Lebanon reopens airport after three months
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Neighborhoods in virus hotspots Ashdod, Lod to be placed on lockdown

Ministers approve measure as daily infection rate nears 1,000; coronavirus cabinet to meet Thursday to discuss further restrictions

Firefighters wearing protective clothes disinfect Assuta hospital in Ashdod, on March 22, 2020 (Flash90)
Firefighters wearing protective clothes disinfect Assuta hospital in Ashdod, on March 22, 2020 (Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events, including possible moves on West Bank annexation plans, as they happened.

Ashkenazi: No annexation moves expected today

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi tells Army Radio that he does not believe there will be any moves on annexation today.

“I don’t know if there will be an announcement on extending sovereignty, you need to ask the prime minister about that. It seems unreasonable that it will happen today,” he tells Army Radio.

The station reports that Ashkenazi told US officials on Tuesday that Israel needs to wait for more international buy-in before going ahead with the move.

“This is a long process that needs to be done via a dialogue, without harming stability, and we are in the midst of that … The prime minister understands that this needs to be an ordered process and we won’t go through with it without a situational update from defense officials,” the former IDF chief says.

Hamas said to shoot rockets at sea, but reports questionable

Hebrew-language media are reporting that Hamas terrorists fired some 20 rockets from Gaza into the sea overnight, seemingly as a protest against annexation plans.

The Israeli reports cite unspecified “Palestinian reports,” though in Palestinian media, all reports are attributed to Israeli reports.

The Israelis are seemingly working off of a few tweets out of Gaza that mentioned rockets fired overnight. One journalist tweeted at 1:45 a.m. that Hamas fired eight rockets into the sea as part of a test.

Video posted on social media purports to show the rockets being fired, though an Israeli journalist who tweeted the footage later admits it is from 2018 and apologizes.

The Israeli army says it does not know of Hamas shooting any rockets into the sea or anywhere else overnight, Walla reporter Amir Bohbot tweets.

As virus spreads, South Korea may crack down on houses of worship

South Korea is considering including religious facilities on the same list with nightclubs, hostess bars and karaoke rooms as “high risk” venues for the spread of COVID-19 following a slew of transmissions tied to church gatherings.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun says during a virus meeting on Wednesday that more than 40% of the country’s newly confirmed infections over the previous three days have been traced back to places of worship.

“If religious facilities continue to be an environment for infections by failing to implement anti-virus measures, it will be inevitable for the government to designate (them) as high-risk facilities and enforce strong restrictions,” Chung says.

A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus passes by lantern decorations for Buddha’s birthday at the Chogyesa temple in Seoul, Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP/Ahn Young-joon)

High-risk facilities are advised to close or otherwise must enforce anti-virus measures, including distancing, temperature checks, keeping customer lists and requiring employees and visitors to wear masks. They are also required to register visitors with smartphone QR codes so they could be easily located when needed.

Israel, which has looked to South Korea as a model, has allowed houses of worship to reopen under social distancing guidelines. A study of infection zones in March had found synagogues to be the largest culprit of helping the disease spread.

— with AP

Ministers squabble over probes of dirty dealings

Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) is lashing out at fellow cabinet member Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White) after he says he could support the opening of a new probe into the so-called submarine affair, in which associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are accused in a massive bribery scheme involving contracts awarded to German shipbuilder Thyssenkrup.

“It seems Ashkenazi is speaking from the opposition benches,” she tells Army Radio, jabbing him over his role in the Harpaz affair, which involved aides to then-IDF chief Ashkenazi engaged in a smear campaign surrounding a succession tussle.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have urged that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s role in the case be reexamined.

Making fun of the cabinet’s internecine fighting, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg tweets “Wednesday for the paritetic government.”

El Al cancels all three passenger flights amid labor rhubarb

El Al flights from Tel Aviv to Paris and New York have been canceled amid stormy labor talks between the struggling carrier and pilots’ union. A flight from Paris to Tel Aviv has also been called off.

They are the only flights operated by El Al on Wednesday.

The Ynet news site reports that pilots refused to fly the routes after labor negotiations blew up Tuesday night.

The routes are among the few passenger flights still operated by the airline, which has slashed most of its workforce and shut down almost all activity in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

El Al flights to Cyprus, London and Zurich scheduled for Thursday remain on the schedule, according to Ben-Gurion airport.

El Al shutting down all flights — report

The Globes business daily reports that El Al has also shut down its cargo flights and its CEO has ordered all ongoing cargo operations to be suspended and for all planes to return to Israel, even those in the middle of a multi-stop route.

The empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 12, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The move comes as the airline struggles to stay afloat amid compounding losses. According to the report, cargo flights have seen diminishing returns, with other airlines now able to carry more cargo on passenger flights.

The daily describes it as a step toward a total shutdown of operations. The airlines three passenger flights Wednesday have also been canceled, though flights for Thursday remain on the schedule.

A quarterly report for January-March issued late Wednesday showed $140 million in losses for the company in the first quarter of 2020, versus $55 million in losses for the same period last year. Revenue was down to $320 million for the quarter, a drop from $428 million last year.

“The company cannot continue to bleed and has come to the conclusion that it’s better to stop flights than to lose money on flights it operates,” a Histadrut labor union official tells Globes.

Hamas calls for day of rage over annexation

Hamas is calling for a “day of rage” today in Gaza and the West Bank in response to the anticipated announcement of an Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The Gazan branches of Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine will also take part in the event, saying they hope for “numerous and widespread participation” across Gaza and the West Bank.

According to statements by the Gaza-led terror group, protesters will gather in Gaza City and march westward towards the Mediterranean, perhaps to avoid contact with Israeli forces at Gaza’s border fence to the east.

“The resistance will topple our enemy’s ploy to divide our homeland,” Hamas spokesperson Hazim Qasim says in a statement.

— Aaron Boxerman

Italians seize 14 tons of Islamic State pep pills in world-record bust

Italian police say they have seized a world record 14-ton haul of amphetamines made by the Islamic State group in Syria.

The drug, in the form of 84 million tablets, was worth about a billion euros, police say in a statement, describing the operation as “the biggest seizure of amphetamines in the world.”


859 coronavirus cases tallied in last 24 hours — ministry

The Health Ministry says there are now 25,547 confirmed coronavirus cases, a jump of 859 new cases since Tuesday morning.

The 24-hour tally would appear to be the largest since the start of the outbreak.

In another worrying sign, the ministry says the percentage of cases testing positive so far on Wednesday is over 5 percent.

The death toll remains at 320. The number of serious cases is up to 56, though the number of patients on ventilators remains at 24.

The ministry also confirms that there were 773 cases recorded on Tuesday, from just over 20,000 tests.

Jerusalem, Ashdod record over 200 new cases alone as citywide lockdowns loom

Health Ministry data for individual cities shows a jump of nearly 120 cases in Jerusalem alone over the last day.

Ashdod, another hotspot, sees 94 cases since Tuesday morning, up to 764 from 670.

Israelis with and without face masks on the beach in Ashdod, on June 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bnei Brak records just over 50 cases, while Tel Aviv jumps by 46 cases.

Channel 12 news reports that several cities are preparing for the possibility that they will be locked down in the near future and local officials are trying to take steps to bring the virus under control before that point, including informational campaigns.

The mayor of Dimona, which is on the list according to the channel, says that he went as far as canceling his daughter’s wedding in a bid to set a personal example for residents.

“I hope there won’t be a closure, but if the trend continues maybe there won’t be a choice,” Benny Biton tells the channel.

IDF shaves two months off compulsory service for men

The Israel Defense Forces announces that effective today, compulsory military service for males will be shortened from 32 months to 30 months.

The change is part of a law passed in 2016 that further cut mandatory service time for men, which was slashed to 32 months in 2015 after years in which male recruits served for 36 months. Women are required to serve 24 months unless they volunteer for a unit that requires additional service time.

The IDF, which is reported to oppose further shortening the time male conscripts serve, warns incoming recruits that any future change to the law will still affect them.

“We would like to bring to your attention that the possibility exists that after your enlistment the law will be revised, so if the duration of mandatory service changes, the new law will apply to you,” a letter to new recruits says.

— Alex Fulbright

Lebanon reopens airport after three months

Lebanon’s only international airport has reopened following a more than three-month shutdown as part of the country’s lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The airport will operate at 10% capacity at first, bringing in around 2,000 travelers a day.

The first flight to arrive was Emirates from Dubai. Others scheduled Wednesday are from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, London and Paris.

Lebanon has been hit by an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and the government is hoping that the reopening of the airport will help bring in hard currency to prop up the economy.

Travelers from countries that do not provide PCR tests ahead of boarding will be tested upon arrival in Lebanon at the airline’s expense. Passengers must pay for a second test 72 hours later and will be required to quarantine if they test positive.

— AP

Treasury looking to cut billions from civil servant salaries

The Finance Ministry is considering cutting billions of shekels from salaries and benefits in the public sector as it looks to carry out belt-tightening measures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Army Radio reports.

The plan would cut NIS 45 billion from the state budget over three years, including lowering salaries for civil servants by some NIS 7 billion. Workers would no longer receive bonuses, R&R stipends, clothing allowances or some other types of per diems and state-funded benefits.

As expected the report garners a backlash from public sector earners. “We’re totally against it,” an official with a teachers’ union tells the station.

Minister says disagreements delaying annexation moves

Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, confirms that no major annexation announcement will occur today.

Akunis tells Army Radio that annexation moves will happen sometime this month, but not before the US gives its backing to the move.

He says he thinks the move could have been carried out today, but disagreements are standing in the way.

“[The need for] coordination with the Americans is not something that can be discounted,” he says.

Hebron sees 200 new virus infections in hours, area ordered locked down

The Palestinian government announces on Wednesday morning that nearly 200 new coronavirus infections have been found in Hebron governorate.

A total of 280 new cases have been confirmed in the West Bank as a whole so far on Wednesday, according to Palestinian Health Ministry data.

A deserted street in the West Bank city of Hebron on the last day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 23, 2020 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Local governor Jabarin al-Bakri has issued an order to lock down the Hebron governorate for five days starting this evening. Three Palestinians have died in Hebron over the past two days from the novel coronavirus.

Bakri has ordered non-essential businesses to close. Hebron residents will be allowed to leave their homes only for the purpose of visiting groceries, pharmacies, or bakeries.

The lockdown will be enforced by security forces, Bakri says.

Israel’s Health Ministry says 162 cases were found nationwide since midnight, as cases there spike as well.

— Aaron Boxerman

Egypt opens airports, pyramids in bid to restart tourism

Egypt has reopened its airports, the Egyptian museum and the famed Giza Pyramids in Cairo, for the first time in more than three months since the coronavirus closure.

The national carrier, EgyptAir, said around 2,000 passengers left Cairo’s international airport on 14 international flights on Wednesday.

Two incoming flights carrying over 350 Ukrainian tourists landed in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada and the major resort and beach destination of Sharm el Sheikh in the southern part of Sinai Peninsula.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said around two dozen museums and tourist sites also received visitors with preventive measures in place against the coronavirus.

They include the Egyptian Museum, the Giza Pyramids and the Citadel of Saladin in Cairo, along with the ancient temple of Karnak and the famous Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut in the southern city of Luxor.

The government wants to revive the tourism sector, which had showed signs of recovery before the pandemic after years of instability.

— AP

European envoys warn Israel on annexation

Four European envoys are warning Israel against annexation moves, saying doing so will make defending the Jewish state from threats more difficult, the Walla news site reports.

Senior diplomats from France, Germany, Italy and Spain are quoted saying that “any decision on annexation is liable to have a negative influence on Israel’s standing in the international community.”

Friendly Canberra concerned over possible annexation moves

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne is going relatively easy on Israel, releasing a statement expressing only “concern” over annexation.

She urges “all parties to refrain from actions that diminish prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.”

Ashkelon orders bomb shelters open over rocket fears

The city of Ashkelon says it is opening bomb shelters across the city out of fear of possible rocket attacks in response to Israeli annexation moves.

The public shelters are expected to open later Wednesday after a readiness assessment by security officials, the city says in a statement.

“The move is backed by intelligence estimates and statements by Gazan terror leaders about their intention to respond harshly to an announcement from Israel on extending sovereignty to Judea and Samaria,” the city says in a statement.

An apartment building in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on May 5, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

It also orders local officials to ready emergency procedures and stock up on emergency supplies that could be needed in case of a large-scale conflict.

The Ashkelon region is just a few kilometers north of Gaza and is normally pummeled by rockets during rounds of violence, though the area has remained mostly calm since a flare-up in November.

UK says Hong Kong security law breaks Sino-British deal

Britain’s foreign secretary has told reporters that China’s new national security law for Hong Kong “is a clear and serious violation” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the agreement that paved the way for the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule 23 years ago.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says officials have carefully assessed the contents of the new law since it was published late Tuesday. He says he planned to set out details of what action the UK will take along with its international partners in reaction to the law.

— AP

As new surrogacy bill fails, minister vows to fix discriminatory law by end 2020

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn says he will work to pass a new surrogacy law that will not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation.

In February, the High Court struck down the existing law, which blocked single men and homosexual couples from being able to have children via a surrogate.

“In order to end this discrimination, an amendment to the surrogacy law must be advanced in a professional and responsible way and not via a private member bill,” he writes on Twitter.

He says he will bring forward a proposal with the agreement of the government by the end of 2020.

The announcement comes moments before a bill by Yesh Atid’s Idan Roll with the same goal fails despite three members of the coalition — Itzik Shmuli, Amir Ohana and Eitan Ginsburg — crossing the aisle to support the opposition measure.

All three are openly gay.

Attempts in recent years to expand access to surrogacy to the LGBT community have faced vehement opposition from Haredi political parties, who form part of the ruling coalition.

The court ruling in February had set a deadline of March 1, 2021, for the Knesset to change the law, noting that the court would only step in and strike down the surrogacy limitations if the Knesset fails to do so.


Iran says it will stay in Syria to ‘fight terrorism’

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says there is “no military solution” for Syria during a video conference with his Russian and Turkish counterparts about the war-torn country.

“The Islamic Republic believes the only solution to the Syrian crisis is political and not a military solution,” Rouhani says in a televised opening address.

“We continue to support the inter-Syrian dialogue and underline our determination to fight the terrorism of Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other related groups.”

“I emphasize that the fight against terrorism will continue until it is completely eradicated in Syria and the region in general,” he adds.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan are also expected to make public comments before discussing Syria in private.


Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank rally against annexation

Thousands of Palestinians are protesting in Gaza and the West Bank against Israel’s West Bank annexation plans

Several thousand brandished Palestinian flags and placards condemning Trump at a rally in Gaza City. Signs held by protesters call the plan a “declaration of war” on the Palestinian people.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (4th L) takes part in a rally as Palestinians call for a “Day of Rage” to protest Israel’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Gaza City on July 1, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Demonstrations are also building in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho.

“The resistance must be revived,” Gaza protester Rafeeq Inaiah tells AFP. “Israel is afraid of force.”

— Agencies


Ombudsman says ‘improper’ to omit that Mandelblit case was shut due to lack of guilt

The state prosecution ombudsman says there are no grounds to reexamine Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s role in the so-called Harpaz Affair, for which he was already cleared of any suspicion by Israel’s top court, and that failure by police and prosecutors to state that the case was shut due to an absence of guilt is an example of “improper conduct.”

Justice David Rozen, who holds the position of ombudsman of the state representatives in the courts, says in a legal opinion that despite Mandelblit’s request to then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan to officially mark the reason for the closing of the probe into the affair a decade ago, there was a lack of transparency.

“This is not a technical matter. An open police case for serious offenses is, for many, a blemish,” writes Rozen. “It may provoke questions and thoughts that may damage his good name, as well as public trust.”

Rozen was responding to a complaint claiming Mandelblit’s case had been mishandled, and examining whether any information was hidden from officials who decided to close probe into the attorney general.

As Mandelblit moved to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past months, the premier’s followers and supporters have attempted to discredit the attorney general by raising his role in the Harpaz Affair.

Court convicts Israeli for saying it’s OK to kill cop during settlement razing

The Lod District Court convicts an Israeli from the flashpoint northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar for inciting violence after he wrote in a social media post that there is no religious law against killing a police officer during the demolition of a Jewish home.

In its ruling, the court accepts an appeal from state prosecutors and overturns a 2019 decision that found Nahum Shalom Ariel not guilty on charges of inciting violence and insulting a public servant.

After security forces razed a number of illegal structures in Yitzhar in 2014, a resident of the town wrote in an online community forum that she supported throwing rocks at police officers carrying out such demolitions even if it would lead to their deaths.

“There is no halachic problem in killing a soldier during an overnight demolition,” Ariel responded, saying he did not see any reason why under religious law such an officer would not be considered a thief whom one is allowed to kill in self-defense.

— Jacob Magid

Putin slams new US sanctions aimed at ‘suffocating’ Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounces the United States for imposing new sanctions on Syria’s regime during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Despite the call from the UN secretary general for easing the pressure of sanctions under pandemic conditions, Washington like Brussels decided to prolong measures against Syria,” Putin says during a televised meeting with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts on Syria.

“In addition, new sanctions presumably aimed at economically suffocating Syria have been adopted,” he says.


Finance Minister Katz: If we don’t pass a one-year budget, we’ll go to elections

Despite the coalition agreement stating that the government will pass a two-year budget for 2020-2021, Finance Minister Israel Katz of Likud warns Blue and White that the coalition could break apart and new elections be held if the party refuses to agree to a one-year budget.

“The Treasury is working on a one-year budget. I spoke with opposition chairman Yair Lapid, and he believes the best budget is a one-year budget. If [Justice Minister Avi] Nissenkorn doesn’t change the one-year budget law until August 28, we’ll go to elections.”

Likud and Blue and White included in their coalition agreement a commitment “to pass, in an orderly manner, a biennial state budget for 2020 and 2021.” But citing the rise in coronavirus cases and the uncertainty surrounding the economy, lawmakers from Netanyahu’s bloc within the government have been touting a one-year budget for the rest of this calendar year.

This, Katz claims, would allow short-term measures to be put in place without limiting future options.


German parliament to warn against annexation, but won’t threaten sanctions

The German parliament is expected to pass a resolution in a few hours calling on the government in Berlin to use its close relationship with Israel to dissuade Jerusalem from implementing its planned unilateral annexation of the parts of the West Bank.

But the non-binding motion, which will likely pass with the votes of the two major centrist parties that make up the governing coalition, rejects calls for possible sanctions against the Jewish State as unproductive.

The resolution urges Berlin to use its “special relations and contacts [to Jerusalem] to express to the Israeli government our concerns and our urgent demand to refrain from an annexation of parts of the West Bank and from the continued expansion of settlements, both of which contradict international law.”

It reiterates the German position to support a negotiated two-state solution leading to a “Jewish and democratic State of Israel in recognized and permanently secure borders and an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.”

Unilateral annexation of parts of the West could “jeopardize Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” the resolution warns.

— Raphael Ahren

France pulls out of NATO Med operation over Turkey tensions

France is pulling out of a NATO Mediterranean maritime security operation until it gets a response to its concerns over the behavior of fellow member Turkey, according to a French defense official.

“We have decided to temporarily withdraw our assets from the operation Sea Guardian” until France’s concerns are addressed, the official, who asked not to be named, tells reporters.

The decision follows an escalation in tensions with Turkey over the Libya conflict.


Auschwitz museum reopens to visitors after lockdown

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum reopens to the public after nearly four months under a coronavirus lockdown that forced it to appeal for funding as revenues from visitors dried up.

The museum on the site of Nazi Germany’s most notorious concentration camp normally draws more than two million visitors from across the globe each year. This year’s closure was unprecedented.

“We’ve reopened with several health precautions for visitors, namely smaller tour groups, social distancing, masks required indoors and the use of hand sanitizer,” museum spokesman Bartosz Bartyzel says.

Virtual memorial plaques are projected on the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau for Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 20, 2020. (Marcin Kozlowski/March of the Living)

He says that around 1,000 visitors, including Poles and people from abroad, had booked tours via the museum’s website for today.

“Future bookings depend very much on how the pandemic evolves, the situation is still uncertain,” Bartyzel adds.

Poland reopened its borders with most European Union partners on June 13th after it introduced anti-virus lockdown measures relatively early in March.



PM’s office: Netanyahu to continue annexation talks ‘in the coming days’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues discussing a possible annexation of parts of the West Bank with the US administration, the PMO says in a statement.

At the same time, Netanyahu convened today top Israeli security brass, including National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, to discuss the issue, the statement says.

“In the coming days there will be additional discussions,” it adds.

France confirms restitution of Pissarro looted from Jews in WWII

France’s top appeals court rejects a bid by an American couple to win back a painting by Impressionist master Camille Pissarro looted from a Jewish collector during World War II.

Art collectors Bruce and Robbi Toll insist they had no idea the painting — “La Cueillette” (“Picking Peas”) — had been looted when they bought it at Christie’s in New York in 1995 for $800,000.

But the Court of Cassation rejects their appeal and uphold an earlier ruling that the painting should be returned to the family of the Jewish collector.

‘Picking Peas,’ c.1887 – Camille Pissarro (Public Domain)

The decision ends a three-year legal saga over the fate of the painting.

The Tolls had launched the appeal after previous court rulings found that the painting belonged by rights to the descendants of Jewish businessman Simon Bauer.

Bauer himself narrowly escaped death when a train drivers’ strike stopped him from being sent to a concentration camp.

He recovered a few of his paintings after the war, but never “La Cueillette”, which Pissarro had painted in 1887. He died in 1947, two years after the end of World War II.


Netanyahu backs ally Miki Zohar for chair of Likud’s global branch

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports the candidacy of coalition chairman Miki Zohar for the chairmanship of World Likud, the party’s global wing.

The election for a new chair will be held on July 12.

In a missive to Likud members, Netanyahu says Zohar’s election would “greatly strengthen the Likud movement in Zionist institutes.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zohar thanks the prime minister, tweeting he wished to lead World Likud in addition to his work in the coalition, and to “work from there as well for the people of Israel and the Likud movement in Israel and the Diaspora.”

The outgoing World Likud chair is Yaakov Hagoel, who has served in the post since 2015.

Swastikas drawn on home and bench in Jewish neighborhood of Baltimore

Swastikas were found drawn on a public bench and on the side door of a home in a Jewish neighborhood of Baltimore.

The symbol on the home, in the northwest section of the city, was drawn with a black marker and discovered on June 24, the local CBS affiliate WJZ reports, citing the police report.

Area residents found the swastika spray-painted on the bench.

A white piece of paper colored with a heart with the words “Love Not Hate” was taped over the swastika on the bench, according to the report.


Harvey Weinstein reaches tentative $19m deal with accusers

Harvey Weinstein and his former studio’s board have reached a nearly $19 million settlement with dozens of his sexual misconduct accusers, New York state’s attorney general and lawyers in a class-action lawsuit announce.

The deal, if approved by judges in federal courts, will permit accusers to claim from $7,500 to $750,000 from the $18.8 million settlement.

Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan court as jury deliberations continue in his rape trial in New York, February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The former Hollywood producer was convicted earlier this year of rape and sexual assault against two women. Accusations by dozens of women in 2017 destroyed his career and gave rise to #MeToo, the global movement to hold powerful men accountable for their sexual misconduct.

“This settlement is the culmination of several years of hard work by survivors who not only initiated the #MeToo movement around Weinstein, but also used their platforms to seek justice for all of those who were afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation in Hollywood,” attorney Elizabeth A. Fegan says.

— AP

Health Ministry warns heatwave headed for Israel

The Health Ministry warns that a heatwave is on its way and that the public, and the elderly population and patients with chronic illnesses in particular, “should avoid being in the heat and sun exposure as much as possible, should avoid unnecessary physical exertion, and should drink water and be in air-conditioned places as much as possible.”

According to the Israel Meteorological Service, unseasonably high temperatures are expected to continue to rise over the weekend with Friday highs peaking at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).

Amnesty: ‘Unlawful’ annexation promotes ‘law of the jungle’ and must be stopped

The Human Rights group Amnesty International calls on Israel to “immediately abandon plans to further ‘annex’ territory in the occupied West Bank which breach international laws and exacerbate decades of systematic human rights violations against Palestinians there.”

“International law is crystal clear on this matter – annexation is unlawful. Israel’s continued pursuit of this policy further illustrates its cynical disregard for international law. Such policies do not change the legal status of the territory under international law and its inhabitants as occupied nor remove Israel’s responsibilities as the occupying power – rather it points to the ‘law of the jungle’ which should not have a place in our world today,” says Saleh Higazi, deputy regional director for Amnesty Middle East and North Africa.

The group also calls on the international community “to take firm action against the ‘annexation’ proposals and illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territory.”

Early results show strong backing for reforms extending Putin rule

Early results from a nationwide vote that ends later today shows Russians overwhelmingly backing constitutional reforms that pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to extend his rule.

With results counted from just over four percent of polling stations, nearly 70% of voters had backed the reforms, the commission reports on its website.

Results of the six-day vote are being released from Russia’s sparsely populated Far East, where polls had already closed, as voters continued to cast ballots in more populated areas including Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, June 26, 2020. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The commission says nationwide voter turnout was at nearly 63%.

Russians began voting last week on the package of constitutional changes proposed by Putin, including a reset of presidential term limits that would allow him to run twice again after his current six-year term ends in 2024.

Other amendments would strengthen presidential and parliamentary powers, enshrine traditional values including an effective ban on gay marriage and guarantee better minimum wages and pensions.


PA announces new lockdown on West Bank to stem virus outbreak

The West Bank will return to lockdown for five days to prevent the further spread of coronavirus, Palestinian Authority spokesperson Ibrahim Milhim announces.

Beginning on Friday, all West Bank governorates will be locked down and all businesses will be closed except for pharmacies and supermarkets. Travel and movement for non-essential reasons will be prohibited.

— Aaron Boxerman

Pompeo urges Turkey not to convert Hagia Sophia into mosque

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and said Istanbul’s celebrated former cathedral should remain open to all.

“We urge the government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” Pompeo says.

Istanbul‘s Hagia Sophia in 2014. (CC BY-SA Pedro Szekely, Flickr)


Education Ministry: 1,057 students and staff diagnosed with virus

The Education Ministry says that the number of coronavirus cases diagnosed in kindergartens and schools has risen to 1,057.

As a result, 289 educational institutions have been closed and 23,446 students and staff have entered home quarantine.

Paraglider injured after crashing into cliff in Netanya

An 18-year old paraglider is moderately injured after crashing into a cliff face near Ben Ami Boulevard in Netanya.

“At this time he is fully conscious and firefighters are working to extricate him from the paraglider and bring him to safety,” says United Hatzalah volunteer Naftali David, who was one of the first responders at the scene.

A paraglider was injured after he crashed into a cliff face near Ben Ami Boulevard in Netanya, July 1, 2020. (United Hatzalah)

980 new virus cases in last 24 hours in highest daily tally yet

The Health Ministry records an increase of 980 new cases since last night, as the pandemic continues to trend upwards, again breaking the record of the number of new daily cases in 24 hours.

There have now been 26,021 cases since the start of the pandemic.

The ministry says the number of patients in serious condition is up to 58, two more than the previous update this morning and six more than yesterday evening, and the number of people on ventilators has gone up by one to 25.

The death toll has also gone up by one, to 321.

Pfizer reports encouraging, very early vaccine test results

The first of four experimental COVID-19 vaccines being tested by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech showed encouraging results in very early testing of 45 people, the companies announce.

Study volunteers given either a low or medium dose, in two shots about a month apart, had immune responses in the range expected to be protective, when compared to some COVID-19 survivors, according to the preliminary results.

Side effects are typical for vaccines, mostly pain at the injection site and fever.

The report has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal but not yet reviewed. With its other potential candidates still in the earliest stage of testing, Pfizer aims to open a large-scale study this summer but can’t yet say which shot is best to include.

About 15 different COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in human testing worldwide, with several poised to begin huge, last-stage studies to prove if they really work.

— AP

At least 59 killed in two days of Ethiopia protests

At least 59 people have been killed in two days of protests and ethnic violence in Ethiopia since the murder of a prominent ethnic Oromo singer, according to an AFP tally of figures from a regional official and an opposition party.

Getachew Balcha, spokesman for the Oromia region, says the state had recorded “50 who died” on Tuesday in the region which surrounds Addis Ababa, and is considered the heartland of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo.

He says that fresh violence has erupted between locals and security forces on in Ambo, the hometown of the singer Hachalu Hundessa, which lies west of the capital.

Ambo communications chief Milkessa Beyene said that violence broke out as a group of young Oromo nationalists demanded that the singer Hachalu Hundessa be buried in Addis Ababa.

Among those killed in the clashes was Hachalu’s uncle, said Beyene.


Israel Aerospace Industries to lay off 900 amid coronavirus losses

Israel Aerospace Industries announces that it will lay off 900 employees from its Aviation Group amid losses to the sector due to the shutdown of international travel to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Aviation Group, which has some 5,000 employees out of a total of 16,000 at the company, is responsible for maintenance on aircraft and the manufacture of executive jets and aircraft parts.

According to Globes, over the past decade the Aviation Group has accumulated $600 million in losses and ended 2019 with zero profits. The group suffered further losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time as the 900 redundancies, IAI announces that CEO Nimrod Sheffer is stepping down after just two years on the job.

PM to convene coronavirus cabinet to decide on additional lockdowns

Following the surge in infection rates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is convening a conference call for the so-called coronavirus cabinet to discuss which municipalities will be subject to additional restrictions, Kan news reports.

The channel says that Ashdod, Bnei Brak, Dimona and Lod may face additional lockdowns.

Health Ministry officials are said to be pushing for imposing strict lockdowns in dozens of cities in a dramatic push to contain the outbreak that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has warned is the “beginning of a second wave.”

State prosecution probing possible tampering of PM’s case files — report

Israel’s state prosecution is investigating whether someone purposefully tried to permanently delete information from the digital case files of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption probes, Channel 13 news reports.

According to the channel, a few weeks ago the Prosecutor’s Office noticed that a complete folder of Netanyahu’s files containing confidential materials had been deleted from the prosecution’s internal computers. As a result, it was decided to open a secret investigation on suspicion that someone had infiltrated the computers and deleted the folder.

During the investigation, the report says, it became clear that various officials in the State Attorney’s Office who did not have permission to enter Netanyahu’s files had recently been given permission, but that it was not understood how and who gave them.

The deleted documents were recovered, the channel says.

Families of US troops slain in Jordan seek action

The families of three Special Forces troops slain by a Jordanian soldier at a military base in Jordan in 2016 are calling on Congress to suspend aid to the key US Mideast partner until it extradites the killer.

They are also joining an effort to press Jordan to extradite a woman convicted in Israel of a 2001 bombing that killed 15 people, including two Americans. In letters sent to lawmakers this week, the families say assistance to Jordan should be cut until Jordan addresses the cases.

The soldier, Marek al-Tuwayha, has already been convicted in Jordan and is serving life in prison for the murders, but the families say the sentence is inadequate because he will likely be released after 20 years. The woman convicted of the deadly attack on a pizzeria in Israel, Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi, has lived freely in Jordan since she was released by Israel in a 2011 prisoner swap.

In their appeals to lawmakers, the families of the US soldiers, Matthew Lewellen, of Missouri, Kevin McEnroe, of Arizona, and James Moriarty, of Texas, say Congress should withhold or reduce foreign aid to Jordan unless both cases are resolved.

— AP

Russia, Iran and Turkey issue joint statement condemning Israeli strikes in Syria

The presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey condemn “destabilizing” Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

In a joint statement put out after a video conference between the three, Russia’s Putin, Iran’s Rouhani and Turkey’s Erdogan say that they “reaffirmed the necessity to respect universally recognized international legal decisions, including those provisions of the relevant UN resolutions rejecting the occupation of Syrian Golan, first and foremost UN Security Council Resolution 497 and thus condemned the decision of the US Administration on the occupied Syrian Golan, which constitutes a grave violation of international law and threatens regional peace and security.”

The document says that Putin, Rouhani and Erdogan “consider Israeli military attacks in Syria as destabilizing and violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country and intensifying the tension in the region,” according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ coming back for 11th season

Larry David excoriated Californians months ago in a public service announcement to social distance and advised them “Go home! Watch TV!”

At some point they’ll have a chance to tune in for new episodes of his “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with HBO announcing today that it will renew the show created by and starring David for an 11th season, Variety reports.

“Believe me, I’m as upset about this as you are,” David, the co-creator of “Seinfeld,” says in a statement. “One day I can only hope that HBO will come to their senses and grant me the cancellation I so richly deserve.”

It’s not clear when filming will begin due to restrictions in place because of the coronavirus.


YouTube pages of Richard Spencer, David Duke among 25,000 removed for hate speech

YouTube has seen enough of the French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. White supremacist Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, too.

Their channels were among more than 25,000 shut down Monday by the online video sharing platform for violating its hate speech rules.

Dieudonne’s page, which was full of videos agitating against Jews, had some 400,000 subscribers. In a Facebook post, he blames “Israeli pressures” for the removal.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many of the videos on the channel have agitated against Jews, French Union of Jewish Students President Noémie Madar tells the French media.

Dieudonne has been convicted at least seven times in France for inciting racial hatred against Jews.

Spencer, the founder of a white supremacist think tank, has advocated a white ethno-state that would exclude non-whites and Jews.


Russian voters agree to extend Putin’s rule to 2036

Russian voters approve changes to the constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036. But the weeklong plebiscite that concluded this evening was tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.

With most of the nation’s polls closed and 20% of precincts counted, 72% voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials.

For the first time in Russia, polls were kept open for a week to bolster turnout without increasing crowds casting ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic — a provision that Kremlin critics denounced as an extra tool to manipulate the outcome.

A massive propaganda campaign and the opposition’s failure to mount a coordinated challenge helped Putin get the result he wanted, but the plebiscite could end up eroding his position because of the unconventional methods used to boost participation and the dubious legal basis for the balloting.

By the time polls closed in Moscow and most other parts of Western Russia, the overall turnout was at 65%, according to election officials. In some regions, almost 90% of eligible voters cast ballots.

— AP

PA: 330 new coronavirus cases in West Bank since the morning

Another 50 coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the West Bank, raising the total number of new infections since Wednesday morning to 330, Palestinian government spokesperson Ibrahim Milhim says.

Forty-nine of the new cases were in Hebron governorate and the remaining one was registered in Jufna, in Ramallah governorate.

A total of 3,095 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the West Bank to date. According to the Palestinian health ministry data, 78% of those have been registered in the last two weeks.

— Adam Boxerman

Knesset passes law allowing Shin Bet phone tracking

The Knesset passes into law a bill that would allow the Shin Bet to assist in contact tracing efforts by tapping into peoples’ phones.

The controversial measure, which passed in a vote (58-38), is expected to be in effect for three weeks as a stopgap measure until an app from a private firm that can do the work can be rolled out.

The law stipulates that the Shin Bet can only be deployed if other contact tracing efforts prove fruitless, but adds that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can ask the committee to expand the criteria needed for the Shin Bet to track people should he so desire.

WHO says Mideast at ‘critical threshold’ in virus numbers

The World Health Organization warns that the Middle East is at a decisive moment in the fight against the coronavirus, with cases surging as countries ease lockdown measures.

“We are at a critical threshold in our region,” the WHO’s Middle East head, Ahmed al-Mandhari, says in an online press conference.

According to figures published by the global health body on Wednesday, the 22 countries from Morocco to Pakistan have recorded 1,077,706 novel coronavirus cases and 24,973 deaths.

Mandhari says passing a million infections marked a “concerning milestone” and urged countries to strengthen their healthcare systems.

“The number of cases reported in June alone is higher than the total number of cases reported during the four months following the first reported case in the region on 29 January,” he says.

He attributed the rise in confirmed cases to increased testing, the easing in recent weeks of lockdown measures and weakened health infrastructure in conflict-hit countries.


Neighborhoods in virus hotspots Ashdod, Lod to be placed on lockdown

Ministers agree on a seven-day lockdown of neighborhoods in virus hotspots Ashdod and Lod to stem the spiraling COVID-19 outbreak.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet will convene on Thursday to debate additional measures, tweets Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

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Lebanon reopens airport after three months

Lebanon’s only international airport has reopened following a more than three-month shutdown as part of the country’s lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The airport will operate at 10% capacity at first, bringing in around 2,000 travelers a day.

The first flight to arrive was Emirates from Dubai. Others scheduled Wednesday are from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, London and Paris.

Lebanon has been hit by an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and the government is hoping that the reopening of the airport will help bring in hard currency to prop up the economy.

Travelers from countries that do not provide PCR tests ahead of boarding will be tested upon arrival in Lebanon at the airline’s expense. Passengers must pay for a second test 72 hours later and will be required to quarantine if they test positive.

— AP