MKs approve 50-person limit for bars, event halls
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Iran admits ‘considerable’ damage at Natanz nuclear site

Spokesperson says fire could slow down centrifuge development, claims authorities have pinpointed the source of mysterious blast

This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.

Deputy health minister warns of ‘super-dramatic’ surge in virus cases

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch warns of a possible “super-dramatic” rise in COVID-19 cases if immediate restrictions are not introduced.

“We’re facing a long war of attrition,” he tells a Knesset panel dedicated to the pandemic response.

“We’ve doubled the number of ill in 10 days. There is a larger number of new serious cases. The infections are spreading all over the country… We must act to significantly limit mass social events.”

“If we don’t do this, the price we will pay in two weeks could be super-dramatic and I think this is the point that must be made clear. All the restrictions aim at avoiding a lockdown. I feel everyone’s pain, but if we don’t take these significant measures today, tomorrow we will pay a far steeper price in terms of health and the economy.”

Health Ministry: 86 people with coronavirus in serious condition

The Health Ministry says the number of serious coronavirus cases has climbed to 86, with 29 of them on ventilators.

A month ago, the overall number of serious cases in the country stood at 29.

According to the ministry, there are 11,189 active cases, and 5 percent of the 16,342 tests conducted yesterday returned positive.

Seventy-eight people are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic remains at 330.

Rocket fired toward US Embassy in Iraq injures child

The Iraqi military says that a rocket aimed at Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, home of the US embassy, struck a residential house and injured a child.

Iraqi officials say the embassy’s recently installed C-RAM air defense system may have attempted to intercept the rocket as the system was operational late Saturday. A recent spate of rocket attacks have struck close to the US embassy and targeted American troops in Iraqi bases. The officials speak on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The rocket was launched from the Ali Al-Saleh area of Baghdad and landed next to a house close to a local TV channel late Saturday, the military statement says. A child suffered head injuries and the house was damaged.

Iraqi security forces say they also thwarted another attack in the Umm al-Azam area aiming to hit Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, a training base used by US-led coalition forces.

In March, two Americans and one British soldier were killed following a barrage of rockets on Camp Taji.

AP

US daily virus cases fall under 50,000 for 1st time in 4 days

The United States has dipped under 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in four days, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts fear celebrations for the July 4th Independence Day weekend will act like rocket fuel for the nation’s surging outbreak.

Johns Hopkins counts 45,300 new coronavirus infections in the US on Saturday after three days in which the daily count reached as high as 54,500 new cases. The lower figure on Saturday does not necessarily mean the situation in the US is improving, as it could be due to reduced reporting on a national holiday.

The United States has the most infections and virus-related deaths in the world, with 2.8 million cases and nearly 130,000 dead, according to the university. Experts say the true toll of the pandemic is significantly higher, due to people who died before they were tested and missed mild cases.

To show just how steep the current infection curve is in the US, the country was reporting under 20,000 new infections a day as recently as June 15.

Despite warnings by health experts to limit gatherings, US President Donald Trump went ahead with a speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday and an evening of tribute and fireworks Saturday on the National Mall in Washington.

AP

Iran reports new record one-day virus death toll of 163

Iranian health authorities announce 163 new deaths due to the COVID-19 disease, the country’s highest official one-day toll since the outbreak began in February.

The previous record of 162 deaths was announced on Monday in the Islamic Republic, which has been battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The new deaths bring the total toll in Iran to 11,571, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says on state television.

“In the past 24 hours, 2,560 people have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections to 240,438,” Lari adds.

Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in fatalities and new confirmed cases since Iran reported a near-two month low in daily recorded infections in early May.

The increase has prompted the government to make the wearing of masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces in an effort to combat the spread of the virus.

AFP

Trump says 99% of COVID-19 cases are ‘totally harmless’

US President Donald Trump, speaking at a July 4 event, claimed 99 percent of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless,” in a statement not backed up by any data.

“Now we have tested almost 40m people. By so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless. Results that no other country can show because no other country has the testing that we have, not in terms of the numbers or in terms of quality,” said Trump.

He also claims the US, which has seen over 130,000 deaths from the virus, dealt well with the pandemic.

“We got hit by the virus that came from China,” Trump said. “Our strategy is moving along well. It goes out in one area, it rears back its ugly face in another area. But we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned how to put out the flame.”

Dozens dead, missing in Japan as heavy rain causes floods, mudslides

About 34 people are either confirmed or feared dead — including 14 at a nursing home — after torrential rain in Japan triggered massive floods and mudslides, authorities say.

Rescuers are searching for 14 others still missing after floods hit the Kumamoto region on the southwestern island of Kyushu, destroying houses, sweeping away vehicles and causing bridges to collapse.

The regional government confirms 18 people have died, while another 16 are declared in a state of “cardio-respiratory arrest” — a term often used in Japan before a doctor officially certifies death.

Fourteen of those feared dead were at a nursing home inundated when local rivers broke their banks. Emergency services rescued 50 people from the facility.

AFP

Report: Minister says restaurants to close, ‘harsh restrictions’ ahead

Prof. Eli Waxman, who is on the panel of experts advising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warns ministers about the rising virus numbers, the Ynet news site reports.

“If we don’t take dramatic steps, we’ll reach a [nationwide] lockdown in two weeks,” he is quoted as saying.

An unnamed minister tells the news site: “Obviously, restaurants will be closed. What Waxman presented was dramatic, we’re facing harsh restrictions.”

According to the report, Waxman was asked whether Israel should close beaches and parks. He responded: “Everywhere there are people gathering is a danger,” the report says.

Global virus death toll rises to 530,865

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 530,865 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.

At least 11,296,470 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 5,895,500 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

The United States is the worst-hit country with 129,676 deaths from 2,839,917 cases. At least 894,325 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 64,265 deaths from 1,577,004 cases, the United Kingdom with 44,198 deaths from 284,900 cases, Italy with 34,854 deaths from 241,419 cases, and Mexico, now surpassing France, with 30,366 deaths from 252,165 cases.

The country with the highest death rate is Belgium with 84 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by United Kingdom with 65, Spain 61, Italy 58, and Sweden 54.

China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 83,553 cases (eight new since Saturday), including 4,634 deaths (none new) and 78,516 recoveries.

Europe overall has 199,252 deaths from 2,721,295 cases, the United States and Canada 138,396 deaths from 2,945,234 infections, Latin America and the Caribbean 126,648 deaths from 2,869,221 cases, Asia 37,862 deaths from 1,472,093 cases, Middle East 17,480 deaths from 813,851 cases, Africa 11,094 deaths from 464,804 cases, and Oceania 133 deaths from 9,972 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.

AFP

Citing ’emergency,’ Netanyahu to convene cabinet Monday to discuss further virus restrictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene the entire cabinet again tomorrow to discuss tightening measures to fight the current rise in coronavirus cases, his office announces.

At today’s cabinet meeting, Netanyaha stressed: “We are in an emergency situation. We cannot approach Knesset legislation, with the steps that we are taking, as if everything was normal. It is not and it is on this basis that we want to advance both the means to make decisions and decision-making on a different scale and magnitude, in order to block the spread of the coronavirus. If we do not block the spread of the coronavirus we will have neither health nor an economy, many citizens in the State of Israel will lose their lives.

He added: “We must do what is necessary. Therefore, in the coming day, after the presentation that will be shown here, we will have an additional Cabinet meeting in order to make the necessary decisions, both practical ad legislative.”

Raphael Ahren

Appointment of Jerusalem affairs minister may be against the law

The appointment of MK Rafi Peretz as Jerusalem Affairs minister may be against the law, since the former Yamina lawmaker never officially dissolved his alliance with the right-wing Yamina party, which remains in the opposition, Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, has found.

Peretz — who led the Jewish Home faction in Yamina — is still officially listed as part of Yamina, it finds.

That means he’s considered a defector from the party, and under Israeli law, those who abandon their respective political parties cannot be appointed ministers for the remainder of the Knesset term.

The reason for withholding the Yamina-Jewish Home split may be financial, since it will cost the parties NIS 160,000 — or could signal a hope that Yamina will eventually be folded into the governing coalition.

Peretz’s spokesperson is surprised by the oversight and tells Zman it would be looked into. Yamina doesn’t respond to the report.

Settlers, Palestinians clash in West Bank

Police report clashes between settlers and Palestinians near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Shomron.

Security forces are heading to the area.

It’s unclear what sparked the violence.

2 Palestinians hospitalized in West Bank with gun wounds

The Palestinian health ministry says two Palestinians have arrived at a hospital in the central West Bank with gun wounds.

One is moderately wounded from gunfire and the other lightly wounded, the Palestinian authorities say.

It’s not immediately clear how they were injured.

with Jacob Magid

Drunk people can’t socially distance, UK police conclude

Britain’s police say Sunday that revelers who packed London’s Soho district the night its pubs finally reopened made it “crystal clear” that drunk people cannot socially distance.

England’s hospitality sector sprung back to life after a three-month coronavirus hiatus on what the media dubbed “Super Saturday” or “Independence Day.”

Pubs and restaurants were allowed to start seating clients and barbers could get their clippers out for the first time since March.

But the head of Britain’s police federation says he ended up dealing with “naked men, happy drunks, angry drunks, fights and more angry drunks” while on shift.

“What was crystal clear is that drunk people can’t/won’t socially distance,” John Apter tells London radio.

He says his own police department in the southern city of Southampton “managed to cope.”

“I know other areas have had issues with officers being assaulted,” Apter says.

A scan of police reports from Saturday night showed a similar level of mischief-making across England.

AFP

UAE orders government shakeup as virus erodes economic gains

The United Arab Emirates announces a wide-ranging government shakeup aimed at creating a more flexible and modern bureaucracy to tackle challenges as the coronavirus and lower oil prices erode what was already sluggish economic growth.

The UAE prime minister and ruler of the emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, publishes the ministerial changes on his Twitter account, saying the goal was to create a “government that is faster in decision making and is more up to date with changes.”

Many powerful officials keep their jobs under the Cabinet shakeup. They include the ministers of interior and foreign affairs, who hail from the ruling Al Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi, the federal capital that also controls the presidency.

As part of the shakeup, the ministries of energy and infrastructure were merged and will be led by current Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei. The new ministry will oversee a national housing program for Emirati citizens, among other federal agencies.

Sheikh Mohammed also announces the creation of a new Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology that will be led by Sultan al-Jaber, who is among the highest-profile figures in the UAE.

Al-Jaber serves as CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, board chairman of the government-owned renewable energy company Masdar and chairman of UAE’s National Media Council, in addition to other posts. It was not immediately clear if he would retain those posts as minister.

A woman was named to head the nascent Emirates Space Agency. Sarah al-Amiri is currently leading the UAE’s Hope Probe to Mars, which will launch this month from Japan with the goal of providing a new look at the planet’s climate and atmosphere.

Additionally, the ministries of culture and youth were merged. The new ministry will oversee the country’s National Media Council that accredits all local and foreign journalists and oversees media outlets operating in the country. The ministry will be led Noura al-Kaabi, formerly the culture minister.

A new position overseeing “digital economy, artificial intelligence and remote work applications” will be led by Omar Al-Ulama as a minister of state. The country made waves in 2016 when it created ministry-level posts for happiness and tolerance.

Other plans include converting half of all government service centers into digital platforms in the coming two years.

The UAE is home to airlines Emirates and Etihad Airways, port operator DP World, and the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa.

Dubai’s economy relies heavily on real estate investments, aviation, tourism and finance, which are all sectors that have been hard-hit by the pandemic. Abu Dhabi, which is the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates that comprise the UAE, has relied on substantial oil and gas reserves to fuel the country’s development and growth.

AP

Police: Several injured in West Bank clashes

Police say the clashes erupted between settler youth and Palestinian farm workers between the settlements of Shavei Shomron and Karnei Shomron.

They say several “youths,” apparently referring to the Israelis, were hospitalized with light injuries and another was taken for medical treatment over a suspected gun wound. It does not say explicitly whether the injured are Israeli or Palestinians.

But the Samaria Regional Council spokesperson offers a different account, saying Israeli farmers were set upon with stones and clubs by 100 Palestinians. One of the farmers, who was armed, opened fire to scatter the rioters, it says.

Palestinian media reports are describing it as a territorial fight over a piece of farmland.

The fight broke out close to the village of Biddya in Salfit Governorate, the official WAFA news agency says.

Ma’an News Agency says the fight broke out due to both sides claiming that the same piece of farmland, which the report called an attempted “takeover” by settlers. Ma’an also reports that there was a sit-in on the land by local Palestinian residents yesterday.

with Jacob Magid, Aaron Boxerman

MKs approve 50-person limit for bars, event halls

Lawmakers on the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus approve government regulations limiting gatherings in bars and event halls to 50 people.

The new restrictions go into effect at 8 a.m. Monday, after seven lawmakers on the panel back it and three oppose it.

‘They shot and fled,’ Palestinians say of settler clash

Iyad Abid, a member of the Biddya Emergency Committee, tells The Times of Israel that the two injured men in West Bank clashes with settlers are Biddya residents Mohannad al-Sadiq and Daoud Salameh (Abu Karim).

“The settlers say that the land is theirs, and they want to take it by force. But it belongs to private individuals in Biddya,” Abid says.

Abid says the town had held a protest against what he said were attempts by settlers to take it over on Friday.

Asked about claims by the Samaria Regional Council spokesperson that there were “100 Arabs” who had attacked Jewish farmers, Abid further claimed that the two injured were the only ones present on their land during the alleged confrontation, and that the rest only arrived after the settlers had fled.

“They shot and fled,” Abid says, referring to the settlers.

Aaron Boxerman

Opposition leader Lapid raps blanket 50-person cap for venues

Opposition leader Yair Lapid slams the government for imposing a blanket 50-person limit for all event hall and bars, saying the size of each venue should have been taken into account.

“There is no logic in the directive to limit it to 50 people in every place. The order should have been taken with [consideration for] the size of the venue, but no one in this lazy government is working,” he tweets.

The government rule will cause the financial ruin of hundreds of thousands, he adds.

On agenda for Monday’s cabinet meeting: Limits on beaches, restaurants

The Kan public broadcaster reports that cabinet ministers on Monday will discuss whether to impose restrictions on beaches and whether to limit the number of people allowed in a restaurant to 50.

Ministers will also debate canceling permissions for cultural events to go ahead.

‘We’re in a war!’ tweets senior minister as virus rages

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz says he’s pushing the government to develop a civilian tracking application to replace the Shin Bet agency surveillance, which will be mandatory for all Israelis to install to gain access to public spaces.

“We’re in a war!” he tweets, referring to the rising virus cases.

India sees record number of daily virus cases; opens huge treatment center

India adds a record number of coronavirus cases Sunday, as the world’s fourth worst-hit nation opens a huge treatment center with 10,000 beds in the capital to fight the epidemic.

The health ministry reports just under 25,000 cases and 613 deaths in 24 hours — the biggest daily spike since the first case was detected in late January.

The surge takes India’s total tally to more than 673,000 cases and 19,268 deaths.

It comes as the capital New Delhi started treating patients at a spiritual center converted into a sprawling isolation facility and hospital with 10,000 beds, many made of cardboard and chemically coated to make them waterproof.

About the size of 20 football fields, the facility on the outskirts of the city will treat mild symptomatic and asymptomatic cases.

State government officials fear Delhi, home to 25 million people, could record more than half-a-million cases by the end of the month.

AFP

Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat tapped for Eritrea post

Ishmael Khaldi, Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat who recently made headlines after a security guard in Jerusalem choked him, will be appointed ambassador to Eritrea, the Foreign Ministry announces.

The nomination still requires cabinet approval.

His is one of 11 ambassadorship nominations announced by the ministry, which will be brought for a ministerial vote.

Ministers reject bill allowing MKs to give up their salaries

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation rejects a bill that would allow lawmakers to give up their monthly salary or donate it to the public coffers.

The proposed legislation was raised by Likud MK Nir Barkat, among other coalition lawmakers. Barkat, a former Jerusalem mayor who relinquished his salary when he ran the capital, laments the decision as “unfortunate.”

“Public trust in its leaders starts with a personal example,” says Barkat in a statement. “It could have been an opportunity to identify with and display a special solidarity during this difficult time.”

“I, in any case, have no intention of withdrawing my salary and the Knesset can donate it to whatever good cause it may choose.”

Netanyahu extends Mossad chief’s term by 6 months

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to extend Mossad intelligence chief Yossi Cohen’s term by six months, until the summer of 2021, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Cohen was supposed to step down in January after five years in the position. But he has agreed to stay on until June 2021 at Netanyahu’s request.

Health Ministry says working to resolve erroneous quarantine orders

The Health Ministry acknowledges a barrage of complaints by Israelis who have received notice from the Shin Bet surveillance program that they were exposed to COVID-19 carriers and must self-isolate, despite not being at the locations cited in the message.

The ministry says it’s working to resolve the problem.

But it stresses that all are required to enter quarantine until receiving permission from the ministry to leave it.

Unemployment rate at 20.9%

The unemployment rate stands at 20.9 percent, according to the Employment Service.

Of the 847,000-plus who are unemployed, more than 584,000 were placed on unpaid leave as a result of the pandemic.

FDA head rejects Trump’s ‘harmless’ virus claim

The Food and Drug Administration commissioner is declining to back up US President Donald Trump’s claim that 99% of coronavirus cases are “harmless.”

Dr. Stephen Hahn tells CNN and ABC that he’s “not going to get into who is right and who is wrong,” but that government data clearly show “this is a serious problem.”

He adds that “any case is tragic” and that to stem the tide of surging cases people should follow government guidance to practice social distancing and wear a mask.

In Fourth of July remarks, Trump said the US was testing too much and falsely asserted that “by so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless.”

The World Health Organization in fact has said about 20% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 progress to severe disease, including pneumonia and respiratory failure. Those with mild or no symptoms, meanwhile, could spread the virus to others.

The mayor of Austin, Texas, where COVID-19 cases are surging, called Trump’s remarks “dangerous” and “wrong.” Mayor Steve Adler urged people to listen to local officials for public safety guidance rather than the “ambiguous message coming out of Washington.”

AP

Iran says it is negotiating a 25-year accord with China

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Iran has been negotiating a 25-year accord with China whose terms will be announced once a deal is struck.

“With confidence and conviction, we are negotiating a 25-year strategic accord with China,” Iran’s top trading partner, he tells a stormy session of parliament.

China is also a key market for Iranian crude exports, which however have been dampened by US sanctions imposed after Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Tehran.

An accord with China has been a hot topic on Iranian social media since populist ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad last month denounced negotiations underway with a foreign country.

But Zarif, who came under fire over the 2015 nuclear accord which Iranian conservatives had opposed, insists there was “nothing secret” about the China deal.

The nation would be informed “when an accord has been concluded,” he says, adding it had already been made public in January 2016 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tehran.

AFP

Rocket sirens sound in southern Israel

Rocket sirens are triggered in southern Israel, near the Gaza border.

It is not immediately clear if any projectiles were fired into Israel.

Florida hits more than 200,000 coronavirus cases

Florida health officials say the state has reached a grim milestone: more than 200,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

State statistics released Sunday show about 10,000 new people tested positive. Saturday’s numbers — more than 11,400 cases — marked a record new single-day high. More than 3,700 people have died.

About 43 percent of the cases are in three counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez says on ABC’s “This Week” that the high numbers of positive tests both in his county and the state are “extremely worrisome.”

Suarez, who had the virus in March, says it is clear that the growth is “exponential at this point” and officials are closely monitoring hospitalizations. They are also closely watching the death rate, which “give us the impression” that “much stricter” measures have to be taken.

Florida’s death count is the ninth highest in the country overall and the 27th highest per capita at 17.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 5,323.1, an increase of 184.1%.

AP

755 new virus cases diagnosed in day

The Health Ministry says another 755 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since last night, bringing the number of active cases to 11,540.

It says another person has died, bringing the death toll to 331.

Eighty-six people are in serious condition, 27 of them on ventilators.

Another 68 are in moderate condition and the rest are displaying mild or no symptoms.

It says 16,749 tests were conducted yesterday, 4.8 percent of which came back positive.

Two rockets fired at Israel from Gaza; no injuries

Two rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel, apparently striking an open field, the army says.

No injuries or damage are reported.

Judah Ari Gross

PM’s adviser on pandemic: We’ve lost control of the virus

Prof. Eli Wachsman, who is advising the prime minister on the pandemic, tells Channel 12: “We’ve lost control of the virus.”

He warns that in the next three weeks, if no restrictions are rolled out, there will be 300 new serious COVID-19 cases. Weeks later, that number will jump to 1,200, posing a serious strain on Israel’s healthcare system.

The government must “prevent all gatherings of over 20 people,” he says.

If Israel does not act immediately, in two weeks the country will be back in a full lockdown, he warns.

He also calls for the IDF to lead a new inter-ministerial body to handle the pandemic and guide Israel through the “the worst national civilian crisis” it has ever faced.

Sirens again sound in Gaza border communities

Rocket alert sirens sound in the Israeli communities along the Gaza border, for the second time this evening.

IDF: Rocket fired from Gaza intercepted by Iron Dome

A rocket fired at Israel from Gaza has been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the military says.

72% of virus fatalities in ‘first wave’ had high blood pressure

Seventy-two percent of the virus fatalities in the so-called “first wave” of the pandemic from March to May suffered from high blood pressure, according to the Kan public broadcaster, which cites a Health Ministry breakdown of the data.

It says 50% had preexisting cardiac conditions, 40% had diabetes, and another 40% suffered from unspecified “neurological problems.”

Iran admits ‘considerable’ damage at Natanz nuclear site

Iran is admitting there has been “considerable” damage at the Natanz nuclear site, where a mysterious fire last week ravaged a shed.

“We first learned that, fortunately, there were no casualties as a result of the incident, but financial damages incurred to the site due to incident were considerable,” says Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesperson for Iran’s atomic agency, according to local reports.

He says authorities have since pinpointed the source of the fire, but are withholding the information for national security reasons.

The spokesperson says the shed was first constructed in 2013 for the development of advanced centrifuges, though work was halted there in 2015 under the nuclear deal with world powers.

When the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, the work there was renewed, he says.

“After the US exit from JCPOA in May 2018 and order of Leader of the Islamic Revolution to AEOI to pave suitable ways for producing 190,000 SWU (Separative Work Unit) under JCPOA, the shed was inaugurated exactly two days after the order of the Leader on June 6, 2018,” says Kamalvandi.

The building will be replaced with a more advanced facility, he says, adding that the blast could slow down development of its centrifuges in the medium term.

Satellite photos from the site suggest that the damage is more extensive than previously admitted by the Iranian authorities.

TV: Health Ministry seeking to put cap on restaurant diners, close beaches

The Health Ministry is seeking to limit the number of diners at a restaurant to 20 and close beaches and public parks as part of the stepped-up effort to contain the coronavirus, Channel 12 reports.

Ministers on Monday will discuss the various proposals, with treasury officials pushing back at those that will hurt business owners.

Channel 12 says summer schools and camps may be forced to keep children in groups of up to 15 under the new guidelines.

Earlier, the Knesset approved new rules, effective Monday morning, which will see synagogues, bars, nightclubs and event venues capped at 50 people.

300 IDF soldiers to help Health Ministry with virus tracing

The military will provide 300 soldiers to the Health Ministry to help conduct epidemiological surveys to track the spread of the coronavirus, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says.

The Israel Defense Forces also says it will likely halt all training exercises for reserve battalions, brigades and divisions in light of the pandemic, which Israeli officials have said appears to be in an upswing.

Though soldiers will still be permitted to leave base, their furloughs will be reduced to once every three weeks, Zilberman says.

In addition, recruits enlisting in the military next month will be asked to go to recruitment centers without their parents in order to prevent large gatherings. Guests will also be barred from military ceremonies.

Judah Ari Gross

Top army brass to meet on Gaza rocket fire

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says the military top brass will hold a “situational assessment” regarding the recent rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against southern Israel.

“We will not accept rocket fire at the south. A situational assessment will be held in the coming hours. We don’t yet know who fired [the rockets],” Zilberman tells reporters.

Judah Ari Gross

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MKs approve 50-person limit for bars, event halls

Lawmakers on the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus approve government regulations limiting gatherings in bars and event halls to 50 people.

The new restrictions go into effect at 8 a.m. Monday, after seven lawmakers on the panel back it and three oppose it.