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Number of virus cases in Israel rises to 14,803, with 192 deaths

Health Ministry reports 305 new infections over the past 24 hours; 139 people in serious condition, 109 of whom are on ventilators

A Druze man wearing a surgical mask walks past an ambulance outside Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed on April 23, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
A Druze man wearing a surgical mask walks past an ambulance outside Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed on April 23, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

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

Lebanese daily reports progress in possible prisoner swap with Hamas

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reports that there are increasing signs a prisoner-swap deal between Israel and Hamas may go ahead.

Al-Akhbar says that Egypt, which is mediating in talks between the sides, has released four Palestinian detainees as a gesture toward Hamas.

Hamas sources tell Al-Akhbar that Egyptian authorities have said they will release further Hamas detainees, without specifying a number or a possible date of release.

Hamas is holding the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war, and two Israeli civilians who crossed over into the Gaza Strip of their own accord.

Germany reports third day of increases in virus infections

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases reports a third straight day with an increase in confirmed coronavirus infections.

The number of confirmed cases as of this morning is up by 2,195 to 150,648.

The death toll is up by 215 to 5,094

86-year-old hospitalized after being re-infected with COVID-19

The Poriya Medical Center in Tiberias reports that an 86-year-old man from a senior living facility in the town, who had previously been diagnosed and then recovered from COVID-19, has been hospitalized after apparently being re-infected with the virus.

The man tested negative twice for the virus after his initial infection.

The hospital reports that he is currently sedated and on a ventilator.

Hong Kong researchers says China virus cases may have been four times higher than reported

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China may in fact have been four times higher than reported, according to a study conducted by researchers at Hong Kong University’s school of public health.

According to the study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, as of February 20, China had reported 55,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but had Chinese authorities used a case definition adopted later in the outbreak, the number of number of confirmed cases by that date would have been as much as 232,000.

The researchers go on to say that even that figure would be an underestimate of the number of infections up to that point, because it would not have captured some mild or asymptomatic cases.

China has currently reported 82,798 confirmed cases and 4,632 deaths.

Chinese medical workers attend to a patient at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central Hubei Province, January 24, 2020. (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via AP)

Coronavirus death toll rises overnight to 191

The number of COVID-19 fatalities in Israel increases overnight to 191 as Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv reports two deaths from the virus.

A 74-year-old woman and a 94-year old man are the latest fatalities.

According to Ichilov both patients came from the Israeli Medical Center for Alzheimer’s in Ramat Gan. The facility is the only designated medical center in Israel for the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients.

Confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 14,592

The Health Ministry reports that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel as of this morning is 14,592, up by 94 since last night.

The figure comes following a multi-day high yesterday of 556 cases in the previous 24 hours.

The death toll is 191, up by two cases since last night.

The number of patients on respiratory ventilation is down 3.6% to 107 and the number of severely ill patients is down 8.1% to 136.

A total of 5,334 people have recovered from the virus.

Shaked: No split in Yamina, we will stay united, in the coalition or in opposition

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked tells Army Radio that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to split up her party, the right-wing alliance will be a “fighting opposition.”

“We can always support annexation from outside the government,” says Shaked.

Responding to speculation that Netanyahu may try to bring Yamina MK Rafi Peretz into the coalition in order to split the party, Shaked, a former justice minister, says there is no chance of that happening.

“Yamina will not split up, and will continue to march united — either in the coalition, or in opposition,” says Shaked.

Yamina party chairwoman Ayelet Shaked arrives to cast her vote at a voting station in Tel Aviv, during the Knesset Elections, on March 02, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Soldiers to read out names of fallen on Memorial Day

In view of restrictions imposed for Memorial Day, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett this morning issues an order that IDF soldiers will read out all the names of all the IDF soldiers and members of the security forces who have fallen since the establishment of the state.

Soldiers will read out the names at the Hall for the Fallen at Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery.

As of last Memorial Day, the number of Israeli casualties of war stands at 23,741. New figures will be published tonight.

Yesterday, the cabinet voted to severely limit commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

On Memorial Day, which begins Monday night and ends Tuesday evening, people will be barred from visiting military cemeteries and memorial sites.

A view of Mount Herzl military cemetery and the National Memorial Hall on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Chabad orders Kathmandu emissary not to light Independence Day torch

Chabad has instructed its emissary in Kathmandu, Nepal, Hani Lipshitz, not to light a torch on Independence Day.

Lipshitz was named April 12 as one of the torch-lighters at Israel’s annual Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem for her “concern for others, warm hospitality and love of the Jewish People that characterize the holy work of Chabad Houses around the world.”

Lipshitz, who has been running the Chabad House in Kathmandu since opening it 20 years ago, says on Facebook that decision was not “in my hands.”

She adds that she regretfully had to inform Culture Minister Miri Regev that she would be unable to be a torch-lighter and thanks Regev for seeing the Chabad House as part of “the glue that brings the Jewish People together from all corners and communities.”

Chabad’s Kathmandu emissary Hani Lipshitz is seen in this November, 2014 file photo. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

No new spike in virus infections, yesterday’s high due to late reporting, says NSC 

The National Security Council says that yesterday’s figure of 556 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, a multi-day high, was inaccurate and the real number of new cases was in fact 211.

The NSC puts the discrepancy down to the addition of delayed test results from the past several days, not a spike in new infections, according to a report by Channel 12.

Meanwhile, Channel 12 also reports that the Economy Ministry today gave the NSC a list of further restrictions that it seeks to have eased. Among them, the opening of additional businesses, allowing people to pick up takeout food from restaurants, and increasing the number of people allowed in a business establishment at any one time.

Watch out, aircraft overhead! IDF says planes to conduct test runs ahead of Independence Day flyby

Israeli aircraft are scheduled to perform test runs throughout the day and across the country ahead of next week’s limited Independence Day flyby, the military says.

In order to prevent mass gatherings on Independence Day, the Israel Defense Forces canceled its annual flyby in which a wide variety of aircraft fly over the country. Instead, four aerial acrobatic planes will fly over the nation’s hospitals in a show of support for the country’s healthcare workers and their efforts during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The IDF says Israelis can expect to see increased aircraft activity overhead throughout the day as the airplanes practice their maneuvers, which they did yesterday as well.

People at Bograshov Beach in Tel Aviv watch the military airshow on Israel’s 71st Independence Day, May 9, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Judah Ari Gross

Border Police enter East Jerusalem village to enforce coronavirus restrictions

An Israeli Border Police force enters the East Jerusalem village of Kfar Akeb this morning to enforce emergency regulations to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The village, some two kilometers southeast of Ramallah, is inside the Jerusalem municipal boundaries, but lies beyond the West Bank security barrier.

According to Hebrew media reports, Border Police officers entered the area after Palestinian security forces that had been enforcing restrictions in coordination with the IDF withdrew earlier this week.

Eurozone suffering ‘unprecedented’ economic collapse, report indicates

The eurozone economy has suffered an “unprecedented” collapse according to the latest PMI index put out today by analysis firm IHS Markit.

“The eurozone economy suffered the steepest falls in business activity and employment ever recorded during April as a result of measures taken to contain the coronavirus outbreak,” the report says.

IHS Markit’s purchasing managers index (PMI) dived to a record low of 13.5 in April, from the previous all-time low of 29.7 in March, confirming the private sector gloom savaging the 19-nation eurozone.

Any reading below 50 signals a contraction.

AFP

Gantz praises Arab MKs, civil leadership in Ramadan greetings

Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz offers his blessings to Israel’s Muslim citizens ahead of the holy month of Ramadan which is expected to commence tonight.

“This house is a place that represents all Israeli citizens, from all religions, all communities, and all opinions, and that is how it will stay,” says Gantz.

“I hope that despite everything we are going through in this current period, you will be able to uphold the Ramadan traditions,” says Gantz.

He calls on the Arab public to act responsibly and adhere to Health Ministry guidelines, restricting the daily iftar, or post-fast meal, to the nuclear family.

Gantz praises Arab MKs and Arab civil leaders for the “responsibility with which they have acted in the battle against the coronavirus” and for showing “significant national leadership.”

He also offers “special thanks to Muslim citizens of Israel active in medical and emergency teams who save lives on a routine bases and all the more so in recent months, in difficult conditions and while placing themselves in danger.”

Lithuanian FM pays tribute on anniversary of birth of Vilna Gaon

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, one of the foremost leaders of Eastern European Jewry.

“Today, by his grave in Vilnius, I am paying the highest tribute to Vilna Gaon, an eternal symbol of Lithuanian Jewish culture and history. The magnitude of Vilna Gaon’s contribution to the spiritual Jewish life is immensely important,” Linkevicius tweets.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweets in response: “300 years ago today, one of Judaism’s greatest religious thinkers, the Vilna Gaon, was born in Vilnius. His legacy & the rich history of Lithuania’s Jewish community lives on. Thank you to FM @LinkeviciusL for this meaningful tribute at the Vilna Gaon’s grave this morning.”

Spain virus toll tops 22,000, but health minister says slowdown achieved

The Spanish health ministry reports that 440 people have died in the past 24 hours from COVID-19, a slight increase for the third day running, bringing the overall death toll to 22,157.

Case numbers are up 4,635 to 213,024.

The country has suffered the third-highest number of deaths in the world from the pandemic after the United States and Italy, with infections now more than 213,000 cases, health ministry figures show

Spanish health officials believe the epidemic peaked on April 2 when 950 people died over 24 hours, nearly three weeks after the government imposed a strict lockdown, effectively confining almost 47 million citizens to home to slow the spread of the virus.

“We have achieved the goal of a deceleration and slowdown for this week but we remain in a hard phase of the epidemic,” Health Minister Salvador Illa tells a news conference.

A healthcare worker attends to a coronavirus patient at the Intensive Care Unit of the Principe de Asturias hospital in Alcala de Henares near Madrid, April 22, 2020. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

— AFP

IRGC chief warns Iran will destroy American ‘terrorist force’ in the Gulf

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Commander Hossein Salami has ordered his forces to destroy American ships in the Persian Gulf if they threaten the security of Iranian ships, Reuters reports.

“I have ordered our naval forces to destroy any American terrorist force in the Persian Gulf that threatens security of Iran’s military or non-military ships,” Salami told state TV. “Security of the Persian Gulf is part of Iran’s strategic priorities.”

Salami’s comments come amid rising tensions in the Gulf. Yesterday, US President Donald Trump warned Iran that US forces would “shoot down and destroy” Iranian gunboats harassing Navy ships.

Oil prices soared again as the war of words between the US and Iran eclipses concerns about a coronavirus-triggered demand shock and storage facilities reaching capacity.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate rose 9.72 percent to $15.12 a barrel, extending big gains from the previous session. Brent crude was up 9.03 percent to $22.21 a barrel.

— AFP contributed to this report

Central bank puts a price tag on school shutdown, and it’s a whopper

The shutdown of the education system is costing the economy around NIS 2.6 billion per week, the Bank of Israel says.

The BOI’s calculation is based on the assumption that 408,000 households have to leave one parent at home to look after children. According to the BOI, Israel has 370,000 households with a child up to the age of four and a further 110,000 households have children between the ages of five and nine, but without a sibling over the age of 15 who can look after them. The bank assumes that 15% of the total 480,000 households are able to provide a solution, thus leaving the number of 408,000 households.

In addition, the BOI says that the shutdown will cost a further estimated NIS 1 billion per week in future productivity as a result of skills that remained untaught.

The BOI says that while it is not possible to accurately gauge the cost to the economy of the “loss of educational production,” the education system has a “central role in shaping future generations which is reflected inter alia in the economy’s long-term productivity.”

The BOI notes that its estimate of NIS 1 billion per week does not take into account the beneficial impact of distance learning.

Sharp spike in Beit Shemesh infections as extremists flout regulations

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Beit Shemesh has spiked by around 50 percent in a week, according to figures published today by the Health Ministry.

There are 320 active cases in the town of some 120,000.

Channel 12 reports Health Ministry officials as being extremely concerned about the situation in the town.

The Channel 12 report says that hundreds of people among extremist elements in the city have been infected and are not being tested, even though some of them are showing symptoms. It also reports there have been large prayer gatherings in the town.

School administrative staff sent back to work as education system reopening on the horizon

School administrative staff are told today to return immediately to work ahead of a reopening of schools at a yet-to-be determined date.

School principals, deputy principals, secretaries, bookkeepers and caretakers will be the first to return.

A statement from the Education Ministry said administrative employees are returning to schools subject to Health Ministry guidelines.

“Step by step, the education system is returning to routine,” says Education Minister Rafi Peretz. “We are doing everything we can to get the education system running again and the return of administrative teams to schools is another step in that direction.”

Ireland warns against annexation of parts of West Bank

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warns the incoming Israeli government against applying sovereignty over parts of the West Bank.

“A new Israeli government has yet to be formally put in place, and I wish that process well. However, I think it important, as a friend and partner of Israel, to be very clear about the gravity of any such step,” he says in a statement.

“Annexation of territory by force is prohibited under international law, including the UN Charter, whenever and wherever it occurs, in Europe’s neighbourhood or globally. This is a fundamental principle in the relations of states and the rule of law in the modern world. No one state can set it aside at will,” he adds.

The coalition agreement signed earlier this week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz stipulates that the annexation of the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank may be brought to a vote in either the cabinet or the Knesset as soon as July 1.

According to the coalition deal’s terms, the centrist Blue and White list is not allowed to obstruct a vote on the subject, but its lawmakers are not obligated to vote in favor.

— Raphael Ahren

Health Ministry director suggests malls get tracking apps to facilitate reopening

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov recommends that malls equip themselves with technological means to track visitors, the Hebrew language financial daily TheMarker reports.

According to the report, Bar Siman-Tov held a Zoom conference with business leaders earlier today during which participants complained that while Ikea was allowed to open yesterday, drawing large crowds, malls remain closed.

Ofir Sarid, the CFO of real estate company Melisron, which owns several shopping malls, said they have the ability to prevent crowds using security cameras.

Bar Siman-Tov responded by asking Sarid whether the malls were in possession of technologies that can track each visitor, see which shops they have entered and who they were standing next to.

When Sarid replied that they do not possess that kind of technology, Bar Siman-Tov said several countries are using similar applications and if the malls were to employ them it would it easier for the ministry to allow them to open.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Bar Siman-Tov. “Such applications have been developed and that would be a very significant move.”

Shoppers in Dizengoff Center, Tel Aviv. March 13, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

High Court to hear petitions against coalition deal, whether Netanyahu can form government

The High Court of Justice decides to hear petitions against the coalition deal between the Likud and Blue and White parties, as well as against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s eligibility to form a government due to his indictment on corruption charges.

The court gives the sides until Sunday to submit their responses.

The High Court has previously declined to hear petitions against Netanyahu being allowed to form a government, saying it would be premature to do so then as the premier had not yet been formally tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government.

Most stores on the street could be allowed to open again on Friday — reports

Most stores on the street or in open areas could be allowed to open as soon as tomorrow, Hebrew media reports say.

Barber shops and hair salons could be among the stores allowed to open, but will have to comply with regulations that have yet to be determined, the Ynet news site reports.

Malls are expected to remain closed.

Any decision to roll back restrictions would require government approval but it is unclear when the cabinet will meet, according to Channel 12 news.

EU reiterates opposition to Israeli annexation in West Bank

The European Union repeats its opposition to Israeli annexation in the West Bank, after Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz agreed to hold a vote on the matter as part of their agreement to form a government.

“The European Union reiterates that any annexation would constitute a serious violation of international law. The European Union will continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly,” EU foreign minister Josep Borrell says in a statement.

While stressing the EU doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, Borrell says the bloc is open to work closely with the new Israeli government against the coronavirus.

“Technical cooperation is ongoing and will be strengthened on all aspects of the pandemic. The health of our citizens and addressing the economic consequences of the coronavirus are our shared paramount priority,” he says.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell answers a question during a news conference in Brussels, January 7, 2020 (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Bennett calls for ‘immediate and calculated’ reopening of economy, schools

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett calls for the “immediate and calculated” reopening of Israel’s economy and education system, while slamming the Health Ministry’s more conservative approach to easing restrictions as “destructive.”

“One million Israeli citizens have lost their jobs in the past month. Many more will follow them,” Bennett laments in a press conference.

“The continuation of Health Ministry closure policy is destructive for the future of the State of Israel,” the minister adds. “There is another way: responsible but determined.”

— Jacob Magid

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at his Yamina party’s campaign headquarters in Ramat Gan on March 2, 2020. (Flash90)

2 Border Cops questioned on suspicion of assaulting man during Mea Shearim clashes

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department questions two Border Police officers on suspicion of assaulting a man during clashes in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood.

The two are released after questioning under restrictions.

Video of the incident, which occurred in early April, shows an officer shoving a man on the street to the ground.

High Court strikes down ‘Deposit Law’ for asylum seekers

The High Court of Justice strikes down a law requiring companies to deposit 20 percent of asylum seekers’ salaries into a special fund that they can only access if they leave the country.

The justices rule that the law is illegal and says withholding parts of asylum seekers’ paychecks does “clear, tangible and significant damage to the property rights of workers” with generally low salaries.

Yamina lawmakers fume at High Court for striking down ‘Deposit Law’

Lawmakers from the national religious Yamina party fume at the High Court of Justice for striking down the Deposit Law for asylum seekers.

“Unbelievable. The High Court again and again castrates every tool the state tries to use to enforce its immigration policies and safeguard the Jewish majority in the Jewish state,” Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweets.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, a former justice minister, slams the ruling and argues it was effective in encouraging asylum seekers to leave the country.

“Only the override clause will put an end to this,” she writes on Twitter, referring to proposed legislation allowing the Knesset to overturn High Court rulings with a majority of votes.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz, another Yamina lawmaker, claims the court’s striking down of the law is “another stage in the fissuring of the Jewish identity” of Israel.

“The normalization the High Court is leading toward [asylum seekers], especially on the eve of the State of Israel’s Independence Day, is a mistake and we’ll do everything to fix it,” he tweets.

Foreign Ministry rips EU foreign policy chief: Who is the ‘honorable gentleman’ representing?

The Foreign Ministry slams the European Union’s foreign minister over his statement on the agreement between Likud and Blue and White to form a government in which he reiterated the EU’s opposition to Israeli annexation of areas in the West Bank. He also said the bloc was open to working closely with Israel to combat the coronavirus.

“It’s unfortunate that Josep Borrell, who pretends to be responsible for the foreign relations of the European Union, chooses in this manner to welcome a new government over a central partner to the EU and prefers to see relations between Israel and the EU through the prisma of the pandemic and the ‘status of the territories,'” the ministry says in a statement.

The ministry also questions Borrell’s decision to issue the statement, saying he did so only after failing to gain backing for it from all EU states.

“We wonder which states the honorable gentleman is choosing to represent,” the ministry says.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz thanks EU states that refused to back Borrell’s statement, but doesn’t name them.

“I thank our friends in Europe who oppose Borrell’s announcement and prevented the adoption of the text in the EU’s name. These states recognize the value of relations with Israel and we’ll continue to advance relations between Israel and Europe together with them,” he says.

A diplomatic source says the EU did not hold a vote on approving the text and the meeting dealt more with timing than substance.

— with Raphael Ahren

Bill to anchor rotation agreement between Netanyahu, Gantz passes initial reading

A bill to change one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws to automatically enable the rotation agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz to take place passes its initial reading in the Knesset plenum.

The bill receives 62 votes in favor and 37 against.

The bill now goes to the Arrangements Committee, which must determine which Knesset Committee will ready the bill for the first of three additional readings it must pass to become law.

Regev charges Rivlin’s decision to attend Memorial Day ceremony violates virus directives

Culture Minister Miri Regev lashes out at President Reuven Rivlin over his intention to attend the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall, which this year will have limited attendance due to the coronavirus.

“The president of the state is not above the law and can’t decide to violate government decisions and act against the directives of the Health Ministry,” Regev says in a statement.

She adds: “I regret that when bereaved families [of dead soldiers] are forced to refrain from going to cemeteries and memorial sites on Memorial Day, the president of the state decides not to listen to the Health Ministry directives and the government’s decision and chooses to violate the rules and directives that were approved.”

Rivlin’s office declines to comment on Regev’s statements or whether the president was advised against attending the ceremony by health officials.

— with Raoul Wootliff

Health Minister Litzman reportedly asks Netanyahu to move ministries

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is considering moving to the Housing Ministry in the next government, Hebrew media reports say.

According to Channel 12 news, Litzman was instructed by Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the head of the Gur Hasidic sect to change ministries. He met with Prime Minister Netanyahu today and asked to move ministries, the report says.

“There’s still a possibility that Litzman could leave the Health Ministry,” the network quotes coalition sources as saying.

His office says it isn’t familiar with the matter.

Litzman, who leads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, has been the de facto head of the Health Ministry since 2009, except for an over two-year period between 2013 and 2015 when he was out of government.

He recently came under heavy criticism when a recent television report said he took part in group prayers in violation of his own ministry’s guidelines shortly before he was infected with coronavirus.

He has also faced criticism for allegedly using his position to aid an accused pedophile, which police have recommended he face charges over.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

IDF begins scaling back role in fight against coronavirus

The Israel Defense Forces is scaling back its participation in the national fight against the coronavirus as the crisis appears to calm after its first deadly wave, the army’s spokesperson says.

Though the IDF Home Front Command plans to continue distributing food and other assistance in the cities of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, the combat troops that had been taking part in the effort are being released back to their normal training schedule, IDF spokesman Hidai Zilberman says.

The number of soldiers assisting police enforce the national lockdown has also been halved, from some 1,400 soldiers to 700, he says.

In the coming weeks, the IDF also plans to begin releasing the roughly 2,000 reservists that had been brought into the Home Front Command, beginning with a 10 to 20 percent cut next week, followed by a more gradual reduction thereafter, according to Zilberman.

— Judah Ari Gross

UN peace envoy says West Bank annexation would be ‘devastating blow’ to two-state solution

UNITED NATIONS — The UN’s special Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, warns Israel not to annex parts of the West Bank, saying such a move would be a “devastating blow” to the internationally-backed two-state solution.

In a video briefing today with the Security Council, which holds a meeting each month on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mladenov hails what he calls “inspiring examples of cooperation across conflict lines” in the coronavirus battle.

But he warns that in the past month, there has also been “continued confrontation and fighting, as the human toll of war continues to rise.”

“The dangerous prospect of annexation by Israel of parts of the occupied West Bank is a growing threat,” Mladenov says, warning that such a move would violate international law.

The envoy says annexation would also “deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.”

— AFP

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov addresses a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, on March 24, 2016, at United Nations headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NY governor says antibody survey shows wide exposure to coronavirus

NEW YORK — More evidence is emerging that far more New Yorkers have had the coronavirus than the number confirmed by lab tests, officials says today.

A state survey of around 3,000 people found that 13.9% had antibodies suggesting they had been exposed to the virus, Governor Andrew Cuomo says at his daily news briefing in Albany.

In New York City, 21% of the people tested had anitbodies.

Cuomo cautions that the data was preliminary. The sample of people tested was small and people were recruited for the study at shopping centers and grocery stores, which meant they were healthy enough to be out in public.

Experts also say having antibodies is not necessarily proof someone is immune from the virus.

But Cuomo says knowing how many people have antibodies could potentially help set policy on when to reopen parts of the state.

Earlier today, New York City’s health commissioner said many as 1 million people in New York City may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

More than 263,000 people in the city have tested positive for the virus, “but that really is, I think, the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot says.

— AP

AG opposes extending tenure of acting state prosecutor

In a remarkably strongly worded letter, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expresses vehement opposition to extending the tenure of acting State Attorney Dan Eldad, saying there were legal impediments to doing so and asserting he had exhibited “moral, professional and administrative failings” during his short time in office that proved he was unfit for the post.

Eldad was appointed to the position for a temporary three-month period in February by interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana, after former state attorney Shai Nitzan concluded his five-year term in December and after Ohana’s previous appointment was rejected by Mandelblit and stood down.

Mandelblit also initially opposed Eldad’s appointment, which Ohana made in spite of his reservations, but eventually agreed to it.

Eldad’s appointment is to expire on May 1, but Ohana earlier this month asked Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz to extend it by an additional three months since a new government has not yet been formed.

Mandelblit, in a missive to Hershkowitz, says he felt his initial instincts had been correct, commenting that “unfortunately my initial position… was only strengthened in light of [Eldad’s] conduct.”

Mandelblit says Eldad, during his two months in office, “hid from me professional and managerial matters he was involved in, as well as meetings he held with the justice minister, despite the fact that I had instructed him to fully update me on such matters — stressing the importance of the independence of the state prosecution and the complicated nature of the relations between the acting state attorney and the political official holding the power to extend his term.”

Mandelblit also says Eldad did not enjoy the trust of prosecution management. There was a complete disconnect between Eldad and senior prosecution officials, with the former excluding professionals from deliberations in their areas of expertise while focusing on “odd” priorities, leading to paralysis at the top of the system, he states.

Acting state attorney fires back at AG for opposing extension of his tenure

Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad alleges that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit opposes the extension of his tenure because was examining investigatory material involving the latter.

“A seemingly worrying picture arose from this material in everything concerning the handling of the affairs of Mandelblit,” Eldad says in a statement.

He apparently is referring to the so-called Harpaz Affair, in which Mandelblit, a former top military prosecutor, was questioned in but never charged.

“In recent days I updated the relevant sources about my intention to deepen the investigation on the matter,” Eldad says. “I have no doubt about the motives for choosing the violent and distorted wording toward me.”

Acting State Attorney Dan Eldad (State Prosecution website portrait)

France reports 516 new coronavirus deaths, bringing total to 21,856

PARIS — France reports 516 new deaths from the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours, bringing its overall toll to 21,856 fatalities, the country’s health department says.

But the number of patients in intensive care is continuing a two-week decline, it says in a statement.

A majority of the deaths reported (13,547) were in the hospital, and the rest in retirement homes and other facilities.

— AFP

Ministers said to fume at top health official over virus restrictions — which they approved

Government ministers are growing increasingly fed up with the decision-making process amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying the far-reaching restrictions recommended by the Health Ministry — and which the cabinet voted to approve — are leading to an erosion of public trust, Channel 12 news reports.

“There is complete confusion here. [Israelis] think that we’re a totalitarian state who informs its citizens what it is permitted to them,” a senior official involved in decision-making is quoted saying by the network.

The official turns his ire on Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the director-general of the Health Ministry.

“Who is he to decide what the public [can do],” the source says. “He’s intentionally dragging his feet to earn time that he isn’t taking advantage of as needed.”

Saudi Arabia declares start of Ramadan after sighting moon

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim-majority nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, declare that the holy month of Ramadan — when the faithful observe a dawn-to-dusk fast — will begin tomorrow, based on a moon-sighting methodology.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has cut off the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims from their cherished Ramadan rituals as health officials battle to ward off new infections during Islam’s holiest month, when large gatherings and family celebrations are a tradition.

The Saudi statement comes on the kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency while the Emiratis make the announcement through their state-run WAM news agency.

Oman says the fasting month will begin on Saturday as the sultanate’s religious authority did not sight the crescent moon this evening. In Iran, Ramadan is expected to begin on Saturday as well.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and a moon-sighting methodology can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramadan a day or two apart.

The Ramadan fast, in which food and water are prohibited during daylight hours, is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and remind them of those less fortunate. While fasting, Muslims must also abstain from sex, gossip and cursing. The faithful are encouraged to spend time in contemplation, prayer, reading the Quran and charity during the day.

— AP

Clashes break out between police, far-right activists near West Bank outpost

Clashes break out between police and far-right activists close to the Kumi Ori outpost in the northern West Bank, a day after two illegally built structures were demolished there.

Police say dozens of people rioted near the Kumi Ori outpost and that two tires on a Border Police vehicle were punctured.

“The forces are determined to enforce the military order that declares the outpost a closed military area,” police say in a statement.

“Determined and uncompromising enforcement will be taken against whoever tries to harm soldiers,” the statement adds.

A picture released by police shows a tire allegedly punctured by far-right activists during clashes near the Kumi Ori outpost in the northern West Bank, April 23, 2020. (Police Spokesperson)

Mossad chief said to allege Iran, numerous Arab states lying about virus stats

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen told health officials during a briefing today that the coronavirus pandemic is more serious in a number of Arab states and Iran than the governments there are acknowledging, Channel 13 news reports.

“In Lebanon, Iraq and Syria there is large morbidity and they’re lying,” the network quotes Cohen as saying. “The number of infected and dead that the Iranians are reporting is also not true. The numbers I’m familiar with are much higher.”

The spymaster also reportedly said that as part of the efforts to bring medical equipment from overseas, the Mossad obtained some 50 million face masks and 260 ventilators.

“Despite all our connections the doors were closed in most countries of the world and therefore we brought the production lines to Israel,” he was reported to say.

Mossad head Yossi Cohen attends a handover ceremony for the position of chief of military intelligence at the Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, on March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

3 East Jerusalem teens nabbed on suspicion of throwing Molotov cocktails at Jewish homes

Police arrest three teenagers on suspicion of throwing Molotov cocktails at homes in the Jewish enclave of Ma’ale Hazeitim from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras Al-Amoud.

There were no reports of injuries or damage in the incident.

Number of virus cases rises to 14,803, with 192 deaths

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel now stands at 14,803, an increase of 305 over the past 24 hours.

The death toll rises to 192, one more than this morning.

According to the Health Ministry, there are currently 139 people in serious condition, 109 of them on ventilators.

Another 102 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 5,611 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.

Israel inks deal with genealogy company to perform 10,000 virus tests a day

The Health Ministry and the Defense Ministry announce they have inked a deal with Israeli genealogy company MyHeritage to perform 10,000 coronavirus tests a day.

The ministries say in a joint statement that MyHeritage will set up a laboratory for testing using equipment from Chinese firm BGI. The Health Ministry had signed a separate agreement with BGI to bring the equipment to Israel.

The agreement “gave considerable weight to the issues of information security and safeguarding the privacy and medical confidentiality of those checked,” the statement says.

Government set to meet on approving rollback of virus restrictions

A government meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m., when ministers are expected to decide which coronavirus restrictions will be lifted on Sunday as the Israeli economy continues to reopen.

Hebrew-language media reports that the education system and open-air markets will likely not resume operations at this time.

The Finance Ministry and the Health Ministry, which have clashed repeatedly on the matter, are reportedly expected to agree on opening more stores, hairdresser salons — with mask and rubber glove requirements — and returning the take-away option in food stores.

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Lithuanian FM pays tribute on anniversary of birth of Vilna Gaon

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, one of the foremost leaders of Eastern European Jewry.

“Today, by his grave in Vilnius, I am paying the highest tribute to Vilna Gaon, an eternal symbol of Lithuanian Jewish culture and history. The magnitude of Vilna Gaon’s contribution to the spiritual Jewish life is immensely important,” Linkevicius tweets.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweets in response: “300 years ago today, one of Judaism’s greatest religious thinkers, the Vilna Gaon, was born in Vilnius. His legacy & the rich history of Lithuania’s Jewish community lives on. Thank you to FM @LinkeviciusL for this meaningful tribute at the Vilna Gaon’s grave this morning.”