministry is recommending opening the beaches for surfing and bathing and says that the government will make a decision on the matter by tomorrow.

In a Knesset committee hearing, Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto says, “In our latest recommendations is the opening [of beaches]. It depends on the rate at which the government can convene and make the decision, today or tomorrow, but this is our recommendation.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Rare whale shark spotted in Eilat

A rare whale shark was spotted this morning swimming amid the coral reefs off the southern Israeli city of Eilat.

The sighting comes a year after a specimen of the whale shark, the world’s largest fish, was last seen in the area.

Whale sharks, which can reach 15 meters (50 feet) in length, weigh up to 34 tons (68,000 pounds) and live for 80 years, are not dangerous to humans.

Whale sharks are filter feeders, skimming plankton and small fish close to the surface and traveling great distances to find food. Their presence is seen as an indicator of healthy plankton populations.

Likud lawyer to High Court: Don’t block the will of the people

Representatives speaking in favor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tell the High Court of justice that it must not “intervene in the democratic process” by overturning the will of the people.

An attorney for the Likud party insists that “the entire process” of selecting a prime minister, from the voters’ choices on election day to the MKs’ recommendations to the presidential appointment, “is a constitutional process, not an administrative one. It’s inappropriate for the court to intervene in the constitutional judgment of the people and the members of Knesset.”

Avital Sompolinsky, representing the Knesset’s legal department, says that the court should “adopt the view that it can enter this sensitive and deeply politicized arena only in the most extreme cases.”

“This decision is so political and complex, touching on the relationship between the Knesset and the government,” she says.

Palestinian workers allowed back into Israel as virus restrictions eased

The Defense Ministry reopens Israel’s economy to Palestinian workers, with some 14,500 workers entering Israel from the West Bank this morning, out of 39,000 total permits granted by Israeli authorities.

The workers are returning to jobs frozen for over a month, after the West Bank and much of Israel’s economy went into lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The jobs are mainly in construction, agriculture and industrial plants.

The move comes after Israeli and Palestinian officials reached an agreement that includes a provision that Israel will supply the workers with protective gear, including face masks and gloves.

Spain daily virus death toll drops below 200

Spain counts another 164 coronavirus deaths, the lowest daily number in nearly seven weeks as the country begins to gradually lift its strict lockdown.

The figures from the health ministry bring the total number of fatalities from the pandemic in Spain to 25,264 — the fourth-highest after the United States, Italy and Britain.

It’s the lowest daily increase since March 18 when 107 deaths were recorded but the ministry’s emergencies coordinator, Fernando Simon, says the figure has to be interpreted with “caution” as it comes on a long holiday weekend when reporting of fatalities by hospitals is usually slower.

— AFP

Pope Francis calls for international cooperation on finding vaccine

Pope Francis calls for international collaboration in the search for a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19.

Speaking from the Apostolic Palace library after delivering his blessing, Francis stressed the importance of guaranteeing “universal access to the essential technologies that allow every infected person, in every part of the world, to receive the necessary health care.”

Some cross-country research is already underway to develop a safe, effective vaccine, and scientists and doctors in various nations have been sharing experiences in using different drugs to treat patients.

The pope also invites the faithful of all religions to spiritually unite in prayer, fasting and works of charity on May 14 to “implore God to help humanity to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.”

— AP

Right-wing group protests ‘judicial dictatorship’ as court debates Netanyahu’s future

Some 100 protesters from the right-wing Im Tirtzu group are demonstrating outside the Supreme Court as justices inside debate petitions against Benjamin Netnayahu forming a government while under indictment.

The protesters are accusing the court of abusing its power by unlawfully interfering in the makeup of the executive branch, chanting slogans including “Stop stealing our democracy” and “This isn’t Iran.”

“The High Court justices are twisting the law and using it as a tool to advance their political goals,” says Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg.

“This blatant violation of the basic principles of democracy endangers the future of the State of Israel, and the time has come for the judges to end their judicial dictatorship and realize that this is a democracy, not Iran.”

Lebanon detains 5 Sudanese along the border with Israel

The Lebanese military says it detained five Sudanese citizens near the border with Israel and was questioning them.

The announcement comes hours after the Israeli military said it detained the five on suspicion they were trying to infiltrate the heavily-guarded border. Israeli media said the five were job seekers who were returned to Lebanon in coordination with the United Nations.

A spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon says they are looking into the case with the parties without elaborating.

— AP

PA security forces filmed shutting down Hebron shops for violating virus restrictions

Palestinian security forces are filmed in Hebron shutting down shops and detaining their owners for allegedly violating the Palestinian Authority’s coronavirus restrictions.

On World Press Freedom Day, Trump reiterates claim that American media ‘enemy of people’

On World Press Freedom Day, US President Donald Trump reiterates his claim that American “lamestream” media is the “enemy of people.”

Justices challenge petitioners calling to block Netanyahu from premiership

Presenting the petition filed by his Movement for Quality Government, Eliad Shraga says in a statement ahead of Sunday’s proceedings that it is “unconscionable that a man [under indictment] will go in the morning to court to sit in the dock and in the evening will manage the security cabinet and send us and our children to battle.”

Challenging Shraga, Justice Solberg says “you are ignoring the will of two million voters,” referring to the votes won by parties set to recommend Netanyahu to be prime minister.

Shraga says his arguments are based on “ethics and law,” not the number of votes a candidate may have received or the number of lawmakers he is backed by.

— Raoul Wootliff

Bennett calls out Likud for appointing High Court judges it is now complaining about

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett calls out Likud lawmakers for criticizing what they call the High Court of Justice’s progressive nature when they are the party that has led the government appointing judges for the past decade.

“I hear so many complaints from our friends in Likud about the court. So many of those who sit [on the court] have been appointed under the Likud government. On the one hand, you are complaining, ‘What kind of the High Court is this?’ On the other hand, you’re the ones that appointed [the justices],” Bennett says in a Facebook Live press conference.

Bennett: As of now, we’re not heading toward joining the government

As for whether his party plans to join the unity government, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett says he’ll have to see what the coalition’s positions are regarding annexation and justice reform, “and not just what they say about it publicly,” before he decides.

“As of now, we’re not at all heading in the direction of joining the government,” he says in a Facebook Live press conference

Chief justice: Based on what are you asking us to bar a recommended MK from forming government??

Chief Justice Esther Hayut presses the petitioners to provide a basis for their demand that a lawmaker who was recommended by the majority of his Knesset peers to form the government be prevented from doing so.

“Show us something! A law! A verdict! From this country’s [history]! From [somewhere else] in the world! Something! After all, [you’re asking us to set] a global precedent! You want us to rule without a basis simply  according to your personal opinion?” Hayut presses the anti-Netanyahu petitioners as deputy chief justice Hanan Melcer nods his head in agreement while sitting next to her.

 

 

Welfare Ministry reports 4 domestic violence-related suicides since start of pandemic

A Welfare Ministry official updates a Knesset panel that there have been four deaths by suicide of individuals involved in cases of domestic violence since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Welfare Ministry’s point man on domestic violence Hagai Moyal specifies that the four individuals were two men and two women.

The chairwoman of the Knesset’s Welfare Committee, Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, criticizes Moyal and his office for not laying out a campaign against domestic violence in the Arab sector in addition to the Jewish one.

Egypt says 18 suspected militants killed in Sinai firefight

Egypt’s interior ministry says 18 suspected militants were killed in North Sinai in a firefight with security forces, two days after a deadly blast claimed by the Islamic State group.

“National security received intelligence about terrorist elements hiding out in a home in Bir al-Abed, where they were planning to launch hostile operations,” the ministry says in a statement.

“Their hideout was targeted and a firefight ensued, which led to the death of 18 (militants).”

Security forces found 13 automatic weapons, two explosive belts and three other explosive devices in their possession, the ministry says.

— AFP

High Court wraps up day’s hearing on whether Netanyahu can form government

The High Court of Justice has concluded its hearing on whether an indicted MK, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is legally permitted to form a new government.

The court will reconvene tomorrow to hear the remaining petitions concerning the controversial aspects of the three-year coalition deal negotiated by Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

 

Bennett calls for cancellation of hotel quarantine requirement for arrivals from abroad

In his Facebook Live presser, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett calls for the cancellation of the policy requiring all arrivals from abroad to quarantine for two weeks in state-run isolation hotels, citing the massive costs — a quarter million shekels a month — and the psychological effects on arrivals.

Border Police prevent far-right activist from holding son’s circumcision at illegal outpost

Some 150 Border Police officers were dispatched to the Kumi Ori illegal outpost outside of the Yitzhar settlement to prevent one of the wildcat community’s residents from holding his son’s circumcision next to his home, which was flattened last month due to its illegal construction.

The circumcision was instead held near the entrance to Kumi Ori, attendees report. The father of the newborn baby is Neri Zarog, who Israeli security officials have identified as an “extremist” who has sought to violently target security forces and neighboring Palestinians.

Iran warns of nuclear deal ‘death’ if arms embargo extended

A top Iranian official warns that a nuclear deal the US withdrew unilaterally from would “die forever” if an  arms embargo on Tehran is extended.

The United States is campaigning to extend the ban on selling conventional weapons to Iran, which is set to be progressively lifted as of October.

The ban’s lifting is part of a 2015 United Nations Security Council resolution that blessed the nuclear accord reached between Iran and world powers.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council,  tweets that the nuclear deal “will die forever” by “circumventing 2231 Resolution & continuing Iran’s illegal weapons sanction.”

He also questions what would Iran’s EU partners to the deal do in such a case.

“What will #EU do: Save dignity & support multilateralism or accept humiliation & help unilateralism?” Shamkhani says.

— AFP

Pompeo says ‘enormous evidence’ virus came from Wuhan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that there is “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

“There is enormous evidence that this is where it began,” he says on ABC’s “This Week.”

But while highly critical of China’s handling of the matter, Pompeo declines to say whether he thought the virus had been intentionally released.

— AFP

Shots fired from North Korea believed to be ‘accidental,’ Pompeo claims

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says shots fired earlier today from North Korea towards the South in the DMZ that divides the peninsula are believed to have been “accidental.”

“Handful of shots came across from the north; we think those were accidental,” he says on ABC’s “This Week.”

“South Koreans did return fire. There was no loss of life on either side,” he adds.

The border incident comes a day after North Korean state media said Kim Jong Un had made his first public appearance after a nearly three-week unexplained absence from public view.

Pompeo declines to comment on what the US knew about the North Korean leader’s absence, or whether it was linked to a rumored health issue.

“We have seen the same images from yesterday that the world saw. It looks like Chairman Kim is alive and well,” he says.

“Our mission remains the same, to convince the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons and create a brighter future for the North Korean people.”

— AFP

Biden wins Kansas primary conducted with all-mail balloting

Joe Biden has overwhelmingly won a Democratic presidential primary in Kansas that the state party conducted exclusively by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The former vice president had been expected to prevail in Saturday’s vote and capture a majority of the state’s delegates to the Democrats’ national nominating commission. Biden took 77% of the vote.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was still in the race when the Kansas party began mailing ballots at the end of March, but he suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden.

Biden won 29 delegates and Sanders got 10, inching Biden closer to the number of delegates he needs to clinch the Democratic nomination. He has a total of 1,435 delegates and needs 1,991 to win the nomination on the first ballot at the party’s national convention this summer, a threshold Biden is likely to reach in June after many states postponed their primaries. Sanders has 984 delegates, according to the count by the Associated Press released Sunday.

— AP

Probe launched into claims Afghan migrants forced into river by Iran guards

The Afghan government says it has launched an investigation into claims that migrants attempting to enter Iran drowned after being forced into a river by Iranian border guards.

Dozens of Afghans had crossed into Iran illegally from western Herat province when the incident happened on Friday, local media says.

The Afghan Human Rights Commission says it had spoken with survivors who accused Iranian forces of beating and torturing them.

“They were made to cross the Harirud river, as a result a number of them drowned and some survived,” it says in a statement.

The government said Saturday that the foreign ministry was investigating the incident.

A government official who did not want to be named said seven migrants had died and 30 were still missing, according to survivors who returned to Herat.

The Iranian consulate in Herat dismissed the reports and said no Afghan nationals had been arrested in the area.

There are between 1.5 to 3 million Afghan refugees living and working in Iran, most of them as wage labourers on construction projects.

Tens of thousands returned to Afghanistan after the coronavirus outbreak, but as restrictions ease in badly-hit Iran, many are again seeking work there.

— AFP

Head of IDF’s Manpower Directorate orders nixing of military dancers

IDF Manpower Directorate head Moti Almoz has ordered the nixing of military dancers after apparently learning about them for the first time when a video of them performing behind celebrity singer and new recruit Noa Kirel went viral last week, Army Radio reports.

British govt reports 315 more coronavirus deaths

Britain’s death toll in the coronavirus outbreak rose to 28,446, after the government reported 315 more fatalities in hospitals, care homes and the wider community.

The figure is just below Europe’s worst-hit country, Italy. A total of 186,599 people have tested positive, up 4,339 on Saturday’s figures. But ministers say the country is past the peak.

— AFP

Bennett announces, once again, approval for handicapped entrance to Tomb of Patriarchs

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett says he has ordered his office to begin construction of a handicapped-accessible entrance to Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the latest announcement declaring that the final approval of the project.

Michigan’s governor decries racism at protests

Michigan’s governor says gun-carrying protesters who demonstrated inside her state’s capitol “depicted some of the worst racism” and “awful parts” of US history.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer tells CNN that the protests featured “Confederate flags, and nooses,” as well as swastikas.

Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia protested the state’s stay-at-home orders this week, some with weapons and tactical gear and their faces partially covered. They went inside the capitol, where being armed is allowed, then demanded access to the House floor, which is prohibited.

Some went to the Senate gallery, where a senator said armed men shouted at her.

Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature has questioned Whitmer’s authority to extend stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the governor used an executive order to extend a state of emergency declaration and has directed most businesses statewide to remain closed.

Mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Whitmer says, “This isn’t something we just negotiate ourselves out of and it’s a political matter.”

“This is a public health crisis,” she says.

— AP

Islamic State prisoners riot again in northeast Syria

Militants from the Islamic State group rioted in a northeast Syrian prison on Sunday, a month after similar violence at the facility allowed four extremists to escape, an opposition war monitor and a Kurdish activist collective says.

Kurdish forces sent reinforcements to the prison in the eastern Hassakeh province and US military helicopters flew overhead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, and North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas.

Kurdish authorities currently operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

Further details were not immediately available on the size of the riot, and it was not clear if the unrest was triggered by concerns about the coronavirus’s potential spread in the prison.

— AP

Birx: Protesters not socially distancing is ‘devastatingly worrisome’

White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx is calling it “devastatingly worrisome” to see protesters in Michigan and elsewhere not wear masks or practice social distancing as they demonstrate against stay-at-home orders.

Birx was responding to the hundreds of protesters who crowded the Michigan statehouse last week to push for a reopening of businesses.

She tells “Fox News Sunday” that people “will feel guilty for the rest of our lives” if they pick up the virus because they did not take precautions and then unwittingly spread it to family members who are especially vulnerable to severe illness due to preexisting conditions or older age.

Protests took place in several states over the weekend amid growing frustration over the economic impact from stay at home orders during the coronavirus outbreak.

Birx says: “We need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”

— AP

79-year-old resident of nursing home succumbs to COVID-19

The Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot announces that a 79-year-old patient has succumbed to COVID-19.

The woman, who had several pre-existing conditions, had been hooked up to a ventilator after arriving at the hospital from a nursing home in Nes Ziona.

Health Ministry recommending that Israelis be allowed to visit grandparents starting tomorrow

The Health Ministry has passed along its latest “exit strategy” recommendations to the National Security Council, with ministers slated to vote on them later this evening, Channel 13 reports.

The recommendations include a removal on the ban against Israelis visiting their grandparents starting tomorrow, so long as two meters is kept between individuals.

In addition, it recommends that gatherings of up to 19 people be allowed outside — so long as the gatherers adhere to a two-meter distance between one another, starting tomorrow.

The ministry also recommends allowing weddings to have up to 50 guests starting May 17.

Ohana rejects Mandelblit proposition that he function as state prosecutor

Justice Minister Amir Ohana rejects Avichai Mandelblit declaration that he function as state prosecutor in addition to attorney general, in a letter to Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz.

Ohana says Justice Ministry director Sigal Jacoby should fill the role in the interim after Dan Eldad’s temporary tenure in the post expired last week.

Parents return just a quarter of students to school despite partial reopening — report

Just a quarter of students that the government authorized to return to school this morning did so, according to Channel 13, which suggests that parents do not yet trust the Education Ministry, which opened grades one through three, along with 11 and 12, to return today.

Education Minister: We’ll decide on further reopening of schools in two weeks

Education Minister Rafi Peretz tells Channel 13 that his office will make decisions on further reopening of schools in two weeks, after the results of this week’s policies have been analyzed.

95% of municipalities will reopen schools by Tuesday, education minister says

Education Minister Rafi Peretz tells Channel 13 that by Tuesday, 95 percent of municipalities will have reopened their schools in some degree, The government approved the reopening of grades one through three, 11 and 12 starting this morning.

Peretz says that by July 1, the entire education system will be reopened.

44% of active virus cases in Israel are children — report

Forty-four percent of the active COVID-19 cases in Israel are children, reports Channel 13, citing Health Ministry officials who express concern regarding the reopening of schools today and hope the impact will not be too extreme.

Government said weighing shuttering of isolation hotels due to high costs

The cabinet is weighing shuttering the quarantine hotels for arrivals from abroad due to their heavy costs, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The network says the government is exploring the use of an application to monitor those returning from abroad, but the option raises legal concerns.

Finance Ministry pushing immediate mall opening, while Health Ministry prefers May 17

The Finance Ministry and other government offices are pushing for the immediate reopening of malls, which have been severely hit by the pandemic, while the Health Ministry prefers waiting until May 17, Channel 13 reports.

Police probe whether 61-year-old found dead in her Bat Yam apartment had been murdered

Police have opened an investigation into the death of a 61-year-old woman who was found dead in her Bat Yam apartment. They are probing whether she was murdered.

Husband arrested after woman found dead in her apartment

The husband of the woman who was found dead in her Bat Yam apartment has been arrested by police.

Police arrived at the scene after they received a call from the alleged suspect who told them, “I murdered my wife.”

Iran denies US claim it is helping Venezuela oil sector

Iran has rejected US claims that it is helping Venezuela to rebuild its oil industry, saying the accusations are designed to increase pressure and disrupt the two countries’ trade ties.

Elliott Abrams, the envoy leading US efforts to topple Venezuela’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, has alleged that the cash-strapped country is paying Iran in gold to restore the troubled sector.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, both major crude producers.

Iran’s foreign ministry in a statement calls Abrams’ claims “baseless,” without directly addressing accusations that the Islamic republic is being paid in gold.

It accuses Washington of trying to increase “pressure on Venezuela’s government and disrupt trade between Iran and Venezuela.”

It says US policies against Venezuela including “economic sanctions, military threats and a recent transition council” had failed.

Washington was now “trying to create obstacles in Venezuela’s plan to rebuild its refineries and produce oil products such as petrol, which is in short supply due to cruel US sanctions.”

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, but analysts say that the sector operates below capacity.

The country’s economy has been collapsing, with millions fleeing as they lack basic goods.

Iran has also taken a hit from US sanctions after Trump pulled out of a nuclear accord and reimposed them in 2018.

Maduro has withstood more than a year of US-led efforts to remove him and retains the support of the military.

Iran has repeatedly expressed support for Maduro against opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by some 60 nations as interim president due, to reports of irregularities in Maduro’s 2018 re-election.

— AFP

Italy reports lowest toll since first day of lockdown

Italy has reported 174 new coronavirus deaths today, its lowest toll since 168 fatalities were registered when the country’s stay-at-home orders were imposed on March 10.

The Mediterranean country’s toll on the eve of its first easing of lockdown measures on Monday officially stands at 28,884 dead, second only to the United States.

The 1,389 new infections were also the lowest since the first week of March.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte introduced waves of restrictions as the pandemic swept across the northern half of the country, the first to be heavily hit in Europe.

He imposed stay at home order for Milan’s Lombardy and two neighboring regions responsible for 45 percent of Italy’s economic output on March 8.

The measure was extended nationally on March 10.

Conte closed all shops except for pharmacies and grocery stores on March 12, and all non-essential factories 10 days later.

The easing on Monday will see Italians be able to visit parks and their nearby relatives for the first time in nine weeks.

But most businesses will remain closed for another two weeks. Bars and restaurants are due to start seating customers on June 1.

— AFP

Vienna airport to swab arrivals and return results within 3 hours

Austria’s airport in Vienna will begin testing all arrivals and provide the results within three hours starting tomorrow, in a program that will prevent broad 14-day quarantine requirements for every passenger, NBC reports.

Man suspected to have murdered wife served year behind bars in 2014 for beating her

The man suspected to have murdered his wife in Bat Yam earlier this year served a year in prison in 2014 for having assaulted her then, Hebrew media reports, apparently relying on a leak from a law enforcement official, who was not identified.

The man called police three times tonight, saying he had stabbed his wife to death, but was severely intoxicated and gave the wrong address causing a delay in the police’s arrival at the scene, the reports say.

Woman reportedly contracts virus month after healing from it

A 45-year-old woman from Jisr az-Zarqa has been hospitalized in Hadera with a fever and chest pains three weeks after she was discharged, Channel 12 reports.

Her six-day hospital stay last month was bookended by a positive and negative tests respectively.

Israel said to join tourism initiative for states managing to keep virus at bay

Israel has joined an Austrian government initiative for countries who have largely managed to keep the coronavirus at bay that would see participating states open their borders to one another in order to revive struggling tourism industries, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Joining Israel in the initiative are Denmark, Greece, the Czech Republic, Australia, and New Zealand.

Just 23 new virus cases in last day, as confirmed case tally climbs to 16,208

The Health Ministry announces that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 16,208, an increase of 23 over the past 24 hours.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 232, up one since this morning and three since last night.

According to the Health Ministry, 94 people infected with COVID-19 were in serious condition, 76 of whom were on ventilators.

Another 69 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 9,749 people have recovered from the virus, while 6,227 are still sick.

5,815 tests were conducted today, similar to yesterday’s total, but nearly half the number from two days ago.

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Justices challenge petitioners calling to block Netanyahu from premiership

Presenting the petition filed by his Movement for Quality Government, Eliad Shraga says in a statement ahead of Sunday’s proceedings that it is “unconscionable that a man [under indictment] will go in the morning to court to sit in the dock and in the evening will manage the security cabinet and send us and our children to battle.”

Challenging Shraga, Justice Solberg says “you are ignoring the will of two million voters,” referring to the votes won by parties set to recommend Netanyahu to be prime minister.

Shraga says his arguments are based on “ethics and law,” not the number of votes a candidate may have received or the number of lawmakers he is backed by.

— Raoul Wootliff