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Ministers decide grades 1-4 will go back to school Sunday, salons to reopen

Students will be divided into separate pods; after-school programs also to resume; businesses that receive customers on one-by-one basis allowed to reopen

First grade students arrive for their first day of school at Tali Geulim school in Jerusalem on September 1, 2020. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
First grade students arrive for their first day of school at Tali Geulim school in Jerusalem on September 1, 2020. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

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

Gamzu to recommend quarantine for Arab Israelis returning from West Bank

Israel’s task force combating the coronavirus outbreak is concerned cases are being imported from areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, citing high infection rates there and among Arab Israelis.

During today’s meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu will reportedly recommend mandatory quarantine for Arab Israelis returning after visiting the PA-controlled areas.

Also under consideration is the designation of Palestinian cities with high infection rates as “red” cities, which could presumably cause restrictions on people who have visited those cities.

The task force says in a report that PA areas have around 400 new daily cases with a 20% positive test rate (PA official numbers say this figure is in fact around 10%) and 30-40 new serious patients every day, concluding that those numbers indicate the true morbidity rate is around four times higher than the official numbers.

It says Arab Israelis are increasingly going to those areas for work, events and entertainment. It also highlights the fact that some 100,000 Palestinian workers cross into Israel every day.

Death toll from Russia strikes on Syria rebels rises to 78: monitor

Airstrikes by Damascus regime ally Russia killed 78 Turkey-backed rebels in northwest Syria, a monitor says, giving a new toll.

Russian warplanes also wounded 90 more when they targeted a training camp of the Faylaq al-Sham faction in Syria’s last major bastion of the armed opposition of Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

— AFP

Virus surge in Germany delays picking of Merkel’s successor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party says it will push back a congress planned for early December to elect a new leader due to a surge in coronavirus infections.

The conservative party’s top brass will reexamine the situation in mid-December to determine its next steps, general secretary Paul Ziemiak says.

The CDU is still hoping to be able to hold a congress on-site at a later date rather than a video conference, he adds.

— AFP

Turkey’s Erdogan calls for boycott of French goods

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls on Turks to boycott French goods as relations between the NATO allies have deteriorated over Paris’s hardened stance against radical Islam.

“As it has been said in France, ‘don’t buy Turkish-labeled goods,’ I call on my people here: Never give credit to French-labeled goods, don’t buy them,” Erdogan says during a televised speech in Ankara.

— AFP

Boy, 5, killed by truck while riding his bike in Ashkelon

In a tragic incident in the coastal city of Ashkelon, a 5-year-old boy riding his bike is killed when he is hit by a truck on Zevulun Street.

Magen David Adom paramedics pronounce him dead at the scene.

One of the medics says he sustained a severe head injury and had no vital signs.

If Biden elected, Palestinians say they’ll urge reopening of DC office, resumption of funding

Senior Palestinian Authority official Nabil Shaath says that “whether Joe Biden or anyone else reaches power [in the upcoming US presidential elections], they cannot be worse than Donald Trump.”

“Biden will not be worse than Trump the fool, who is leading America towards destruction and acting against the Palestinian cause,” Shaath, who is a key adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, tells the Dunya al-Watan news site.

Nabil Shaath, the Commissioner for External Relations of the Fatah movement, seen in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 18, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Nabil Shaath, the commissioner for external relations of the Fatah movement, seen in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 18, 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Shaath says the Palestine Liberation Organization would ask an incoming Biden administration to reopen the PLO’s office in Washington DC — which the White House ordered to close in 2018 — and to reverse Trump’s cut of US funding.

“We’ll ask for it immediately, although it may take some time to implement,” Shaath says, adding that the Palestinians would be patient until Biden could “assemble his administration.”

Ramallah has made little effort to conceal its desire to see Trump out of the White House, having repeatedly opposed the US president’s policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the last four years.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told an audience by videoconference earlier in October: “God help us if Trump is reelected.”

— Aaron Boxerman

Biden calls Trump ‘George,’ apparently confusing him with Bush

Democratic US presidential candidate calls President Donald Trump “George” during an online campaign event, appearing to confuse him with former president George Bush and drawing ridicule from the incumbent president.

“Not because I’m running, but because who I’m running against, this is the most consequential election in a long, long, long time,” Biden says.

“And the character of the country in my view is literally on the ballot. What kind of country we’re gonna be? Four more years of George, ah, George, he… gonna find ourselves in a position where if Trump gets elected we’re gonna be in a different world.”

Trump responds with a gleeful tweet, falsely claiming that Biden needed the interviewer to remind him of Trump’s name.

Ministers meet to discuss further easing of virus measures

The high-level coronavirus cabinet convenes to discuss the further easing of lockdown measures in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, a day after giving approval for some schools to reopen next week.

Ministers are expected to deliberate allowing afterschool care programs and school buses to resume operating, as well as allowing some shops to reopen.

Merkel condemns ‘defamatory’ Erdogan criticism of Macron

The German government calls a series of attacks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against France’s President Emmanuel Macron “defamatory” and “unacceptable” and expresses solidarity with Paris.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman says she strongly condemns Erdogan’s fiery remarks about Macron, who took a defiant stance after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to pupils in France in a lesson on free speech earlier this month.

“They are defamatory comments that are completely unacceptable, particularly against the backdrop of the horrific murder of the French teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist fanatic,” spokesman Steffen Seibert says.

— AFP

Florida man accused of stealing bulldozer, running down Biden signs

A 26-year-old man has been accused of stealing a bulldozer from a Florida construction site, driving it into a neighborhood and knocking down campaign signs for Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden, according to authorities and homeowners.

The man took the bulldozer in Haines City on Saturday and repeatedly destroyed Biden signs in full view of people who live in the neighborhood, witnesses say. James Blight has been charged with grand theft auto and trespassing, according to the Haines City Police Department.

Former Vice Mayor Adam Burgess lives in the central Florida neighborhood, which he says is predominantly Black. He calls it a hate crime.

“This man came onto my property, took the two Joe Biden signs I had in my yard and then came back with a bulldozer to run down my fence,” Burgess tells Bay News 9.

Video taken by the news outlet shows the damaged fences. Blight is also accused of bulldozing down a city speed limit sign, among other signs.

Police say Blight claims he was too drunk at the time to remember what happened. It is not immediately clear whether he has an attorney who can comment on his behalf.

— AP

Ultra-Orthodox party to oppose increasing fines for schools opening illegally

The United Torah Judaism party reportedly reaches a decision to oppose legislation increasing the fines for education institutions that violate coronavirus restrictions.

Many ultra-Orthodox yeshiva elementary and high schools have been operating over the past week, breaking the law and receiving NIS 5,000 ($1,480) fines.

Ministers are proposing to up that amount to make the threat of fines more deterring.

But the Haredi party, which views the measure as directed against their community, says if such a bill is up for a Knesset vote, it’ll vote against it.

Ashkenazi tells Russian FM Iranian entrenchment in Syria must be prevented

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for the first time, during a diplomatic visit to the Greek capital of Athens, the Foreign Ministry says in a statement.

Ashkenazi updated Lavrov on developments on the normalization deals with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, as well as the issue of Iran and its proxy terror groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the statement says.

“Israel appreciates the ties and the coordination with the Russian government on preventing an Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” Ashkenazi is quoted saying, calling for preventing Tehran from arming Hezbollah.

The statement says other bilateral matters were discussed, including cooperation on the economy and battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has tweeted about the meeting, without offering more details.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R) meets his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Athens, Greece, October 26, 2020. (Foreign Ministry)

Erdan denounces UN Security Council for ‘muted response’ to normalization deals

The United Nations Security Council is holding a meeting on the situation in the Middle East, with Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan chiding the body for staying relatively silent on the Jewish state’s recent normalization deals with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

“I have witnessed a jarring dissonance between what this council chooses to focus on and what’s actually happening in the Middle East,” Erdan tells the council, in a meeting held via video conference.

In his address, Erdan calls on the council to “break free from old paradigms and address the new reality in the Middle East.”

He addresses the Security Council’s “muted response” to the recent agreements and its “apparent disregard for other factors that jeopardize the stability and security of the region.”

He mocks recent talk of potential Palestinian elections, which haven’t been held since 2004.

“Israel has held more elections in a year than the Palestinians have held in the last fifteen,” he says. Israel held three national elections between April 2019 and March 2020 amid a severe political crisis.

Erdan speaks after the PA’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki and the UN’s special envoy on Middle East peace Nickolai Mladenov.

The Palestinian representative’s address was interrupted by none other than Erdan, who didn’t realize his microphone was on and could be heard loudly preparing for his subsequent speech.

In first, poll finds Bennett more popular than Netanyahu

For the first time, a poll finds that more Israelis would like to see Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett as prime minister over Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bennett, a right-wing religious leader currently in the opposition, has grown in popularity after continuously criticizing the government’s policies on the coronavirus, recommending steps that were eventually implemented by Netanyahu months later, seemingly proving him right. He has declared himself a candidate for the premiership.

The Channel 12 poll — which is hypothetical since Israel doesn’t have direct elections — finds that if Bennett runs against Netanyahu and those are the only options, Bennett would get 31.4% of the votes while Netanyahu would get 28.6%.

35% say they would not vote for either of the two right-wing leaders.

UN envoy Mladenov urges Ramallah to resume security coordination with Israel

In a briefing to United Nations Security Council, UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Process Nickolay Mladenov appeals to the Palestinian Authority to resume its security coordination with Israel.

Ramallah ceased coordinating with Israel in May in protest over Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank. Those plans have since been suspended, but coordination has yet to return.

The United Nations Middle East special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 25, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

As part of ending coordinating with Israel, the PA has refused to accept tax revenues which Israel collects on its behalf. Those revenues constitute a large share of the Palestinian budget.

“I appeal to the Palestinian leadership to resume its coordination with Israel and accept its clearance revenues – money that belongs to the Palestinian people and cannot be replaced by donor funding,” Mladenov says.

The PA’s refusal to accept the tax revenues has led to delayed or cut salaries across the West Bank and dealt a serious blow to the Palestinian economy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The viability of the Palestinian Authority is being severely undermined by an economic and fiscal crisis that has been exacerbated by the Palestinian decision to end civilian and security coordination with Israel,” Mladenov says.

Mladenov also calls on Israel to “facilitate freer movement of Palestinian workers and goods into Israel and between the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

— Aaron Boxerman

Daughter of Lebanese president says open to peace with Israel, under conditions

The daughter of Lebanese President Michel Aoun has been drawing outrage in her country after repeatedly calling for peace with Israel, though with significant caveats.

Claudine Aoun first made the remark last month, and has since repeated it on TV several times. She tweeted about the issue again yesterday.

“Before talking about peace, we must demarcate the borders and solve the problems related to our land,” she wrote on September 24, referring to a dispute over the maritime border between the countries, which is being dealt with via indirect US-brokered talks, and several minor land disputes.

“Then I support adopting a defense strategy that would defend ourselves when we are attacked,” she added. “We all support the principle of peace and I hope to visit Jerusalem, but not before all problems are solved.”

In yesterday’s tweet, Aoun added that the Palestinian refugee issue would have to also be solved — one of the core problems of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is only likely to be solved as part of a general peace agreement between both sides.

“Once these problems are solved, I would not object to the prospect of a peace agreement between the Lebanese state and Israel,” she has said on national TV.

Cabinet said set to back reopening stores on Sunday; Health Ministry objects

After a seven-hour meeting, ministers in the so-called coronavirus cabinet lean towards approving the reopening of stores that accept customers in person as early as Sunday, Hebrew-language media reports.

But while a majority seems to be forming to approve the step, it has not been okayed, since the Health Ministry still strongly opposes it.

New studies suggest Moon far richer in water than previously thought

There may be far more water on the Moon than previously thought, according to two studies published today, raising the tantalizing prospect that astronauts on future space missions could find refreshment — and maybe even fuel — on the lunar surface.

The Moon was believed to be bone dry until around a decade ago, when a series of findings suggested that our nearest celestial neighbor has traces of water trapped in the surface.

The full moon rises on the sky in Gaza City, September 1, 2020. (AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)

Two new studies published in Nature Astronomy suggest that there could be much more water than previously thought, including ice stored in permanently shadowed “cold traps” at lunar polar regions.

Previous research has found indications of water by scanning the surface — but these were unable to distinguish between water (H2O) and hydroxyl, a molecule made up of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom.

A new study provides further chemical proof that the Moon holds molecular water, even in sunlit areas.

Researchers believe the water might be trapped in glass beads, or another substance that protects it from the harsh lunar environment, co-author Casey Honniball, of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, tells AFP, adding that further observations will help better understand where the water may have come from and how it is stored.

“If we find the water is abundant enough in certain locations we may be able to use it as a resource for human exploration,” Honniball says. “It could be used as drinking water, breathable oxygen, and rocket fuel.”

— AFP

Positive virus test rate hits new low as serious patients go below 500

The rate of positive coronavirus tests has hit a new low since the beginning of the second wave in June, with just 1.9% of all 26,282 test results that have come back so far today returning positive.

The number of patients in serious condition has fallen below 500 for the first time in about six weeks, according to the data released by the Health Ministry.

There were 569 new cases confirmed yesterday, 2.9% of the 19,958 test results. Another 495 have been added to the tally today.

The total number of cases since the pandemic began is 310,600, including 13,375 active cases. Of them, 486 are in serious condition, including 196 on ventilators. Another 142 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

The death toll grows to 2,440.

Netanyahu doesn’t have to quarantine after secretary gets COVID-19 — ministry

The Health Ministry says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not have to enter quarantine even though a secretary in his office has been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.

The ministry makes the announcement following an epidemiological investigation and says each employee in the Prime Minister’s Office has received individual instructions on what steps to take.

Hamas convicts Gazan man who met Israelis on Zoom, but says he’ll be freed

Gaza’s Hamas authorities have convicted three Palestinian peace campaigners who were jailed last April for holding an online video conference with Israeli participants, but rules that they will not spend more time in jail, a rights group and the main defendant’s family say.

Rami Aman, 39, was detained in April along with seven members of his Gaza Youth Committee group after holding a two-hour Zoom meeting. The event drew dozens of peace activists, including Israelis.

Rami Aman, 38, speaks to Israeli activists during a videoconference in April, before being arrested by Hamas authorities (Screenshot: Youtube)

Hamas, an Islamic terror group that opposes Israel’s existence and openly advocates for its destruction, pressed treason charges against Aman and a colleague, but released five of the detainees days later.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which defended Aman, says a military court has suspended the remainder of the defendants’ one-year sentences and released them.

Aman’s family confirms that their son has arrived home, but declines to comment further.

The rare Zoom conference bringing Israelis and Gazans together was advertised on a Facebook event page and some Israeli participants published a recording of the discussions, prompting fierce condemnations of Aman and other Gaza participants. Hamas-run security forces then made the arrests.

Since seizing power in 2007 in a bloody coup, Hamas has fought three wars against Israel, and anti-Israel sentiment is common in Gaza.

— Agencies

Jerusalem Islamic museum suspends sale of its exhibits following outrage

Following outrage, Jerusalem’s Museum of Islamic Art’s asks to delay the sale of part of its storied collection, days before some 200 items were set to go under the hammer through Sotheby’s London.

One-hundred-and-ninety objects of Islamic art from the museum’s storage and 60 clocks and watches from its permanent collection have been scheduled to be sold on October 27 and 28, according to Sotheby’s.

Hermann de Stern Foundation, a private foundation that owns the items, says the decision was made due to criticism of the planned sale voiced by many, including President Reuven Rivlin.

Lamenting the planned move, Rivlin said yesterday in a statement, “We must find the means available to the State of Israel in the legal and international spheres to prevent the sale of these cultural assets from the region as a whole.”

The facade of the L.A. Mayer Museum for the Islamic Arts in Jerusalem. (courtesy, Sotheby’s)

The foundation says it has now suspended the move “due to our great respect for the president of Israel, and even though the sale of the items was made in accordance with all relevant laws.”

The L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art had said earlier that facing financial pressures, including and especially from the coronavirus pandemic, it has been forced to sell off the items, in order to remain open at all.

The sale of Islamic works, including objects, manuscripts, rugs and carpets, has been estimated to bring a total of between $4.13 million and $6.1 million to the museum. The watches, which will be offered on the auction’s second day, have a combined estimated worth of $2.2 million-$3.4 million.

Cabinet decides grades 1-4 to go back to school Sunday, salons to be reopened

After marathon discussions, ministers in the so-called coronavirus cabinet approve the reopening of hairdressers, beauty salons, and other businesses that receive customers, but only one at a time, starting this coming Sunday.

Studies and after-school care programs will resume for grades 1-4, in accordance with an outline that will see kids divided into separate pods.

A separate meeting will be held Thursday to decide on reopening other stores and guest houses.

Palestinian man indicted over planned terror attack in central Israel

A Palestinian man was indicted yesterday for illegally carrying a loaded gun and planning to carry out a shooting attack with it in the central Israeli town of Rosh Ha’ayin in late September, police say.

A gag order was placed on the case, but it was rescinded after the suspect, Moataz Musa Hussein, was charged in a military court.

According to police, officers were tipped off about Hussein’s plans to carry out an attack in Rosh Ha’ayin on September 29.

“Officers conducted searches during which they spotted the suspect. The officers approached him, subdued him and noticed that a loaded pistol, ammunition magazines and a box of bullets were hidden on him… Their effort effectively prevented the terror attack,” police say.

“Following his interrogation, the suspect admitted that he’d planned to carry out a terror attack,” police add.

The suspect, from the West Bank village of Qalqilya, was indicted yesterday in a Samaria Military Court, police say.

— Judah Ari Gross

US solidifies sanctions against Iranian oil sector

US President Donald Trump’s administration slaps fresh sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, including over sales to Syria and Venezuela, reducing Joe Biden’s room to maneuver if he wins next week’s election.

The Trump administration since 2018 has imposed sweeping sanctions aimed at ending all of Iran’s key oil exports, punishing any country that buys oil from its adversary.

Under the new measures, the administration says it is designating the National Iranian Oil Company, Iran’s petroleum ministry, and the National Iranian Tanker Company under a counterterrorism authority, meaning that any future administration will need to take legal measures to reverse the finding.

The Treasury Department issues the sanctions by linking the three entities to the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force — which has previously been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and others, and whose commander, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US attack at the Baghdad airport in January.

“The Iranian regime continues to prioritize its support for terrorist entities and its nuclear program over the needs of the Iranian people,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin says in a statement.

— AFP

Turkish media report explosion in town near Syrian border

Turkey’s state-run news agency says there has been an explosion in a town near the border with Syria but there is no immediate information on possible casualties or damage.

Anadolu Agency says the explosion occurred in the town of Iskenderun, in Hatay province. Haberturk television quotes the region’s governor as saying it was a terrorist attack and one out of two “terrorists” involved was killed in an ongoing security operation.

Police, fire service rescuers and medical teams have been dispatched to the area, Anadolu reports.

The explosion comes days after the US Embassy in Turkey issued a security alert, saying it received reports of a possible attack on Americans and other foreigners, and urged American citizens to exercise caution.

The Islamic State terror group and an outlawed Kurdish militant group conducted deadly attacks on Turkish soil between 2015 and 2017.

— Agencies

Likud MK Haim Katz to face second indictment over tax offenses — report

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has made a decision to file a second indictment against Likud MK Haim Katz on tax offenses, which will be announced in the coming days, Channel 12 news reports.

Katz, who already faces fraud and breach of trust charges, is alleged to have hidden income totaling NIS 12 million ($3.5 million) over the course of 12 years, according to the report.

Katz received parliamentary immunity in February to shield himself from the fraud and breach of trust charges filed last year. Mandelblit has urged the High Court of Justice to overturn the decision and allow the former welfare minister to be prosecuted.

Likud MK Haim Katz during a Knesset plenary session debate on his request for parliamentary immunity from prosecution, February 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Footage shows hundreds of Haredi yeshiva students violating virus rules

The Kan public broadcaster publishes footage of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox students at the Ponivezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak sitting indoors without social distancing, separate groups, or wearing face masks.

The footage is said to have been taken yesterday.

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Ministers meet to discuss further easing of virus measures

The high-level coronavirus cabinet convenes to discuss the further easing of lockdown measures in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, a day after giving approval for some schools to reopen next week.

Ministers are expected to deliberate allowing afterschool care programs and school buses to resume operating, as well as allowing some shops to reopen.