Netanyahu allies hail court ruling that he can form government
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Netanyahu allies hail court ruling, as petitioners respect it but vow protests

‘The judge did well to not intervene,’ says Likud minister, while Movement for Quality Government calls emerging government ‘kosher but odious’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture Minister Miri Regev shake hands during the opening of the winter session of the Knesset on October 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture Minister Miri Regev shake hands during the opening of the winter session of the Knesset on October 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.

Chinese students in virus epicenter return to school

BEIJING — Chinese youngsters in the global virus epicenter of Wuhan file back to class today, wearing masks and walking in single file past thermal scanners.

Senior school students in 121 institutions are back in front of chalk boards and digital displays for the first time since their city — the ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic — shut down in January.

Teenagers sit at individual desks spaced a meter apart, seeing their teachers in the flesh after months of distance learning.

Today’s back-to-school is the latest step in a gradual normalizing of life in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, where the coronavirus is believed to have emerged late last year before spreading around the world.

China’s major cities are gradually returning to normal after imposing strict travel restrictions and closing huge swaths of the economy to control the spread of the virus.

In recent months infections nationwide have dwindled, and there have been no new cases reported in Hubei province for over a month.

Senior students attend class at a high school in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on May 6, 2020. (Stringer/AFP)

— AFP

American envoy says US could recognize annexation in West Bank in coming weeks

David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, says the United States could recognize Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in the coming weeks if the Jewish state declares it is annexing these areas.

“When the mapping process is over, when the Israeli government agrees to freeze building in the same parts of Area C that aren’t designated for the application of sovereignty and when the prime minister agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the Trump plan — and he already agreed to this on the first day — we’ll recognize Israel’s sovereignty in areas that according to the plan will be a part of it,” he tells the Israel Hayom newspaper in remarks published in Hebrew.

He stresses that is up to Israel to decide whether it wants to move forward with annexing these areas, but if it does the US will recognize the move, and says Israelis of all stripes have told him how much they like US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Under the coalition deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White party, the next government can begin passing legislation to annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements after July 1, though the prospective government has yet to be formed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Top health official says Israel preparing to conduct 100,000 serological tests

The director-general of the Health Ministry says Israel is preparing for serological tests on 100,000 Israelis to see how widespread the coronavirus is in the country ahead of a possible second wave.

“This is the most important mission: Get ready for the next wave, especially a wave during wintertime,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov tells The New York Times. “Luckily, the COVID-19 caught us post-influenza season. But we can’t assume that there’s not going to be a next wave or that it will be during summertime.”

He says that if only a small percentage of Israelis have been exposed to COVID-19, Israel’s health system could struggle mightily to deal with a fresh outbreak of the virus.

Ex-Mossad official sees ‘real possibility’ for prisoner swap between Israel, Hamas

A former Mossad official who was involved in the 2011 Shalit deal expresses optimism about the possibility of a prisoner swap between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

“It seems there is a real possibility at the moment for a deal between Hamas and Israel for the release of the captives and the missing,” David Meidan tells German weekly Die Ziet. “The gaps aren’t so great.”

According to the Die Ziet report, a top Swiss diplomat, two senior German intelligence officials and an Egyptian general are serving as mediators between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas is believed to be holding Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who both crossed into Gaza on their own accord. It is also holding the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

30-year-old Jerusalem woman killed in apartment fire

A 30-year-old woman is killed in an apartment fire in Jerusalem‘s Malha neighborhood.

Rescue workers do not find anyone else trapped in the apartment building.

Separately, a 35-year-old woman is seriously injured in a fire in an apartment in the southern city of Beersheba.

She is taken by paramedics from the Magen David Adom ambulance service to Soroka Medical Center.

Yamina minister says he’d oppose prisoner swap with Hamas

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich says he would oppose a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.

“If there’s a deal like this I’ll oppose it with all my might,” he tells the Ynet news site.

Smotrich, a member of the national-religious Yamina party, says Prime Minister Netanyahu refused his request for the security cabinet to discuss a potential swap deal.

“I’m troubled,” he says. “The release of terrorists is a red line that can’t be crossed.”

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the Yamina party headquarters on election night in Ramat Gan, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)

3 Iranian guards reported killed in clash near Iraq border

TEHRAN, Iran — Three members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were killed yesterday in a clash with a “counter-revolutionary” group in the western province of Kurdistan, ISNA news agency reports.

“Colonel Shakiba Salimi and two other brave fighters of Islam, Jafar Nezampour and Majid Shokri, were martyred after fighting and killing a number of counter-revolutionary elements,” ISNA quotes a Guards statement as saying.

The clash occurred near the town of Divandareh, the statement adds, without naming the group.

For much of the past 40 years, Iran has been battling Kurdish militants who use bases in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan to stage attacks against the Guards and state institutions inside the country.

Iranian state television says the funeral of those killed is to be held this morning while observing health protocols and social distancing measures imposed during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

— AFP

Justice minister appeals against Supreme Court justice’s refusal to recuse himself from hearing

Justice Minister Amir Ohana files an appeal with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut against Justice Meni Mazuz’s refusal to recuse himself from hearings on the extension of the acting state prosecutor’s tenure.

Ohana says Mazuz should not take part in any hearings concerning the authority of the justice minister versus that of the attorney general, based on comments the justice had made in the past, and that not barring him from doing so would inflict “significant damage on the integrity of the judicial process.”

Mazuz, a former attorney general, last week issued an injunction on extending the term of Dan Eldad as acting state prosecutor, which has now expired.

Ohana has feuded with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit over Eldad’s appointment and his authority as an acting justice minister to appoint senior officials.

Settler leaders welcome Friedman’s annexation comments, but divided on Trump plan

Settler leaders welcome US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s remarks that the United States will recognize Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank as part of Trump administration’s peace plan.

However, they’re divided on the merits of the plan, which the US has said Israel must accept in its entirety to move forward with annexation.

Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement, points to Chaim Weizmann’s backing of the decisions at the San Remo conference 100 years ago “even though the entire Zionist dream wasn’t realized” and David Ben-Gurion’s acceptance of the UN partition plan in 1947 despite reservations about the proposed borders of a Jewish state.

“The same courage is now required from the right-wing and settlement leadership to say yes despite the conditions and the challenges,” he says in a statement.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damri praises Friedman while saying the Trump plan has “red lines” he opposes, such as the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“This an unethical, immoral step and from past experience is also a clear danger to residents of the country,” he says.

Beit El Mayor Shai Alon calls on the government “to stop stuttering” and move forward with annexation.

43 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in past 24 hours; death toll at 238

The Health Ministry reports 43 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections in Israel to 16,314.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 is now 238, the same as last night and up one from yesterday morning.

The ministry says 90 people are in serious condition, 70 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 55 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

There are 5,549 Israelis currently sick with the virus, while 10,527 have recovered.

According to the ministry, 7,741 coronavirus tests were reported yesterday.

Protests against domestic violence held in multiple cities

Demonstrations are taking place at a number of locations across Israel to protest domestic violence against women, days after a woman in Bat Yam was allegedly murdered by her husband.

Among the cities where protests are being held are Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba.

3 rockets strike near Baghdad airport

BAGHDAD — Three Katyusha rockets struck near the military sector of the Baghdad airport early today but caused no casualties, the Iraqi military says.

The attack came hours ahead of a parliament session that will vote on the proposed government of the latest prime minister-designate, Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Iraqi security forces later discover the launching pad for the rockets in the al-Barkiya area, west of Baghdad. No group immediately claims responsibility for the attack.

An Iraqi security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, says one of the rockets struck close to Iraqi forces at the military airport, another near Camp Cropper, once a US detention facility, and the last near to where US forces are stationed at the base. Sadaam Hussein was held in Camp Cropper prison prior to his execution.

The US has accused Iran-backed militias of carrying out such attacks in the past. Several attacks targeted US interests early in March, including three military bases known to house US troops. The US-led coalition has withdrawn from several bases across Iraq in a planned drawdown.

The attack is the first following a brief lull since March 26, when rockets struck near to the Baghdad Operations Command, a center that coordinates Iraq’s police and military forces. The command is a few hundred meters (yards) from the US Embassy, which has also been a frequent target of rocket attacks.

— AP

Tax Authority chief apologizes to self-employed workers for hiccups on website

The head of the Tax Authority apologizes for problems with its website that prevented many self-employed Israelis from requesting financial assistance from the state.

“I apologized to the self-employed who needed to wait until the website was up,” Eran Yaacov tells Army Radio.

He also says over 20,000 people of those who have applied are eligible to receive the aid.

Palestinian sources say Israel, Hamas not close to finalizing prisoner swap deal

Palestinian sources tell the Kan public broadcaster that Israel and Hamas aren’t close to reaching a prisoner swap deal and says that talks on an agreement are at an early stage.

The comments came after a former Mossad official involved in a 2011 prisoner exchange said there was a “real possibility” of reaching a deal.

Rouhani warns US of ‘severe consequences’ if arms embargo on Iran extended

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president says the United States made a “stupid mistake” by abandoning a nuclear deal and warns of severe consequences if its allies agree to extend an arms embargo.

The United States is waging a campaign to extend the ban on selling conventional weapons to Iran, which is set to be progressively eased starting in October.

The ban is to be lifted in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which blessed the landmark international agreement that placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in 2015.

US President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — in 2018 and began reimposing sanctions on the Islamic republic.

“America made a very stupid mistake by abandoning this agreement,” his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, says today at a televised cabinet meeting.

“The wise thing for the US is to return to the JCPOA… but those in charge today won’t ever reach such wisdom,” he adds.

Rouhani says the lifting of the embargo was “an inseparable part” of the nuclear accord.

“If it is ever reimposed… they know well what severe consequences and what historical defeat awaits them if they make such a mistake.”

Rouhani doesn’t elaborate on the consequences but says they were detailed in a letter sent previously to the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

— AFP

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)

EU predicts ‘recession of historic proportions’ due to pandemic

BRUSSELS — The European Union predicts “a recession of historic proportions this year” due to the impact of the coronavirus with a drop in output of more than 7%, as it releases its first official forecast of the damage the pandemic is inflicting on the bloc’s economy.

The 27-nation EU economy is predicted to contract by 7.5% this year, before growing by about 6% in 2021. The group of 19 nations using the euro as their currency will see a record decline of 7.75% this year, and grow by 6.25% in 2021, the European Commission says in its Spring economic forecast.

More than 1.1 million people have contracted the virus across Europe and over 137,000 have died, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Unclear outbreak data, low testing rates and the strain on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is much greater.

How quickly things can change. On February 13, the commission had predicted “a path of steady, moderate growth” this year and next of 1.2%. At that time, uncertainty over US trade policy and a Brexit trade deal plus tensions in Latin America and the Middle East were the main threats.

The coronavirus outbreak in China was noted at the time as “a new downside risk” but the commission’s assumption less than three months ago was “that the outbreak peaks in the first quarter, with relatively limited global spillovers.”

— AP

Tel Aviv floats plan to allow restaurants to reopen by mid-May

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality puts forward a plan to allow restaurants to reopen by next weekend.

Among the city’s proposals are single-use menus, hand sanitizer bottles at every table and extensive cleaning regimens.

In a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai says restaurants are “important partners” in the city’s economic and social life.

“We’re doing everything in our power to help, by means of exemptions from fees and other tools, but these aren’t enough. Rescuing the [restaurant] industry of hundreds of thousands of workers is in the hands of the government,” Channel 13 news quotes the letter as saying.

Israel has begun reopening large sectors of the economy, but the government has yet to give a projected date for when restaurants can reopen.

Chairs outside a closed cafe in Tel Aviv on April 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Spain to declare state of mourning for over 25,800 Spaniards killed by virus

MADRID — Spanish Prime Minster Pedro Sánchez says that his government will declare a national state of mourning for the more than 25,800 deaths the European nation has suffered from the coronavirus pandemic.

Sánchez is appearing before Spain’s Parliament today to ask for a fourth two-week extension of the state of emergency that has allowed his government to apply a strict lockdown that has reined in a savage COVID-19 outbreak. It appears he will have the support despite losing the backing of the main opposition party.

Spanish health authorities report 244 new deaths over the previous 24 hours, taking the toll of virus fatalities to 25,857.

The figures, which are in line with the overall slowdown of the outbreak in Spain, don’t include thousands more who have died in nursing homes before they could be tested.

Spain also reports that its total number of confirmed infections has surpassed 253,000.

Sánchez says that he will specify when the national mourning will be held as the country emerges from a lockdown that has reduced the infection rate to under 1%. Some small shops slowly started to reopen this week.

“We have won a partial victory against the virus thanks to the sacrifice of all,” Sánchez says. “But raising the state of alarm now would be a complete error.”

— AP

Police said to be compiling secret database on movements of Israelis

The Israel Police has been compiling information on the movements of Israelis not suspected of any crime in a secret database that doesn’t appear to have any oversight, the Walla news site reports.

According to the report, the database includes footage of cars driving across the country that was filmed using “Hawk-Eye” smart cameras, which can identify license plates and determine whether the vehicle was stolen or if its owner’s driver’s is expired.

Quoting a police source, the news site says the video footage is saved in a database for at least six months and possibly years.

Hungary ‘no longer a democracy,’ rights watchdog says

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary can no longer be called a democracy after unprecedented democratic backsliding, a human rights watchdog says, bemoaning the “precipitous” fall down the rankings of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s “regime.”

The US-based Freedom House declares in its annual “Nations in Transit” report that Hungary is instead a “hybrid regime…in a ‘grey zone’ between democracies and pure autocracies.”

The watchdog says the EU member had been a “democratic frontrunner” in 2005, and that “its decline has been the most precipitous ever tracked” by the group.

In 2020 Hungary became the first country to fall by two of the group’s ranking categories and “leave the group of democracies entirely,” says Freedom House.

“Hungary today can no longer be regarded as a democracy,” it says.

Orban’s government has “dropped any pretense of respecting democratic institutions,” says the human rights group.

“After centralizing power, tilting the electoral playing field, taking over much of the media, and harassing critical civil society organizations since 2010, Orban moved during 2019 to consolidate control over new areas of public life, including education and the arts,” it says.

The adoption in March of a COVID-19 emergency law that lets the government rule by decree indefinitely “has further exposed the undemocratic character of Orban’s regime.”

— AFP

Iran warns of ‘rising trend’ in new infections as total virus cases top 100,000

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran warns of a “rising trend” in its coronavirus outbreak as it says 1,680 new infections took its overall caseload beyond the 100,000 mark.

The Islamic Republic has struggled to contain the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak since announcing its first cases in mid-February.

Concerns were raised last month about the threat of a “second wave” of the virus in a report by parliament that criticized the government’s slow response.

“We are witnessing a rising trend in the past three or four days, which is significant,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour tells a televised news conference.

The rise is “based on our behavior, especially in the past two weeks, considering that a part of society has apparently had a change of attitude,” he adds.

The newly reported infections bring the country’s overall number of confirmed cases to 101,650.

On Saturday, Iran’s official tally of daily infections hit its lowest level since March 10, but cases have picked up again since then.

The health ministry’s Jahanpour says the spike in cases could be due to an increase in movement across cities and unnecessary travel.

Iran has allowed a phased return to work to revitalize its economy since April 11 and reopened mosques in parts of the country deemed to be at low risk.

Jahanpour also reports 78 new COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours for the country whose virus death toll has also been creeping up since Sunday.

This brings to 6,418 the total number of fatalities officially recorded in Iran since February 19, when it announced its first two deaths in the Shiite holy city of Qom.

— AFP

EU reportedly says Palestinians with terror links can take part in activities it funds

The EU has sent a letter saying Palestinians linked to terror organizations can take part in the activities of groups funded by the bloc, Army Radio reports.

The radio station says the letter was sent by the EU’s diplomatic office in Ramallah to Palestinian organizations.

Quoting EU sources, Army Radio says the European Union has not changed its stance toward terror groups but that there was no legal impediment to prevent them from benefiting from EU-funded activities.

Airports spokesman: 45-minute test could enable ‘medical passport’ for Israelis

Ofer Lefler, spokesman for Israel’s Airports Authority, tells Channel 12 news there’s a “very good chance” that either a government or private lab will soon make available a 45-minute test to enable Israelis to fly overseas with a “medical passport” showing they’re healthy.

He notes that Austria is already resuming air travel on that basis.

The TV station’s health reporter Yoav Even notes that some Israeli hospitals already use such tests, but that they are four times as costly as the normal COVID-19 tests, and cites a figure of 190 euros (about $205, or NIS 720).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Monday announcing a resumption of domestic flights within weeks, said Israel was looking to “reconnect to the world” without risking new contagion from overseas virus epicenters.

18 new immigrants from North America arrive in Israel amid pandemic

The Government Press Office says 18 new immigrants from North America arrived in Israel yesterday evening as part of a group organized by aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh.

The new Israelis were transferred directly to quarantine for 14 days as has been mandated by the government.

The GPO says over a thousand people in North America submitted or began working on immigration applications in April despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“Aliyah is continuing and even on the rise, as it is increasingly being considered a viable option for many Jews around the world. As such, we are committed to finding solutions for all those who want to make Aliyah amidst the COVID-19 crisis,” says Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Traffic at Ben Gurion in April dropped over 99% compared to 2019

The Central Bureau of Statistics has issued some figures on arrivals and departures at Ben Gurion Airport in April, underlining the dramatic effect the coronavirus crisis had on the country’s main gateway.

Some 2,600 people left Israel through the airport (compared to 691,000 in April 2019). Some 5,800 Israelis returned from abroad (compared to 666,000 in 2019).

Meanwhile some 600 visitors entered the country, compared to 428,000 in April 2019. Foreign citizens have largely been banned from entering the country amid the pandemic.

The figures show traffic dropped by some 99.4 percent compared to numbers recorded during the same period last year.

El Al planes at the Ben Gurion International Airport on April 12, 2020 (Flash90)

Biden: It’s a priority to press Israel not to make 2-state solution impossible

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, says it is critical to Israeli-Palestinian peace to press Israel not to take unilateral actions, a reference to Israeli leaders’ plans to annex part of the West Bank.

Biden, in a statement Tuesday to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, also says that as president he would resume US assistance to the Palestinians, reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem that administered primarily to the Palestinians and would seek to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington.

Biden says he will “resume the decades-long economic and security assistance efforts to the Palestinians that the Trump Administration stopped.”

Democratic presidential hopeful former US vice president Joe Biden during a town hall at The Novo in Los Angeles on October 10, 2019 (Robyn Beck / AFP)

— with JTA

Lapid says Likud, Blue and White ‘attacking Israel’s democracy’

At the Knesset, the head of Yesh Atid-Telem, Yair Lapid, concludes the opposition’s case against the changes to Israel’s Basic Laws as part of the Likud-Blue and White coalition deal.

He says the parties are “attacking Israel’s democracy” and “taking apart our shared values.”

He says it is a “lie” that the new government is an emergency government.

“If this was an emergency government we would see a fight over the Health Ministry, Finance Ministry, Economy Ministry, Interior Ministry and Finance Committee,” he says. “All those that are relevant to an economic crisis. All the jobs that no one fought over.”

Yair Lapid (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

— with Raoul Wootliff

Liberman warns Gantz against recommending Netanyahu as PM without deal in hand

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman warns Blue and White’s leader Benny Gantz not to recommend Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership tomorrow without a coalition deal being finalized, claiming he will be giving the PM too much power without guarantees.

Liberman notes that giving Netanyahu the recommendations of 61 Knesset members will hand him control of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, which has power over the makeup of other committees while no permanent government is in office.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference in Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, on March 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He claims Netanyahu will find a way to backstab Gantz to his advantage if he does so.

The Knesset must agree tomorrow on a recommended candidate for prime minister or it will be automatically dissolved at midnight and the country will head to new elections.

Gaza sees 3 new coronavirus cases, taking total to 20

Three new cases of coronavirus have been identified in the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave’s health ministry announces.

The individuals have been staying in isolation centers established at the border for arrivals in to the Strip and have not been in contact with the broader public.

With the three new cases, the total number recorded in the Gaza Strip rises to 20, with just eight of them still active.

A field hospital in the Gaza Strip near the Erez crossing. (Screenshot from the Friend Ships-Project-Camp Gaza Facebook page)

Health Ministry said to approve plan to reopen daycares, preschools on Sunday

The Health Ministry has approved the reopening on Sunday of daycares for ages 0-3 as well as private preschools, according to Hebrew media reports.

Institutions will be limited to 17 children per age group, Channel 12 reports, meaning many children will need to remain at home for now.

Report: Pompeo to visit Israel next week, meet Netanyahu and Gantz

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel next week and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, according to several Hebrewmedia outlets.

The Ynet website says Pompeo’s visit will focus both on the new government being established in Israel and on Israel’s plan to move forward with annexing parts of the West Bank under the Trump administration’s peace plan.

There is no official confirmation of the report at this time.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a news conference at the State Department on April 29, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Harnik/POOL/AFP)

Asked about the matter during a press briefing in Washington this morning, the secretary says: “I don’t have any travel to confirm, but I think in the upcoming hours and days you’ll see an announcement.”

Netanyahu files police complaint against activist he says called for killing his son

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has filed a police complaint against a left-wing activist who he says called for killing his son Yair during a protest, as well as for throwing a Molotov cocktail at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

“The incitement on the far left has crossed red lines,” Netanyahu says in a statement. “These are concrete threats against my son’s life. They must not be ignored.”

Settlers attack, break leg of shepherd in northern West Bank, rights group says

A group of 15 Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian shepherd while he was grazing his flock in the northern West Bank, the Yesh Din rights group reports.

The attackers, at least one of whom was armed, hurled rocks at the shepherd, who sustained a leg injury as a result. Neighbors from his village of Burqa arrived at the scene to provide assistance and are waiting for an ambulance to take him to a hospital for further treatment, Yesh Din says.

The right’s group subsequently updates that the shepherd’s leg was broken in the attack.

The incident took place near the area where the Homesh settlement once stood before it was razed in 2005 as part of the Gaza disengagement.

Palestinians tend to a shepherd (center) who was injured by Israeli settlers near the northern West Bank village of Burqa on May 6, 2020. (Burqa municipality)

For nearly a decade and a half since then, Palestinians who claim ownership of the land on which the settlement was built have been barred from working those fields, despite them being left largely empty. Instead, a makeshift yeshiva of ultra-nationalist Israelis has operated on a near daily basis with almost no interference from the army.

— Jacob Magid

NYC mayor: Other states may be reopening too quickly

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says rising coronavirus infection rates outside of the New York metropolitan area should serve as a warning to other states not to reopen their economies too quickly.

De Blasio tells CNN: “This desire to restart and open up without necessarily referencing the actual facts of what’s going on is dangerous.”

The mayor says New Yorkers have succeeded in lowering virus infection rates by largely following social distancing orders and by covering their faces in public.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in Brooklyn, April 29, 2020. (Screenshot from YouTube)

“My message to the rest of the country is learn from how much effort, how much discipline it took to finally bring these numbers down and follow the same path until you’re sure that it’s being beaten back or else if this thing boomerangs you’re putting off any kind of restart or recovery a hell of a lot longer,” he says.

— AP

Trump backtracks on scrapping of White House coronavirus task force

US President Donald Trump appears to backtrack on plans announced yesterday to shut down the task force advising him on the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House’s earlier suggestion that the high-level team could close around the start of June was Trump’s latest signal that he thinks it’s time to move on from the health crisis and reopen the economy.

But in a series of tweets today, he said the task force has been so successful that it “will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”

US President Donald Trump listens during a meeting about the coronavirus response in the Oval Office of the White House, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The president, however, says he could “add or subtract people” to the group, which suggests the situation remains fluid.

— AFP

Pompeo says ‘significant evidence’ but no certainty virus came from Wuhan lab

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renews his widely contested charge that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a Chinese laboratory, but acknowledges there is no certainty.

“We don’t have certainty, and there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory. Those statements can both be true,” Pompeo tells reporters.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria, at US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, December 29, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

— AFP

Egyptian jailed for criticizing Sissi died of alcohol poisoning, prosecutor says

Egypt’s public prosecutor says alcohol poisoning caused the controversial death in jail of a young music video maker after drinking liquid sanitizer he had mistaken for water.

Shady Habash, 24, who died in Tora prison in Cairo at the weekend, was imprisoned for directing a music video critical of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

“The deceased informed the physician on duty that he had drunk a quantity of alcohol at noon on the day before his death,” the prosecutor says in a statement. Alcohol-based sanitizers were distributed to inmates as a protective measure against the coronavirus pandemic, the statement adds.

It quotes the physician as saying Habash mistook the bottle for one full of water and later complained of stomach cramps.

— AFP

Merkel gives go-ahead for Bundesliga to resume soccer matches in mid-May

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders give the Bundesliga the green light to restart soccer matches behind closed doors from mid-May after weeks of shutdown imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The political blessing makes the German top-flight the first of Europe’s five major leagues to return to the field.

“Matches will be allowed under the approved rules,” Merkel says at a press conference in Berlin, referring to a plan by the German Football League (DFL) for the Bundesliga to resume in empty stadiums and with players regularly tested.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she attends a press conference together with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz after a discussion in Berlin, Germany, Monday, February 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Permission was granted on condition that strict guidelines are followed — with a hygiene officer appointed to each team — to prevent contagion.

— with AFP

Report: Netanyahu ‘will not allow El Al to collapse’ due to pandemic

Associates of the prime minister tell the Ynet news site he “will not allow El Al to collapse” due to the massive losses it has suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will help [the company] to ensure its stability,” they say.

El Al has been operating a very small number of commercial flights during the crisis while continuing to operate cargo flights.

El Al planes seen at Ben Gurion International Airport, file (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Abbas spokesman denounces US envoy’s comments backing annexation

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman has denounced comments made earlier today by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in support of West Bank annexation, calling the remarks “unacceptable.”

“The Palestinian people will thwart all plots and will not allow such an annexation move to pass without taking decisive steps against it as confirmed by [Abbas],” who has warned that they would lead to the PA cancelling all of its agreements with Israel, Nabil Abu Rudeinah says in a statement.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 22, 2020. (AP Photo/ Majdi Mohammed)

— Jacob Magid

Ministers expected to approve ban on bonfires for Lag B’Omer

Cabinet ministers are expected to approve restrictions today for the coming Lag B’Omer holiday.

The cabinet is expected not to declare nationwide closures for the holiday, but will ban the traditional lighting of bonfires.

A small number of bonfires may be specifically approved for religious purposes at Mt. Meron in the country’s north.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews play near a bonfire during Lag B’Omer celebrations in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on May 2, 2018. (Dario Sanchez/Flash90)

Israel to resume soccer league matches on May 31

Israel’s soccer matches are set to resume on May 31, with training returning next Sunday.

According to an agreement between the Health Ministry and league officials, all league players will be required to remain at home at all times except for training and matches throughout the season, starting on Sunday.

If a team member or staff member is diagnosed with coronavirus, the entire team will enter quarantine.

Players will have their temperatures checked before every training session and will be required to use their private vehicles to get to training sessions.

Games will be held without fans for the time being.

Officials say 70,000 furloughed Israelis have returned to work

The National insurance Institute says some 70,000 Israelis have returned to work over the past two and a half weeks, after being put on unpaid leave due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It says 9,193 people returned to work in the past day.

Israelis wearing face masks do their shopping in Jerusalem’s center after the government eased some lockdown measures that it had imposed in order to stop the spread of coronavirus, on May 6, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu, Gantz meet to discuss fate of health portfolio

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz are now meeting to discuss the fate of the health portfolio.

Gantz is seeking the portfolio for his own party after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism decided to leave the post.

In return, Likud is said to be demanding Blue and White give up some of the other portfolios it was promised in the coalition deal.

A composite image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz at polling stations in Jerusalem and Rosh Haayin, respectively, during the Knesset Elections on March 2, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL, AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Netanyahu, Gantz said to discuss extending new government’s term to 4 years

Now meeting, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are said to be discussing a mechanism to extend the term of their unity government to a full four years (from the current planned three).

The proposal would see Netanyahu serve for 18 months, followed by Gantz for 18 months as per the current plan. A possible fourth year would see six months for Netanyahu followed by six months for Gantz, Channel 12 reports.

AG tells Eldad there is no reason he should not meet with comptroller

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informs Dan Eldad there is no reason for him to avoid a planned meeting with State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman after the High Court froze Eldad’s work as acting state attorney.

Eldad was reported yesterday to have canceled his meeting with Englman regarding Mandleblit’s involvement in the so-called Harpaz Affair. Mandelblit was a suspect in the 2010 case but eventually was cleared of wrongdoing by the High Court of Justice.

Eldad had said the meeting was scheduled in his position as acting state attorney, and since he was no longer in that position, it would not be appropriate.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (right) and former acting State Attorney Dan Eldad (Justice Ministry / Flash90)

But Mandelblit says: “Despite your having concluded your work as acting state attorney, I do not see any reason why you should not present to him any matter which you believe requires a probe.”

Mandelblit’s statement may have something to do with a report in the Israel Hayom daily, close to the prime minister, that claimed the meeting was canceled due to heavy pressure exerted by the attorney general and other senior officials at the State Attorney’s Office.

German far-right chief blasted for saying end of WWII ‘a day of absolute defeat’

A leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party draws criticism for describing the day World War II ended in Europe following Nazi Germany’s surrender as a “day of absolute defeat.”

Alexander Gauland, the co-leader of the party’s parliamentary group, made the comment as he opposed calls for May 8 to be made a public holiday. This year is the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe in 1945.

“May 8 doesn’t have the potential to be a holiday because it is an ambivalent day,” he is quoted as telling the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group. “For concentration camp inmates, it was a day of liberation. But it was also a day of absolute defeat, a day of the loss of large parts of Germany and the loss of the possibility to shape things.”

Alexander Gauland, faction leader of the Alternative for Germany, AfD, arrive for a news conference after the elections for the European Parliament in Berlin, Germany, May 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Lars Klingbeil, the general secretary of the center-left Social Democrats, one of Germany’s governing parties, says Gauland’s comments were “just repugnant.” Cem Ozdemir, a lawmaker with the opposition Greens, tweets that “anyone who sees an ‘absolute defeat’ in this stands on the wrong side of the barricades.”

“It is no surprise that Alexander Gauland sees above all an ‘absolute defeat’ in May 8,” says Charlotte Knobloch, a prominent Jewish leader. Most people in Germany see the date of the Nazi regime’s defeat as “grounds for happiness and gratitude,” she adds.

“It was the day that made freedom and democracy possible again in Germany.”

— AP

Ministers vote to approve ban on Lag B’Omer bonfires

Ministers have approved Lag B’Omer restrictions, including a ban on the traditional lighting of bonfires, including in private yards.

The holiday will be held on Monday, May 11.

A small number of bonfires are expected to get specific approval for religious purposes at Mt. Meron in the north.

Invest now to fight next pandemic, says WHO

The World Health Organization urges countries to invest in getting their healthcare systems fit to fight the next pandemic rather than scrambling in panic when it hits.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says investing now will save lives later, as the death toll from COVID-19 surges past 250,000.

“The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually recede, but there can be no going back to business as usual,” he tells a virtual briefing in Geneva.

“We cannot continue to rush to fund panic but let preparedness go by the wayside. As we work on responding to this pandemic, we must also work harder to prepare for the next one.”

— AFP

25-year-old man dies in dune buggy accident in north

A 25-year-old man has died after his dune buggy overturned near the community of Alon HaGalil in the Galilee.

The man was rushed to Haifa’s Rambam hospital in critical condition. Doctors there could not save his life.

Trump says coronavirus crisis worse than Pearl Harbor or 9/11

US President Donald Trump says that fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic has hit the United States harder than Pearl Harbor in World War II or the 9/11 attacks.

“This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. And it should have never happened,” he tells reporters at the White House.

The surprise Japanese attack in 1941 on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii drew the United States into World War II.

US President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, April 24, 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks killed about 3,000 people, mostly in the World Trade Center in New York, triggering two decades of US wars and anti-terrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

— AFP

Retail outlets told to resume collecting bottles for recycling

The Environmental Protection Ministry says it is lifting a ban on the collection of glass and plastic bottles for recycling by marketing, retail and business outlets.

It instructs outlets to resume collection immediately and calls on the public to bring in bottles stored at home for recycling.

The deposit law offers a refundable deposit on recycled bottles, from NIS 0.30 for small glass and plastic bottles to NIS 1.2 for half-liter glass beer bottles. It compels any retail store measuring more than 28 square meters (300 square feet) to provide the refunds, according to the amounts printed on all qualifying bottles.

Plastic bottles larger than 1.5 liters should continue to be deposited in large recycling bins distributed throughout the country.

A woman throws a bottle into the recycling bin in central Jerusalem. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A woman throws a bottle into the recycling bin in central Jerusalem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Glass bottles not eligible for deposit should be thrown — without their lids — into glass recycling receptacles and tin lids deposited in tin recycling bins.

— Sue Surkes

Palestinians condemn Bennett’s announcement of thousands of new settlement homes

The Palestinians are condemning an announcement by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett that he is issuing building permits for 7,000 new homes in the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The ministry indicated the land would allow the creation of a new neighborhood called Givat Eitam.

The Palestine Liberation Organization denounces the new “violation of international law.

“This is an outrageous exploitation of the COVID-19 global pandemic to advance the illegal settler project,” senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi says in a statement.

The Efrat settlement in the Etzion Bloc, November 27, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

— AFP

Home Front Command chief reassigned to lead army’s West Bank forces

Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, who led the military’s efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, will end his tenure as the head of the Home Front Command later this month before moving to the Central Command, the Israel Defense Forces says.

This is seen as yet another sign of the country’s return to normal following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

Yadai will complete his three-year stint as head of the Home Front Command on May 19, and then move to succeed Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan as head of the Central Command, the IDF says, in charge of the West Bank region.

Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

He will be succeeded by Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin, who will be promoted to major general.

“Brig. Gen. Gordin completed a process of deep learning and shadowing in the Home Front Command,” the army says.

The IDF says it is not immediately clear when Yadai will move to the Central Command.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israel angered as EU says Palestinians with terror ties can enjoy funding

Israel reacts angrily to a letter in which a senior European Union official assured the Palestinians that membership in or affinity to a terrorist organization does not automatically prevent a person from being eligible to participate in EU-funded programs.

“We view this letter with great severity. This is in violation of all our agreements with the European Union, and we intend to send a strong message to its representatives about this,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson says.

The Foreign Ministry summoned the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, for a dressing down over the matter. He is expected to be rebuked Thursday by the ministry’s deputy director-general for Europe, Anna Azari.

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret in his Ramat Gan office in December 2017. (Ariel Zandberg)

— Raphael Ahren

33 new coronavirus cases diagnosed today, as infection slowdown continues

The slowdown in coronavirus infections continues, with the Health Ministry saying 33 new cases were identified today, taking the total cases to 16,310. Of those, 10,637 have recovered.

Another person died of the illness today, taking the national toll to 239.

Meanwhile, 69 people are on ventilators of the 89 who are seriously ill, 62 people are in moderate condition and the rest are only mildly ill.

Opposition pulls all amendments to coalition legislation, demands immediate vote

The opposition has pulled all its amendments to the legislation anchoring the new coalition deal and is demanding a vote now.

The purpose of the move is not immediately clear. Channel 12 reports it may be an attempt to thwart any attempt by Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to change legislation at the last minute to allow their government a term longer than three years.

However, the network also reports that the two do not need to change legislation to do so, as the current wording of the bill already allows them to extend the government beyond three years if they decide to do so.

Blue and White move to take rotation agreement back to committee

Blue and White have now requested to take the rotation agreement back to committee, in an apparent bid to prevent an immediate plenum vote on the agreement in its current form.

Gantz, Netanyahu agree to swear in new government on May 13

With the coalition and opposition tussling in the Knesset plenum, Netanyahu and Gantz issue a statement that they have agreed to swear in the new government next Wednesday, May 13.

High Court unanimously rejects petitions against Netanyahu, coalition deal

The High Court of Justice has unanimously rejected all petitions against Benjamin Netanyahu forming a new government while under indictment, as well as petitions calling on it to strike down the coalition deal between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.

The ruling clears the path for the leaders of Likud and Blue and White to form a government next week.

The court says there is no legal justification to prevent Netanyahu from serving as prime minister. And judges say though the coalition agreement “raises serious legal difficulties,” there is no place to intervene in its clauses at this time, in light of amendments and clarifications presented by the prime minister and the Blue and White and Likud factions.

Court does not rule out future intervention in coalition legislation

The High Court justices do not entirely rule out future intervention in the legislation now being debated by the Knesset to enable the coalition deal.

The justices say such intervention is inappropriate “at this time.”

A Likud source tells the Ynet news site: “All well and good, if the High Court does not intervene later on, after legislation [is completed].”

Group that petitioned against Netanyahu says respects ruling, but will keep protesting

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the petitioners in the High Court case against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coalition deal, responds to the unanimous rejection of their claims by saying it respected the decision.

“However, morally and ethically, one cannot make peace with a situation in which a prime minister is a criminal defendant,” the group says in a statement, announcing a demonstration for Saturday night.

“The Netanyahu-Gantz government is the exact definition of ‘kosher but odious,'” it says.

Netanyahu allies hail court ruling that he can form government

Politicians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc welcome the High Court ruling that he can form a government and go ahead with the coalition agreement.

“The judge did well to not intervene,” says Culture Minister Miri Regev from Netanyahu’s Likud party. “The people are sovereign in Israel, and it has spoken.”

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, the former justice minister, says the arguments raised during the hearings were political, not legal, “and it’s good that the court refrained from interfering. The prime minister being tasked with forming a government is the height of a political process that fulfills the people’s will.”

5 dead, hundreds in hospital after gas leak at India chemical plant

At least five people have been killed and several hundred hospitalized after a gas leak at a chemicals plant on the east coast of India, police say.

They say that the gas had leaked out of two 5,000-ton tanks that had been unattended due to India’s coronavirus lockdown, in place since late March.

“We can confirm at least five deaths right now. More will be confirmed later. At least 70 people in the nearby hospitals are in an unconscious state and overall 200 to 500 locals are still getting treatment (at the hospitals),” says police official Swaroop Rani in Visakhapatnam.

AFP

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Netanyahu allies hail court ruling that he can form government

Politicians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc welcome the High Court ruling that he can form a government and go ahead with the coalition agreement.

“The judge did well to not intervene,” says Culture Minister Miri Regev from Netanyahu’s Likud party. “The people are sovereign in Israel, and it has spoken.”

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, the former justice minister, says the arguments raised during the hearings were political, not legal, “and it’s good that the court refrained from interfering. The prime minister being tasked with forming a government is the height of a political process that fulfills the people’s will.”