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Cabinet approves removal of age restriction for those returning to work

Minister says she managed to convince colleagues that guideline barring businesses from allowing those above age of 67 from coming into office was discriminatory

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds the weekly cabinet meeting via videoconference call from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem due to coronavirus regulations, March 15, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds the weekly cabinet meeting via videoconference call from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem due to coronavirus regulations, March 15, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

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

UK PM’s baby son named after hospital doctors who treated him

Carrie Symonds announces that she and her fiancee Prime Minister Boris Johnson,  have decided to name their newborn son after their grandfathers and the hospital doctors who treated the British leader for COVID-19.

Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson was born on Wednesday, just days after his father returned to work following several weeks recuperating from the virus and a spell in intensive care.

Symonds, 32, posted a picture on her Instagram account of her cradling her son.

“Introducing Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson born on 29.04.20 at 9am,” she wrote.

“Wilfred after Boris’ grandfather, Lawrie after my grandfather, Nicholas after Dr Nick Price and Dr Nick Hart — the two doctors that saved Boris’ life last month.

“Thank you so, so much to the incredible NHS maternity team at UCLH (University College London Hospital) that looked after us so well. I couldn’t be happier. My heart is full.”

The announcement of the birth comes as a surprise as Symonds, a former Conservative party head of communications, was not thought to be due for several more months.

It is her first child while Johnson, 55, is believed to have at least five other children, including four with his second wife, Marina Wheeler, from whom he split in 2018.

Johnson is expected to take statutory paternity leave at some point in the future, his spokesman told reporters this week.

The couple are the first unmarried couple to officially live together in Downing Street and the baby is the third to be born to a serving British prime minister in recent history.

Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, gave birth to son Leo in May 2000, while David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, had daughter Florence in 2010.

— AFP

6.0 earthquake shakes Mediterranean Sea south of Crete and felt by Israeli coastal town residents

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake has struck on the Mediterranean Sea south of the Greek island of Crete. No damage or injuries were reported.

Residents of Israeli coastal towns also report having felt the earthquake, according to the Ynet news site.

The Athens Geodynamic Institute said the quake occurred Saturday at 3:51 p.m. local time and was centered 63 kilometers (39 miles) away from the coastal town of Ierapetra at a depth of 9.1 kilometers (5.7 miles).

An aftershock with a preliminary magnitude of 4.4 occurred 10 minutes later about 102 kilometers (63 miles) away from the island, the institute reported.

Two more aftershocks, one with a preliminary magnitude of 4.8 and 4.1 followed in the same general area as the original earthquake.

State news agency ANA reported that people in Iraklio, Crete’s major city located on the island’s north coast, said they felt the first earthquake for several seconds and some people went to their balconies.

Greece is located in a highly seismically active area and experiences hundreds of quakes each year. Saturday’s quake was stronger than most but took place relatively far from populated areas.

— with AP

Ministers set to vote on guidelines allowing for public sector’s reopening — report

The cabinet is reportedly slated to convene later this evening to vote on allowing public sector employees to return to work as early as this week.

The ministers will discuss expanding the “Purple Badge” program — which requires businesses to meet particular hygiene standards in order to remain open — to include government offices as well.

In addition, the cabinet is slated to vote on removing the restriction that bars those over the age of 67 from returning to work, Channel 13 reports.

Judge allows Aisha Rabi murder suspect to carry out house arrest in West Bank home

Central District Court Judge Ido Druyan-Gamaliel has agreed to allow the Israeli suspected of killing a Palestinian mother of eight to carry out his house arrest at his parents’ home in the West Bank, against the recommendation of the State Prosecutor’s Office.

The teenager, whose identity hasn’t been released due to his age, was released to house arrest last May at his grandparents’ house in Kfar Saba.

He is accused of hurling a stone that struck and killed 47-year-old Aisha Rabi while she was driving home with her husband and daughter in October 2018.

Until now, the court had barred him from residing beyond the Green Line due to concerns that he’d be closer to settler extremists, including those at his Rehelim yeshiva in the northern West Bank.

The teen’s attorneys had requested that he be allowed to stay with his parents in the Kochav Hashachar settlement, saying that the current lodging scenario was becoming too burdensome on his grandparents.

The judge accepted the lawyers’ argument that Kochav Hashachar is no closer to Rehelim than Kfar Saba is and so there is no need for concern that he’ll reestablish contact with students in the yeshiva, who he is barred from talking with according to the terms of his release.

The prosecution had opposed the request, stating that part of the goal of the house arrest was to distance the teen from the West Bank.

However, the judge concluded that Kochav Hashachar is a “normative community” and that the electronic monitoring bracelet would be able to update authorities if he ventured out to the more radical surrounding outposts.

The judge rejected the defense’s request to reduce the number of required adult supervisors over the teen from two to one.

Man killed in light aircraft crash named as Shay Ben-Yitzhak, founder of 888 gambling site

A man killed in light aircaft crash in central Israel has been identified as Shay Ben Yitzhak, a businessman and founder of the 888 gambling site.

A 14-year-old was also injured when their light aircraft crashed in a field near Kibbutz Yakum.

Ben-Yitzhak, 52, and the teen were trapped in the plane and eventually extracted from the wreckage by rescue teams before the boy was airlifted to the hospital.

The teen is currently in stable condition after having suffered light injuries.

UK government says virus death toll at 28,131

The UK announces 621 more deaths in the coronavirus outbreak, taking the overall cumulative toll to 28,131, just behind Europe’s worst-hit country Italy.

The government says that 182,260 people had tested positive for COVID-19, up 4,806 from Friday. But hospital admissions had fallen, it adds.

— AFP

Parents of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl appeal acquittals

The parents of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl have filed an appeal with Pakistan’s Supreme Court to reverse a decision overturning the longstanding convictions of four men in the case.

A Karachi court sparked outrage last month when it acquitted British-born militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three other men convicted in Pearl’s 2002 kidnapping and beheading.

“We have filed an appeal of this decision to the Pakistan Supreme Court,” Pearl’s father, Judea Pearl, says in a video message.

“We are standing up for justice not only for our son but for all our dear friends in Pakistan so they can live in a society free of violence and terror and raise their children in peace and harmony.”

The appeal doubles up on a petition prosecutors already filed with the court.

Following the acquittals, authorities re-arrested Sheikh and the others, who will be held for at least three months while the appeals play out.

Pearl’s killing provoked international condemnation, pressuring Pakistan’s military government just as it was remaking its image following years of backing the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Faisal Siddiqui, the lawyer representing Pearl’s parents, tells AFP there is “substantial incriminating evidence, both oral and forensic, against the accused persons for the offenses they have been tried for.”

The “Sindh High Court has misapplied the burden and the standard of proof erroneously to the facts of this case,” their appeal states.

Tariq Bilal, a senior Pakistani lawyer, says the court would take up both appeals simultaneously.

The “filing of the appeal by parents alongside the state would carry greater weight for the court as both parties have questioned the acquittal,” Bilal says.

Pearl was South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants.

A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate nearly a month later.

Observers at the time said the killers were acting out of revenge for Pakistan’s support of the US-led war on the hardline Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Al-Qaeda terror network they harbored.

In a statement supporting the appeal, the Committee to Protect Journalists says releasing the four men in the case “would only add to the threats facing journalists in Pakistan and deepen Pakistan’s reputation as a haven for terrorists.”

— AFP

Ya’alon: Our candidate for prime minister is Yair Lapid

Asked during a Channel 12 interview if his party’s candidate for prime minister is Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon replies, “of course.”

Ya’alon: Netanyahu was elected based on a lie

Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon tells Channel 12 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “elected [based] on a lie.”

He claims that the premier exploited the year’s three elections to skirt his criminal charges.

More than 240,000 coronavirus deaths worldwide

More than 240,000 people have died of the new coronavirus worldwide with over 85 percent of the deaths in Europe and the United States, according to a tally based on official figures.

There have been 240,231 deaths out of 3,371,435 global cases since the virus emerged in China late last year. Europe is the worst-hit continent accounting for 141,475 deaths out of 1,516,635 cases.

The United States has the highest number of deaths at 65,173, followed by Italy (28,236), Britain (28,131), Spain (25,100) and France (24,594).

— AFP

MDA to close its 24/7 coronavirus hotline tomorrow — report

Starting tomorrow, Magen David Adom’s 24/7 special coronavirus hotline will be closed, the Ynet news site reports.

The country’s healthcare providers will take over responsibility for the matter, the site says, not specifying whether new hotlines will be opened.

Italy’s virus death toll jumps by 474, highest since April 21

Italy reports a spike in its daily deaths from the coronavirus, with 474 fatalities reported by the civil protection service, the highest since April 21.

The country’s toll two days before it begins to roll back a nearly two-month national lockdown stands at 28,710, second only to the United States.

— AFP

Central Park field hospital to close as New York COVID-19 cases fall

An emergency field hospital erected in Central Park to treat COVID-19 patients is to close, the group running it announces, as coronavirus cases continue to decline in New York.

Some dozen tents, with ventilators, went up on a lawn opposite Mount Sinai Hospital at the end of March as the Big Apple boosted hospital capacity for the outbreak’s peak.

Samaritan’s Purse, a US-based Christian global relief agency, says the temporary hospital had treated 191 people infected with coronavirus and would stop admitting new patients from Monday.

It will take approximately two weeks to treat the last patients before the tents are decontaminated and taken down, it added in a statement sent to AFP.

“This marks a significant turning point in the coronavirus outbreak in New York because it means the case numbers are declining to the point that the local healthcare system will be able to meet the needs,” the charity says.

The field hospital proved controversial, with LGBT groups pointing out that staff and volunteers are required to sign a “statement of faith” stressing that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

— AFP

Growing list of cities say they weren’t given enough time to reopen schools tomorrow

Despite the cabinet’s Friday afternoon decision to reopen schools on Sunday for grades one through three along with grades 11 and 12, a growing list of cities say they were not given enough notice to return students to classes tomorrow morning.

They include Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Beersheba, Bnei Brak, Ramat Hasharon along with parts of Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai says schools in his city will likely reopen on Tuesday.

School reopening guidelines said to include temperature checks at start of every day

The government’s guidelines for schools to reopen will include daily temperature checks for every student entering the grounds and a requirement for all students in grades two and above to wear masks outside of the classroom.

Students will be barred from sharing food, drinks and supplies.

No games using a ball will be allowed, and every student will be required to wash hands upon entering the classroom, Channel 13 reports.

Despite TV report, minister’s spokesman says cabinet not meeting tonight

Despite a Channel 13 report purporting that the cabinet would be meeting this evening to ease restrictions on the public sector, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s spokesman says no such meeting will be taking place or was even planned altogether.

Self-employed workers and small business owners protest nationwide

Demonstrations are taking place this evening in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Haifa, Kafr Qasim and Eilat against what self-employed workers and small business owners have deemed as the government’s insufficient economic response to the pandemic, Channel 12 reports.

The government has established a special fund for small businesses and self-employed loans worth NIS 80 billion. It has received 48,000 applications for NIS 31 billion in loan requests, but only 14,500 of the applications have been accepted and only NIS 4.6 billion has been distributed, according to Channel 12.

1,000 anti-Netanyahu protesters take to Rabin Square on eve of High Court hearing

Some 1,000 anti-Netanyahu protesters gather in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the Likud-Blue and White coalition deal ahead of the High Court of Justice’s hearing on its constitutionality tomorrow morning.

US asked Israel to explain Chinese firm’s role in desalination plant bid — report

US officials asked their Israeli counterparts last month to explain the role of a Chinese-controlled company that bid on a $1.5 billion desalination plant, Channel 13 reports.

The Trump administration officials included US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who raised the matter with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry, the network adds.

“The Americans are speaking to us about this very politely but it is clear they would like us to review the Chinese participation in the [bid],” an Israeli official says.

Facing mounting pressure from the US over growing Chinese investments in Israeli companies, particularly in technology firms, Israel’s security cabinet announced last year the formation of a new advisory panel on foreign investments in the country.

Egypt filmmaker who criticized Sissi dies in jail

A young Egyptian filmmaker imprisoned for directing a music video critical of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has died in a Cairo jail, his lawyer says

Shady Habash, 24, died in Tora prison, says lawyer Ahmed al-Khawaga, who was unable to give a cause of death.

“His health had been deteriorating for several days… He was hospitalized, then returned to the prison yesterday evening where he died in the night,” he tells AFP, without giving further details.

Habash was detained in March 2018, accused of “spreading fake news” and “belonging to an illegal organization,” according to the prosecution.

He was arrested after having directed the music video for the song “Balaha” by rock singer Ramy Essam.

The song’s lyrics lambast “Balaha” — a name given to Sissi by his detractors in reference to a character in an Egyptian film known for being a notorious liar.

Essam gained popularity during the popular revolt against then-president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. He has since gone into exile in Sweden.

The video has had more than five million views on YouTube.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) says in a Twitter post that Habash died as a result of “negligence and lack of justice.”

Human rights groups have regularly highlighted poor prison conditions in Egypt.

Since early March, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, authorities have suspended visits and the work of the courts, further isolating detainees.

“Due to the measures taken against the coronavirus, no one has been able to see (Habash)” recently, says Khawaga.

Habash himself warned of his predicament back in October, in a letter posted today on Facebook by activist Ahdaf Soueif.

“It’s not prison that kills, it’s loneliness that kills… I’m dying slowly each day,” he wrote.

Fearing the spread of the virus in overcrowded prisons, human rights defenders have called for the release of political prisoners and detainees awaiting trial.

According to several NGOs, an estimated 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners, including secular activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and Islamists arrested in an ongoing crackdown against dissent since the military’s 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

— AFP

Just 84 new virus cases in last 24 hours, as confirmed case tally climbs to 16,185

The Health Ministry announces that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 16,185, an increase of 84 over the past 24 hours.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 229, up two since this morning and four since last night.

According to the Health Ministry, 105 people infected with COVID-19 were in serious condition, 82 of whom were on ventilators.

Another 62 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 9,593 people have recovered from the virus, while 6,363 are still sick.

Turkey lifts ban on export of medical equipment to fight virus

Turkey has lifted restrictions on the export of medical supplies, a move that should facilitate the sale of equipment to Western countries where there have been shortages.

The Commerce Ministry lifted the restrictions on the sale abroad of respirators, incubators and disinfectants such as ethanol, according to a decree published in the official journal.

Previously the sale of such supplies was either prohibited or subject to a requirement to obtain authorization from the Turkish government, with permission given sparingly.

“These restrictions were put in place temporarily in response to the pandemic. The decision to allow exports reflects… Turkey’s growing capacity to contain the coronavirus,” a presidential official tells foreign media.

The lifting of the restrictions represents an opportunity for Turkish companies which have considerably increased their production capacities since the start of the pandemic, at a time when many countries are still struggling to obtain adequate supplies of medical equipment.

Unlike other countries, Turkey has no shortage of respirators or masks.

Ankara, which has been playing the diplomatic card on medical aid since the start of the crisis, sent a military plane full of equipment to Somalia on Saturday, the Defense ministry said.

Turkey has recorded more than 3,300 COVID-19 deaths with nearly 125,000 infections.

— AFP

France extends virus emergency until July 24

The French government says it will extend a health emergency imposed to fight the new coronavirus by two months, allowing it to keep stringent anti-virus measures in place even after a partial lifting of the country’s lockdown.

Once approved by lawmakers, the emergency period will last until July 24, Health Minister Olivier Veran tells a news conference.

The government has announced the gradual lifting of some lockdown measures from May 11, including the reopening of primary schools.

Veran says, however, that to lift the health emergency, which began on March 24, at the same time would be premature and carry the risk of a resurgence of the outbreak.

“We are going to have to perform a long-distance run,” Veran says, adding he was aware that the French people had already been asked for “colossal efforts” in the fight against the virus.

As part of the planned measures, Veran says anybody entering France will have to remain confined for two weeks. This would typically concern “French people who traveled abroad and who want to come home,” he says.

Anyone arriving from abroad and infected with the virus would be obliged by law to be quarantined.

Infected people already in France will, however, not be forced to accept isolation and treatment, as “we trust French people’s sense of responsibility,” Veran says.

— AFP

French coronavirus toll hits five-week low

The number of daily deaths in France from the coronavirus fell to 166, France’s health ministry says, the lowest number in more than five weeks.

But the total number of COVID-19 deaths in France since March 1 rose to 24,760, it added, the fourth highest in Europe.

Pressure on intensive care units eased a bit further, data showed, with a net decline of 51 patients.

The last time the number of daily reported deaths fell below 166 was on March 22, when it represented only those reported by hospitals.

The current figure also includes deaths in elderly care facilities and at home.

The government has announced the country’s strict lockdown will be eased from May 11, but the pace will be slower in harder hit areas such as the greater Paris region and the northeast quarter of the country.

AFP

Cabinet approves removal of age restriction to those returning to work

After conflicting reports on whether the cabinet was meeting tonight, it turns out they have gathered and approved the scrapping of the restriction on people over the age of 67 from returning to work.

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel issues a statement in which she takes credit for the decision, saying she had succeeded in “convincing” the necessary officials that the ban had been ageist.

IDF: Number of confirmed cases among soldiers stands at 217

The number of IDF soldiers who have contracted the coronavirus stands at 217, the army says.

Of them, 120 have recovered and 97 are still fighting  the illness.

ICE detainees refuse virus tests, damage detention center

A group of about 10 federal immigration detainees in the US who refused to be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 caused extensive damage to the center in Dartmouth where they are being held, the local sheriff’s office says in.

The inmates involved in the incident at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center reported multiple symptoms of COVID-19 and when told they had to be tested, they rushed officers.

A news release from the Bristol County sheriff says the detainees barricaded themselves inside the facility, ripped washing machines and pipes off the wall, broke windows and “’trashed the entire unit.” A special response team restrained the detainees, the department said.

No staff injuries were reported. One detainee was hospitalized with “symptoms of a panic attack,” another was hospitalized due to a pre-existing condition and a third “for a medical incident after being removed from the ICE wing.” All three are expected “to be fine,” the sheriff’s department says.

Sheriff Thomas Hodgson says the detainees have been moved to single cells pending disciplinary action, COVID-19 testing and criminal charges.

Damage was estimated at $25,000.

— AP

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Man killed in light aircraft crash named as Shay Ben-Yitzhak, founder of 888 gambling site

A man killed in light aircaft crash in central Israel has been identified as Shay Ben Yitzhak, a businessman and founder of the 888 gambling site.

A 14-year-old was also injured when their light aircraft crashed in a field near Kibbutz Yakum.

Ben-Yitzhak, 52, and the teen were trapped in the plane and eventually extracted from the wreckage by rescue teams before the boy was airlifted to the hospital.

The teen is currently in stable condition after having suffered light injuries.