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PM said to offer Peretz Jerusalem ministry, settler oversight to split Yamina

Netanyahu, Jewish Home chief meet for last-minute coalition talks as premier tries to coax him into breaking off from New Right, National Union

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

Education Minister Rafi Peretz attends a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, December 23, 2019. (Flash90)
Education Minister Rafi Peretz attends a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, December 23, 2019. (Flash90)

The Times of Israel live blogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

After testing negative for COVID, but still not feeling well, US envoy to stay away from Pompeo

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is “experiencing mild upper-respiratory symptoms,” an embassy spokeswoman says ahead of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit.

“He was tested for COVID-19 and the result was negative. Nevertheless, in an abundance of caution, State Department medical staff have recommended that Ambassador Friedman not be in proximity with Secretary Pompeo,” the spokeswoman adds.

Palestinian village wake up to suspected price-tag attack

Residents of the central West Bank village of Baytin northeast of Ramallah have woken up this morning to discover an apparent price-tag, hate crime attack allegedly carried out by settler extremists.

The walls of two homes were graffitied with a Star of David and the Hebrew phrases “I don’t sleep when blood is spilled here” and “our soldiers lives come before the lives of the enemy.”

14-year-old Palestinian said shot dead by Israeli forces during raid near Hebron

IDF forces shot and killed a 14-year-old Palestinian during clashes that erupted during an early morning raid in the Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, the Palestinian Quds News Network reports.

The victim has been identified as Zaid Fadel Al-Qaysiah. He was hit in the head and arrived at a nearby hospital in critical condition before doctors were forced to pronounce his death.

Two other Palestinians were hit and injured by live fire used by IDF troops during the clashes.

The Israeli military continued its hunt for the suspect who hurled the large rock that struck and killed 21-year-old soldier Amit Ben Ygal overnight Monday during a raid in the village of Yabad. Over a dozen have been arrested, but the IDF has not indicated that any of those suspects had been the one who threw the lethal stone.

 

Pompeo deplanes at Ben Gurion wearing an American flag mask, readies for 10 a.m. meeting with PM

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has landed at Ben Gurion Airport ahead of his 10 a.m. meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Police open probe into price tag attack near Ramallah

Police announce that they have opened an investigation into an apparent hate crime attack in the central West Bank village of Baytin northeast of Ramallah where residents awoke this morning to discover walls of several homes graffitied with Hebrew slogans.

The phrases spray-painted along with a Star of David included “I don’t sleep when blood is spilled here” and “our soldiers lives come before the lives of the enemy.”

Israeli and Palestinian rights groups lament that such attacks have become rather regular occurrences in the West Bank, while the suspects are almost never pursued by police.

Police fine, release 317 Israelis who sought to illegally enter Mount Meron

Police have released 317 Israelis who were arrested after trying to break into a sacred compound at Mount Meron in northern Israel for the Lag B’Omer holiday Tuesday evening in defiance of government orders limiting entry to the site due to coronavirus fears.

The suspects were all fined for violating coronavirus guidelines.

Three additional Israelis charged with assaulting police officers remain in jail.

 

3 former security officials in Ghana said jailed for doing business with shady Israeli firm

A court in Ghana has sentenced three former government senior officials to significant jail time for purchasing spyware products from the controversial Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, the Cyber Scoop news site reports.

Former national security coordinator Salifu Osman and telecommunications authority director-general William Tetteh Tevie have each been sentenced to five years in prison and telecommunications authority former board chairman Eugene Baffoe-Bonnie was sentenced to six years because he made $200,000 from the deal with NSO, Cyber Scoop reports, citing local media.

The high court in Ghana found that the officials had caused significant financial loss in the country due to their $4 million purchase of NSO Group’s signature Pegasus spyware, Cyber Scoop writes.

The court decision appears to represent the first time that a government official has been jailed for doing business with NSO.

NSO Group has previously claimed that it only licenses its software to governments for “fighting crime and terror” and that it investigates credible allegations of misuse, but activists argue the technology has been instead used for human rights abuses.

Three of NSO Group’s founders — Omri Lavie, Shalev Hulio and Isaac Zack — invest their personal money through a firm known as the Founders’ Group that has invested in the largely fraudulent binary options industry, The Times of Israel reported last month

Young sumo wrestler dies of coronavirus in Japan

A 28-year-old sumo wrestler has died in Japan after contracting coronavirus and suffering multiple organ failure, becoming the ancient sport’s first COVID-19 fatality, the national association say.

Shobushi, a lower-ranking wrestler belonging to the Takadagawa stable in Tokyo, died early this morning after battling the disease for more than a month.

He developed a fever over April 4-5 but had trouble contacting the local public health office because phone lines were constantly busy, the Sumo Association said in a statement.

He was then turned away by several hospitals before finally being admitted to a Tokyo hospital on the evening of April 8 after he started coughing up blood, it added.

An initial coronavirus test there came back negative but he then tested positive on April 10 after being transferred to another hospital, where he was placed in intensive care on April 19.

— AFP

UK economy shrinks 2% in first quarter on coronavirus

Britain’s economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data shows.

Gross domestic product contracted 2.0 percent in the first quarter compared with the preceding three months to December in the largest slump since the fourth quarter of 2008, the Office for National Statistics says in a statement.

The economy shrank 5.8 percent in March alone, it adds.

— AFP

Bucking social distancing, hundreds gather for funeral of Palestinian teen shot dead by IDF

The funeral for Palestinian teen Zaid Fadel Al-Qaysiah who was shot dead by IDF troops during clashes in the Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron has kicked off.

Photos from the funeral show heavily crowded streets in an apparent bucking of social distancing guidelines.

Crowding was also reported at the funeral of IDF soldier Amit Ben Ygal who was struck and killed by a rock hurled during clashes with Palestinians in Yabad early Tuesday morning. Israeli guidelines currently allow up to 50 people at funerals.

IDF says troops were responding to ‘violent disturbance’ in town where teen was killed

The Israel Defense Forces responds to reports that a Palestinian teenager was shot dead during clashes with soldiers overnight in the al-Fawar refugee camp, saying riots broke out during an arrest raid requiring troops to use live fire as well as less lethal riot dispersal weapons.

The military says a soldier was lightly wounded by a rock thrown at him.

“A violent disturbance developed in which terrorists threw stones and boulders, Molotov cocktails and explosives. Gunshots were also heard in the area,” the IDF says.

“The soldiers responded with riot dispersal equipment and with live fire.”

The military says it is aware of “claims of a Palestinian being killed and a number of Palestinians being injured.”

— Judah Ari Gross

WATCH: Netanyahu and Pompeo address media before closed-door meeting

Netanyahu tells Pompeo unity government opportunity to promote peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his Jerusalem residence to discuss bilateral cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic, Iranian aggression and the Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

During joint remarks before their meeting, Netanyahu says the first issue on the agenda is the global fight against disease. “The second thing is, there is something else plaguing our region — unremitting Iranian aggression and terror.”

He thanks US President Donald Trump for his vigorous stance against the Islamic Republic.

Thirdly, Netanyahu refers to his plan to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank.

“Now we’re about to form a national unity government, tomorrow. This is an opportunity to promote peace and security based on the understanding that I reached with President Trump in my last visit to Washington in January,” Netanyahu says.

“These are all tremendous challenges and opportunities, we can do them because we have such a powerful bond that makes the alliance between Israel and US stand out, certainly for us, but for many for other countries looking around.”

Raphael Ahren and Jacob Magid

Pompeo’s arrives at PM residence for talks with Netanyahu; meeting with Gantz to follow

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem for his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is expected to focus on Iran and Israel’s controversial West Bank annexation plans.

He will subsequently meet with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz at 1:30 p.m. before heading back to the US later this afternoon.

Pompeo appears to take hit at China in appearance with Netanyahu

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his remarks about the planned cooperation on the pandemic, attacks China, without mentioning it by name, for its alleged policy to hide its role in the spread of the coronavirus.

“You’re a great partner, you share information, unlike some other countries that try to obfuscate and hide that information,” he tells Netanyahu. “We’ll talk about that country too.”

Netanyahu replies by saying that the most important thing was “actually generating information, and then sharing it.”

The US top diplomat speaks only very briefly about the annexation, saying, “There remains work yet to do, and we need to make progress on that. I am looking forward to it.”

Weddings halls said set to open next week with 100 guest limit

As Israel continues to relax coronavirus related restrictions, the Health Ministry is reportedly planning to recommend opening event halls and allowing weddings of up to 100 people to take place as early as next week.

Weddings and funerals are currently allowed to have up to 50 people if they are held in open areas. According to the Health Ministry plan, all gatherings held in event halls will be allowed up to 100 people as long as social distancing and hygiene measures are kept, Channel 12 reports.

The plan is set to voted on by the cabinet later in the week, the report says.

Agriculture Ministry reports countrywide pepper shortage

The Agriculture Ministry announces that the country is suffering from a significant pepper shortage that is expected to last roughly two weeks.

“The shortage stems from the transition between seasons,” the ministry says, adding that pepper imports from other countries will be examined by the new minister slated to take office this week.

Centrist MK: Annexation ‘will undermine Zionist vision’

Responding to US Secretary of State and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to discuss West Bank annexation during their ongoing meeting, Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak issues a statement saying such a policy “will undermine the Zionist vision.”

“Unilateral annexation will undermine the Zionist vision and the principles of the establishment of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and severely harm the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan — all for the sake of a temporary political achievement [for Netanyahu],” he says.

 

Authorities preparing for full reopening of Ben Gurion airport on June 1 — report

Israeli authorities are currently putting together a plan to have Ben Gurion Airport fully reopen to Israelis on June 1, channel 12 reports.

According to the plan in the works, a list of “green countries,” which currently enjoy low rates of virus cases and have laws requiring mask wearing is being created.

The plan will also see Israelis report in advance that they plan to fly. They will be tested before flying and then tested again upon return, Channel 12 says.

It has not yet been decided whether the tests will be the typical COVID-19 ones or serological checks.

300 ignore social distancing at Lag B’Omer party in Stamford Hill

Some 300 ultra-Orthodox Jews ignored social distancing guidelines in the UK to gather for a Lag B’Omer party in in Stamford Hill, in north London, the Daily Mail reports.

The report cites British figure that 440 Jews have died from coronavirus  and accounted for 2.3% of deaths last month despite comprising just 0.4%  of the population.

13 new virus cases in last day, as confirmed case tally climbs to 16,539

The Health Ministry announces that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 16,539, an increase of 13 over the past 24 hours and 10 since last night.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 262, up two since last night and four since yesterday morning.

According to the Health Ministry, 61 people infected with COVID-19 were in serious condition, 51 of whom were on ventilators.

Another 46 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 12,173 people have recovered from the virus, while 4,104 are still sick; 1,279 tests have been conducted today, and 7,183 yesterday.

Pompeo says Iran trying to ‘foment terror’ during pandemic

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused Iran of using its resources to “foment terror” even as its people face the Middle East’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak.

“Even during this pandemic the Iranians are using the ayatollah regime’s resources to foment terror across the world, even when the people of Iran are struggling so mightily,” Pompeo says in Jerusalem ahead of talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It tells you a lot about the soul of those people who lead that country,” he added.

— AFP

Chinese city in partial lockdown over ‘major risk’ of virus spread

A northeastern Chinese city has partially shut its borders, cut off transportation links and closed schools after the emergence of a local coronavirus cluster that has fueled fears about a second wave of infections in China.

Jilin, with a population of more than four million, has suspended bus services and says it will only allow residents to leave the city if they have tested negative for COVID-19 in the past 48 hours and complete an unspecified period of “strict self-isolation.”

All cinemas, indoor gyms, internet cafes and other enclosed entertainment venues must shut immediately, and pharmacies must report all sales of fever and antiviral medicines, the local government said in a statement.

The city is located in the eponymous province of Jilin, which borders Russia and North Korea.

—  AFP

El Al chief entreats PM: We’re in critical condition, don’t deny us a ventilator

Warning of the imminent collapse of Israel’s national carrier, the CEO of El Al has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene in its negotiations with the Finance Ministry to prevent thousands of layoffs and “the loss of Israel’s aviation independence.”

Writing the morning after Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon offered the battered airline a lifeline via a $400 million state-backed loan guarantee on condition it agrees to raft of extensive reforms, Gonen Usishkin says the Treasury was intentionally trying to break up El Al.

“We are asking you to instruct the Treasury to amend the outline it presented last night and to remove the unsuitable restrictions,” Usishkin writes to Netanyahu. “Last night, we received a document in which the Treasury made additional unsolicited requirements, the sole purpose of which was to send El Al into liquidation.”

The loan is conditioned on El Al’s owners injecting NIS 100 million ($28.5 million) into the company and carrying out further restructuring to reduce annual costs by at least $50 million.

The airline must also repay the government if its value rises after the crisis, the report said, noting that the workers’ union, likely to bear the brunt of the restructuring, must also sign off on the terms.

Exercise restrictions loosened in England

Golf courses in England are reopening as part of some modest socially distanced easing of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

People in England can now exercise more than once a day and with one person from outside their household, provided they stay two meters apart (around 6.5 feet). In addition, outdoor tennis and basketball courts can be used, and people will also be able to swim in lakes and the sea. Garden centers can also reopen, while potential house buyers can visit properties in person. And people who cannot work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, are being encouraged to return if they can do so in a COVID-secure way.

The lifting of some restrictions, first announced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, applies only in England. The semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are going more slowly and sticking with the “Stay Home” message.

— AP

Joint List head: Trump’s apartheid plan will fail, only question is how many will die because of it

In a video statement released after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrapped up his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Joint List party chairman Ayman Odeh asserts that US President Donald “Trump’s apartheid plan will fail.”

“The only painful question is how many orphans and bereaved parents it will produce on both sides.”

“It is imperative for anyone who believes in democracy to fight this dangerous plan within Israel and in coordination with partners from all over the world,” he adds.

Netanyahu-Pompeo meeting wraps up after three hours

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has concluded after three hours, the PMO says.

Next, Pompeo will sit down with incoming alternative prime minister Benny Gantz.

Left-wing activist sentenced to 8 months for slapping military prosecutor

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court has sentenced left-wing activist Yifat Dorn to eight months in prison and an NIS 3,000 fine for slapping a military prosecutor after a remand hearing for Nariman Tamimi, who was convicted in 2018 over her involvement in a scuffle between her daughter Ahed and an IDF soldier during which the then 16-year-old Ahed slapped the troop.

According to the court statement, Yifat Doron shouted “who are you to judge her” before assaulting Assem Hamad from the military prosecutor’s office.

‘Coronavirus has nothing on her’: 97-year-old Holocaust survivor beats COVID-19

A 97-year-old Holocaust survivor has recovered from the coronavirus, Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center reports.

In a statement released by the hospital, Sima Leibovich says that “the coronavirus had nothing on her” mother, Feige, whom she was able to visit for the first time in two months.

Guard stabbed at Sheba hospital in what police probing as possible terror attack

A man armed with a knife stabbed a security guard, lightly injuring him, outside Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan in what is being investigated as a possible terror attack, police say.

The assailant was shot and is reportedly being treated at the scene.

Medics say the victim is a man in his 20s with light stab wounds.

— Judah Ari Gross

Medics fight to keep Tel Hashomer stabber — in critical condition — alive at scene

Magen David Adom medics are working to keep the man who stabbed a security guard outside the Sheba Medical Center alive after he was shot.

The assailant, roughly 30 years old, is in critical condition, MDA says.

The security guard suffered light wounds in the attack.

Police say Sheba hospital stabbing likely criminal, not terrorism

The stabbing attack outside Sheba Medical Center does not appear to have been a terror attack, police say.

“It seems that the motivation was criminal,” according to police.

Pompeo and Gantz wrap up their meeting, but mum’s the word

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has wrapped up his meeting with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, the US embassy says.

No word has been given regarding the contents of the meeting.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz in Jerusalem on May 13, 2020. (US Embassy)

Assailant who stabbed hospital guard, then was shot, succumbs to wounds

The assailant who was shot after stabbing a security guard outside Sheba Medical Center has died from his wounds, the hospital says.

Police have closed off the entrance to the Sheba Medical Center following the stabbing attack.

High Court rules against giving bonuses to artists who perform in settlements

The High Court of Justice has rejected Culture Minister Miri Regev’s policy that sought to give preferential treatment to artists who performed in the settlements.

Arguing in the majority opinion, Justice Hanan Melcer says “the justification for the alleged inequality in incentives for performances in in the West Bank is that the areas is part of the ‘cultural periphery’ and that institutions perform there less frequently than in other areas of the periphery. I looked at the arguments and data presented, and I found no evidence of that argument.

“The bonuses [offered by the Culture Ministry to those performing in the settlements] do not apply equitable tests to distribute support from the ministry, as required by law.”

In the minority opinion, David Mintz argues against the legitimacy of the petition, which was submitted by a left-wing group rather than a cultural institution whose budget will be reduced in relation to others as a result their passive behavior.

“The petitioner’s right of standing is not at all clear. I can only reiterate the rule that has been discontinued as of late, whereby there is no room to open the gates of the High Court to a public petitioner whose petition argues on behalf of the interests of individuals or institutions that could petition themselves.”

Pompeo meets incoming defense minister Gantz and incoming FM Ashkenazi

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has finished meeting with Blue and White chairman and incoming defense minister Benny Gantz and incoming foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The sides “discussed regional developments, particularly Iran’s recent strides toward advancing its nuclear project and entrenching itself in Syria and Lebanon,” a Blue and White statement reads.

They also discussed the Trump peace plan “and looked at the different avenues for bringing about its realization.”

“They talked about the international effort to battle coronavirus and discussed the life-saving efforts to produce a vaccine within the shortest possible timeframe.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz in Jerusalem on May 13, 2020. (US Embassy)

After repeatedly claiming he’s heading to opposition, Bennett to meet PM this evening

After repeatedly claiming that his Yamina party will be heading to the opposition and that its talks with Likud about entering the government had ended, Naftali Bennett will be meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this evening in what appears to be another attempt to bridge the gaps between the sides, his spokesman says.

After the last time the two spoke two days ago, Likud issued a statement claiming Yamina had definitively decided to join the “left-wing opposition.”

EU official warns of extremists exploiting virus outbreak for attacks

The European Union’s counterterrorism official is warning that the coronavirus pandemic is being used by extremists as an opportunity to spread their message and could be exploited to carry out attacks.

In a confidential briefing to member nations, Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove cautions that right-wing extremists and Islamic militants “could view attacks on medical personnel and facilities as highly effective, because these would generate a massive shock in society.”

From past experience, he says it’s known that “terrorists and violent extremists, aiming to change societies and governmental systems through violence, seek to exploit major crises to achieve their objectives.”

Gilles de Kerchove, Counter-terrorism coordinator at the Council of the European Union, attends the Mediterranean Dialogues (MED), a three-day conference on security in the Mediterranean region, on December 11, 2015, in Rome. (AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI)

— AP

Israeli researchers say they’ve developed a new 1-minute coronavirus test

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have developed and are now working to confirm the viability of a one-minute coronavirus test that uses samples from the breath or nose swabs to identify carriers, the institution says.

They say the test has shown an accuracy of over 90 percent.

It uses a microchip and a type of electromagnetic waves known as terahertz radiation to detect minuscule changes in the sample caused by the virus’s presence.

Sample particles “are placed on a chip with a dense array of metamaterial sensors that was designed specifically for this purpose,” according to a press release.

“The system then analyzes the biological sample and provides an accurate positive/negative result within a minute via a cloud-connected system. The point-of-care device automatically backs up the results into a database that can be shared by authorities, making it easier than ever to track the course of the virus, as well as triage and treat patients.”

Man shot dead after stabbing guard at Sheba Hospital named as Mustafa Yunes of Arara

The man who stabbed a security guard at Sheba Medical Center and was subsequently shot dead has been identified as Mustafa Yunes, 26, of the northern Arab town of Arara.

Police officials have said they do not believe the incident was terror related, and the stabbing may have been a result of an argument between Yunes and the security guard.

Report: Stabber at hospital pulled out knife after being asked to wear mask

Channel 12 news reports that the stabbing at Sheba Medical Center was the result of an argument sparked by Mustafa Yunes’s refusal to wear a mask.

Yunes reportedly came to a shopping center near the hospital, and was approached by civilians who saw that he was not wearing a mask and asked him to do so. An argument developed and security guards came to the scene, at which point Yunes pulled out a knife, but then put it away again and attempted to leave with his vehicle.

Security at the exit was then alerted to Yunes possessing a kinfe and possibly being dangerous. Guards stopped his car for inspection, at which point another argument developed and Yunes pulled out his knife again. At this point he apparently stabbed the guard before being shot fatally.

Mustafa Yunes of Arara, who was shot dead after stabbing a security guard at Sheba Medical Center, May 13, 2020 (Courtesy)

Though officials initially suspected terrorism, they now believe it was simply the behavior of a violent man, Channel 12 says.

Guards at the scene will be questioned, and their firing multiple bullets at Yunes as he lay on the ground will be investigated.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders urge PM to bring Yamina party into new government

Ultra-Orthodox party leaders are urging the prime minister to ensure the national religious Yamina party is part of the new government.

In a statement, Shas’s Aryeh Deri and UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman note that the right-wing bloc, that included Yamina, supported Benjamin Netanyahu through several election campaigns “with loyalty and unity.”

They ask him to “make every effort” to bring Yamina into the coalition.

Stabber’s uncle says nephew had psychiatric issues, was ‘defending himself’

Yunes’s uncle, Dr. Isam Yunes, tells Ynet his nephew was “a quiet man who came to receive treatment. He suffers from epilepsy and behavioral problems” for which he had received psychiatric treatment.

“They told him to get out [of the car] and jumped at him. So he took out a knife to defend himself. I’d defend myself too if five security guards jumped at me.”

WHO stresses need to find source of coronavirus

Pinning down the source of the coronavirus pandemic should help in working out how COVID-19 has “invaded the human species” so quickly, a senior WHO official says.

Sylvie Briand, the WHO’s director of infectious hazard management, says it is crucial to know the origin of the virus “to understand how it has evolved.

“It is a virus of animal origin transmitted to humans. And so we have to try to understand how the adaptation of this virus allowed it to invade the human species,” she tells AFP outside the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

Director of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases Department at the World Health Organization (WHO) Sylvie Briand outside the UN agency’s headquarters on May 12, 2020 in Geneva (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Retracing the origin of the virus will “prevent the phenomenon from happening again — and avoid ping-pong” transmission between humans and animals, she says.

— AFP

Mike Pompeo leaves Israel after meetings with Netanyahu, Gantz

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has concluded his visit to Israel after some eight hours.

Pompeo met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top security officials, as well as with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his ally MK Gabi Ashkenazi.

Report: Netanyahu tells Bennett his offer hasn’t changed and won’t change

Channel 12 reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Yamina chief Naftali Bennett a short time ago, as the sides made yet another attempt to reach agreements on Yamina entering the new government.

Netanyahu reportedly told Bennett his offer remains the same and won’t change: two ministries, partial leadership of a Knesset committee and a deputy minister’s post with responsibility over settlements.

Nasrallah: Israel lying about achievements of strikes in Syria

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah says in a speech that Israel “is terrified” by Iran’s presence in Syria, leading it to “miscalculated adventurism.”

He says Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has “foolishly” announced “a schedule for getting Iran out of Syria.”

He claims Bennett “is lying when touting the achievements of the strikes in Syria to the Israeli public.”

A speech by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah terror group’s leader Hasan Nasrallah is transmitted on a large screen in the Lebanese capital Beirut’s southern suburbs on September 2, 2019. (AFP)

Paul Manafort released from prison due to virus concerns

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s onetime presidential campaign chairman who was convicted as part of the special counsel’s Russia investigation, has been released from federal prison to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement due to concerns about the coronavirus, his lawyer says.

Manafort, 71, was released this morning from FCI Loretto, a low-security prison in Pennsylvania, according to his attorney, Todd Blanche. Manafort had been serving more than seven years in prison following his conviction.

His lawyers had asked the Bureau of Prisons to release him to home confinement, arguing that he was at high risk for coronavirus because of his age and preexisting medical conditions. Manafort was hospitalized in December with a heart-related condition, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press at the time.

This June 15, 2018 file photo shows Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, arriving for a hearing at US District Court in Washington, DC. Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and witness tampering, court documents indicated on September 14, 2018. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

— AP

Mandelblit files police complaint over series of threatening, harassing messages

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has filed a complaint with police over threatening and harassing messages received on his mobile phone throughout the night and morning.

In a statement the Justice Ministry says the messages appeared to be part of an organized campaign.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Man killed in car crash near Beit Shemesh, two others lightly injured

A man aged around 30 has been killed in a car crash near Beit Shemesh.

The head-on collision between two cars also lightly injured two people.

Texts to AG included death threats, photo in Nazi uniform

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has filed a complaint with police over threatening and harassing messages received on his mobile phone throughout the night and morning.

In a statement the Justice Ministry says the messages appeared to be part of an organized campaign.

Channel 12 reportsthe  harassing texts included photos of Mandelblit in Nazi uniform and death threats and harassing messages such as “Die” and “We’ll get to you and your children,” “Kill yourself,” “You and your family should die,” “Don’t forget you’re vulnerable” and “Bastard.”

Officials believe the dozens of messages, sent from unidentified numbers, may be tied to a protest schedule to take place near his home in Petah Tikva against his decision to press charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three criminal cases.

Satellite images show Iran building new weapons storehouse in Syria — report

Iran is constructing a new underground weapons storage facility in eastern Syria at a military base under its control near the Iraqi border, Fox News reports, citing satellite images from an Israeli private intelligence firm.

According to the photographs from ImageSat International, a satellite imagery analysis company, an excavator and bulldozers have been seen operating within the Imam Ali military base in the al-Bukamal region of Syria, which is believed to be run by Iranian forces.

This photo released by ImageSat International on May 13, 2020, shows apparent construction on an underground weapons storage facility on a military base suspected of being controlled by Iran in eastern Syria’s al-Bukamal region. (ImageSat International)

According to the company, work on the underground weapons storage facility appears to have started in March. This is the second such subterranean tunnel to be constructed at the base, which is located a few kilometers from the Iraqi border.

“The tunnel is fit to be used as a shelter and storage for trucks and vehicles, including vehicles carrying advanced missile weapon systems,” according to ImageSat.

This photo released by ImageSat International on May 13, 2020, shows apparent construction on an underground weapons storage facility on a military base suspected of being controlled by Iran in eastern Syria’s al-Bukamal region. (ImageSat International)

The revelation of Iran’s alleged further entrenchment in Syria appears to contradict a claim made by a senior Israeli defense official earlier this month that Tehran was pulling its troops out of the country because of airstrikes attributed to Israel.

— Judah Ari Gross

Nasrallah: Israeli strikes won’t push Iran out of Syria

More from Hassan Nasrallah’s speech: The Hezbollah leader says the movement of Iranian forces in Syria is not a retreat due to Israeli strikes.

He says “Hezbollah forces and Iranian advisers will remain in Syria according to the Syrian interest. Israeli attacks won’t change this.”

IAF to shut down historic 117th Squadron, also known as First Jet Squadron

Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin has decided to close down the storied 117th Squadron, also known as the First Jet Squadron.

Formed in 1953 and based at Ramat David Airbase, the squadron flew Israel’s first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor.

Norkin said the decision was made as part of the need to make the air force more efficient and prepare it for future challenges. The squadron, which today flies F-16s, will conclude its operations in October.

Saluting the takeoff of a jet from the Ramat David air force base (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
Saluting the takeoff of a jet from the Ramat David air force base (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

Recently released ‘lone soldiers’ to get special one-time coronavirus grant

Recently released “lone soldiers,” who either don’t have family in Israel or aren’t financially supported by their family, will receive a special one-time grant of NIS 4,000 ($1,130) to help them through the coronavirus pandemic, the Defense Ministry says.

This measure comes after recently discharged lone soldiers complained that they were not eligible for many of the existing government programs to help people who were fired or put on leave from their jobs because of the crisis as they only recently entered the workforce.

As most of them are not financially supported by their families, these veterans are also not able to rely on help from their parents, as other recently released soldiers have been able to do.

Only soldiers released from the military within the past year are eligible. Those interested in applying must provide a copy of their rental agreement, showing they paid rent between March and May 31, 2020.

The ministry says the funds should be distributed “shortly.”

— Judah Ari Gross

Report: Netanyahu offers Miri Regev Foreign Affairs portfolio after rotation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered outgoing Culture Minister Miri Regev to be appointed foreign minister in 18 months, after Benny Gantz becomes prime minister.

Regev has reportedly been offered the transportation ministry for now.

The government is set to be sworn in tomorrow night.

Blue and White, Derech Eretz sign coalition agreement

The Blue and White party has signed an agreement with the Derech Eretz party, finalizing the agreement to bring the small party into Benny Gantz’s bloc in the new government.

Derech Eretz is comprised of just two MKs — Yoaz Handel and Zvi Hauser — who were part of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party in the previous iteration of Blue and White and broke off to join Gantz when the alliance split up due to Gantz’s decision to enter into a coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Knesset members Yoaz Hendel (L) and Zvi Hauser (R) seen at the Knesset , ahead of the opening session of the new government, on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Handel is reportedly slated to become communications minister while Hauser could chair the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Three more people die of coronavirus, taking national toll to 264

Three more people died of coronavirus today, bringing the national toll to 264.

Cases rose by 23 throughout the country to 16,548, of which 12,232 have recovered.

Meanwhile, 61 people are in serious condition, with 52 of them on ventilators.

Trains to resume partial operations on Sunday

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich says his office has finalized agreements with the Health Ministry that will allow trains to resume service this coming Sunday.

The first stage will see only some lines resume, with certain changes in routes and no service at all on Fridays and Saturdays. Passenger numbers in train cars will not be limited but Israel Railways authorities will focus on stressing the need for social distancing and hygiene measures at all times.

At the end of the month further lines will renew operations, pending authorization from the Health Ministry.

AIPAC urges Dems not to weaken relationship with Israel, even if it annexes land

AIPAC says it would be a “mistake” to allow Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank, should it occur, to affect US-Israel ties.

The statement is the first from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated plans to annex parts of the West Bank by July 1. A number of groups on the left are mounting a campaign to get presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, as well as Democrats in the Senate, to speak out against the plans.

“Some have proposed reducing our ties with Israel because they object to the potential decision by Israel’s leaders to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank,” the statement says. “Doing anything to weaken this vital relationship would be a mistake.”

The statement cites Israel’s role as a “pillar of America’s regional security framework” and US-Israel cooperation in a number of areas, including scientific research.

A picture taken from the controversial E1 corridor in the West Bank shows the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the background, Feb. 25, 2020. (Ahamd Gharabli/AFP)

— JTA

Likud and Shas parties sign coalition deal

The Likud and Shas parties have signed a coalition agreement as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc in the new coalition.

Likud negotiator Yariv Levin, set to become the new Knesset speaker, lauds ultra-Orthodox Shas which, he says, was “central in the process to form a government and to bridge the differences” with Blue and White.

MK Ariel Atias of Shas (left) and MK Yariv Levin of Likud sign the parties’ coalition deal, May 13, 2020 (Courtesy)

Report: Netanyahu meets with Rafi Peretz, tries to convince him to join gov’t

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met this evening with Yamina’s Rafi Peretz, the outgoing education minister, in a last-ditch attempt to convince him to enter the new government, even without the rest of the party, Channel 13 reports.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz attends a meeting of the Jewish Home party in Tel Aviv, January 13, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Benjamin Netanyahu officially announces he has succeeded in forming a government

Benjamin Netanyahu officially announces he has succeeded in forming a government, ahead of it’s planned swearing-in tomorrow night.

Netanyahu makes the announcement in a formal letter to Benny Gantz, in his capacity as the temporary Knesset speaker, as well as one to President Reuven Rivlin.

The swearing-in ceremony is set to take place at 10 p.m. tomorrow at the Knesset.

TV: Top police brass concerned over Ohana’s appointment as police minister

Top police officials tell Channel 12 news they are fearful of the repercussions of Amir Ohana being appointed public security minister.

Ohana, a close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu, has served as the interim justice minister since June of last year, during which time he repeatedly attacked the justice system and those leading it, as they pushed forward with criminal investigations, and eventually an indictment, of the premier.

Police brass tell Channel 12 they fear Ohana will seek an outside candidate to lead the force, while conferring with Netanyahu, despite the prime minister being required to stay out of the matter due to his trial.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Knesset on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

They are also concerned he could work to curtail the work of the Lahav 433 unit which focuses on fraud and corruption, and led the probes against Netanyahu.

And, they are worried of the repercussions should the attorney general decide on a new police investigation into Netanyahu, when Ohana is the minister overseeing police.

38 UK Jewish leaders call on Board of Deputies to condemn annexation

Thirty-eight members of the British Board of Deputies have urged the leading body of UK Jewry to speak out against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank in July.

The letter warns that unilateral annexation “destroys Israel’s moral authority” and the Jewish state “would no longer be able to assert its legitimacy as a democracy.”

“Our letter shows there is a cross-communal support on the need for the Board of Deputies to speak up on the proposed annexation,” says Tal Ofer, deputy for Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue, according to Jewish News.

“It is still not late for the Board of Deputies to do the right thing and express the grave concerns of British Jews on the proposed annexation.”

The Board is comprised of some 300 deputies.

Coalition releases basic principles of new government

The new coalition has released a document detailing the so-called basic principles of Israel’s 35th government. Among them:

— Formation of an emergency coronavirus cabinet which will oversee all aspects of the response to the pandemic.

— Building an extensive economic plan to lead Israel out of the economic crisis brought on by the virus.

— Deploying a “socio-economic safety net” for Israeli citizens, including specific plans for needy sectors of the population.

— Working towards national reconciliation after three bruising election campaigns that saw the partisan divide in the country rise to new levels. A “reconciliation cabinet” will be formed to lead this effort.

Coronavirus may never go away, WHO says

The new coronavirus may never go away and populations around the world will have to learn to live with it, the World Health Organization warns.

As some countries begin gradually easing lockdown restrictions imposed in a bid to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading, the WHO says it may never be wiped out entirely.

“We have a new virus entering the human population for the first time and therefore it is very hard to predict when we will prevail over it,” says Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director.

Michael Ryan, then WHO Director of Global Alert and Response of the World Health Organization (WHO), at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, May 2, 2009. (AP/KEYSTONE/Martial Trezzini)

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away,” he tells a virtual press conference in Geneva. “HIV has not gone away — but we have come to terms with the virus.”

— AFP

Settlements arrange virtual tours of ancient West Bank sites for Jewish students

On Lag B’Omer Jewish American students were given virtual tours of ancient heritage sites in West Bank settlements, organized by the Yesha Council, which serves as a settlement umbrella group.

The tours were held in ancient Shiloh, Hebron, Sussya and the Patriarchs Path in the Etzion Bloc, and were broadcast to thousands of students in the Consortium of Jewish day Schools

“This unique project is a first of its kind, and created to show our solidarity with the Jewish communities in the Diaspora,” CEO of the Yesha Council Yigal Dilmoni explains. “We stand with our brothers and sisters around the world and pray that they shall all keep healthy and safe. I am so glad we have the ability to share the stories of this beautiful region with the world.”

An image from a virtual tour of ancient Shiloh, in the West Bank, organized by the Yesha Council during Lag B’Omer, May 2020 (Courtesy Yesha Council)

Health Ministry denies trains allowed to resume operations Sunday

After the Tranposrtation Ministry announced trains would resume services on Sunday, the Health Ministry says it did not approve the move.

The ministry’s director-general, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, says it only approved the model by which services will be renewed but not the timing.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich reacts angrily, saying he had been given clear authorization by ministry officials “and after we’ve already informed the public the director-general remembers he doesn’t approve.”

Illustrative: A train pulling through the Hefer Valley, Israel. June 24, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

PM said offering Peretz Jerusalem ministry, settler oversight to split from Yamina

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is offering Yamina’s Rafi Peretz to enter his government without the rest of his party and to receive the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry as well as authority in settlement issues, according to reports on the Walla and Israel National News sites.

Knesset announces schedule for tomorrow’s presentation of 35th government

The Knesset has announced the schedule of tomorrow’s presentation of the 35th Government of Israel.

At 6 p.m. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present the makeup of the government, its ministers, basic principles and guidelines.

Assuming the newly created post of alternate prime minister, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz will also speak.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid will be given a chance to speak as well.

A nearly empty plenum, due to restrictions against the coronavirus, is seen at the swearing-in of the 23rd Knesset, March 16, 2020. (Gideon Sharon/Knesset Spokesperson)

Afterwards every faction in the Knesset will be given nine minutes to speak at the podium.

The government is expected to be sworn in at 10 p.m.

Health Ministry chief apologizes for ‘misunderstanding’ on train resumptions

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov apologizes to Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich and the public for “the “misunderstanding” relating to resumption of train services, after the ministry denied it had authorized bringing trains back on Sunday.

“Unfortunately we are still not at the stage where we can allow gatherings in such great numbers and crowding,” he says.

FBI files charges in weapons sting following anti-Semitic posts

The FBI has brought weapons charges following a New York City sting operation against two men, one of whom espoused racist and anti-Semitic views on social media and had been acquiring tactical military gear, authorities say.

Joseph Miner, 29, and Daniel Jou, 40, were charged with buying firearms with obliterated serial numbers from an undercover agent in Queens.

It is not clear whether the men, who are neighbors, were planning an attack, authorities say. But prosecutors point to alarming Instagram posts Miner made praising Hitler and the machete attack last year on a Hanukkah celebration north of New York City.

— AP

Haniyeh says no breakthrough on prisoner swap, threatens more kidnappings

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh threatens to “increase the yield” of Israeli prisoners the terror group holds if Israel will not agree to a prisoner exchange.

Haniyeh tells Palestinian media there has been no breakthrough in negotiations for a swap.

“The occupation must know that the deal has a price, and it must be put on the table, and the deal will not take place unless it is honorable and satisfies our people,” he says. If it is not, “what we have will remain with us, and we will increas the yield.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a meeting with foreign reporters in Gaza City on June 20, 2019 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

He also salutes “the heroes of the village of Yabed,” where an unidentified assailant on Tuesday morning hurled a rock from a roof at an Israeli soldier, killing him.

Hamas is believed to be holding two Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza of their own accord several years ago, as well as the remains of two soldiers.

Likud, UTJ parties sign off on coalition deal

Likud and ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism also announce they have signed a coalition agreement between them.

UN forecasts pandemic will shrink world economy by 3.2% this year

The United Nations is forecasting that the coronavirus pandemic will shrink the world economy by 3.2 percent this year, the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The UN’s mid-year report says COVID-19 is expected to slash global economic output by nearly $8.5 trillion over the next two years, wiping out nearly all gains of the past four years.

In January, the UN forecast a modest growth of 2.5% in 2020.

The United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects report says the pandemic is also “exacerbating poverty and inequality,” with an estimated 34.3 million people likely to fall below the extreme poverty line in 2020 — 56% of them in Africa.

People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus walk on the street in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, May 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

It says an additional 130 million people may join the ranks of people living in extreme poverty by 2030, dealing a “huge blow” to global efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by the end of the decade.

— AP

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Nasrallah: Israeli strikes won’t push Iran out of Syria

More from Hassan Nasrallah’s speech: The Hezbollah leader says the movement of Iranian forces in Syria is not a retreat due to Israeli strikes.

He says “Hezbollah forces and Iranian advisers will remain in Syria according to the Syrian interest. Israeli attacks won’t change this.”