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8 virus deaths take national toll to 546; 1,518 cases found in past 24 hours

There are currently 26,005 active COVID-19 cases, 331 of which are serious; so far 13,670 tests have been carried out today

Doctors treat a patient at the coronavirus unit at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
File: Doctors treat a patient at the coronavirus unit at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

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

Netanyahu: Israel’s morbidity rate one of world’s highest, but we’re on a plateau

At the beginning of a weekly meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers dealing with the pandemic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “the bad news” is that Israel’s morbidity rate per capita is one of the world’s highest.

“The good news is that over the past two weeks or so we’ve been on a plateau” as far as infection rates are concerned, he says.

But illness could yet rise “to numbers we won’t be able to handle,” he adds.

“Concurrently with building the ability to cut off transmission chains, we must lower the number of patients.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2020. (Tal Shahar/Pool/AFP)

WHO: There may never be a COVID-19 ‘silver bullet’

The World Health Organization says that there might never be a “silver bullet” answer to the new coronavirus, despite the rush to discover effective vaccines.

“There is no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells a virtual press conference in Geneva.


Facebook bans French comedian Dieudonne for anti-Semitism

Facebook says it has permanently banned French comedian Dieudonne, a convicted anti-Semite, from its platform and from Instagram for content it says mocked Holocaust victims.

It also says some of his posts used “dehumanizing terms against Jews.”

“In line with our policy on dangerous individuals and organizations, we have permanently banned Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala from Facebook and Instagram,” the company says in a statement, using his full name.

Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, left, and Alain Soral arrive at the Paris courthouse for Soral’s trial for inciting hatred against Jews, March 12, 2015. (Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images/ JTA)

The comedian, who goes by his first name Dieudonne, had his YouTube channel cut off for similar reasons in June by mother company Google.

The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism welcomes the ban as a “great victory,” saying Dieudonne’s posts “have done considerable and irreparable damage among young people.”


Comptroller says over quarter of Israelis unprotected from missile threat

Over a quarter of Israelis are not properly protected from the threat of missile attacks, a new report by State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman says.

Some 2.6 million Israelis, 28 percent of the population, do not have proper shelter in case of missile attacks near their homes, the report says — including 50,000 people who live up to nine kilometers (5.6 miles) from the volatile northern border.

The report notes that there are believed to be hundreds of thousands of rockets and missiles threatening Israel from beyond its borders.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset, on December 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Comptroller: New Prime Minister’s Office construction stymied by lackluster management

In his latest report, the state comptroller says the project to build a new Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem that would also serve as the Israeli leader’s official residence has suffered multiple setbacks and a ballooning budget as a result of lackluster planning and management, and is on the verge of being canceled outright.

The estimated cost of the project has nearly doubled from NIS 650 million ($190 million) to NIS 1.2 billion ($350 million), the report said, with a lack of communication and negligence among the project’s various planners and managers leading to numerous delays and stalled progress.

Lapid: We need an economy czar for worst managerial failure in Israeli history

Opposition leader Yair Lapid says Israel needs not only a coronavirus czar but an economy czar as well.

“We are in the midst of the greatest economic crisis in three decades. There has not been such a managerial failure in the history of the country,” Lapid, head of Yesh Atid-Telem, says at the start of the weekly faction meeting.

“A government of 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers won’t handle the economic crisis, it’s only making it worse,” he says.

MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Maariv newspaper conference in Herzliya, on February 26, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Lapid says “Israel’s business closure rate is the highest in the world. This isn’t talk, it’s data. Hard numbers. Businesses are collapsing. Event halls, culture, restaurants, shops.”

Hezbollah chief to give speech amid high tensions with Israel

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah will give a speech on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. discussing “the latest political developments,” Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV reports.

Nasrallah’s speech will come in the aftermath of rising tensions on Israel’s northern border. Last Monday, the IDF said it thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to send a team of fighters into the Israeli-controlled territory of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, to carry out an attack. According to the military, the Hezbollah cell made it a few meters across the border before the IDF thwarted the operation.

The IDF avoided killing the men, shooting in their direction to force them to flee.

Hezbollah denies the alleged operation took place, calling the IDF’s story “absolutely false attempts to generate illusory and false victories.”

A speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is transmitted on a large screen in the Lebanese capital Beirut’s southern suburbs on August 31, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Another incident occurred last night, when four people crossed into Israeli territory from Syria and planted improvised explosive devices inside an unmanned Israel Defense Forces outpost along the Syrian border, the IDF said, although Israel has not yet blamed Hezbollah for the operation.

Soldiers and aircraft opened fire at the four suspects, some of whom were armed, killing them all, the IDF said.

— with Aaron Boxerman

Yair Netanyahu says father is amused, entertained by mass protests against him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair told Israel Airwaves radio earlier today that his father is entertained and amused by the growing protests against him.

He compared his father to late Likud leader Menachem Begin, who stepped down amid mass protests of his handling of the 1982 Lebanon War.

“My father’s a strong man. It makes him laugh,” Netanyahu said. “He sees what we all see, these freaks at the protests, it makes him laugh, like entertainment. I sometimes show him some selected bits from the demonstrations… it entertains him and even gives him strength.”

Islamic State raid on Afghan prison sees hundreds escape, 29 killed

At least 29 people have been killed in a raid on an Afghan prison claimed by the Islamic State group, officials say.

Fighting is still raging at the jail in the eastern city of Jalalabad, where some 1,700 IS and Taliban inmates are being held.

IS’s news outlet Amaq says its fighters were behind the raid, which saw hundreds of inmates escape before many of them were recaptured.


Coronavirus cabinet ends meeting without making decisions

The so-called coronavirus cabinet has ended its discussions without making any decisions.

New coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is said to have backed ending all weekend restrictions on businesses and parks.

Ministers also discussed the potential for localized closures based on infection data.

According to the Ynet new site it was agreed that Gamzu will produce a detailed proposal on Wednesday in light of issues raised at the meeting.

Netanyahu: Two-year budget will lead to significant ‘decrees and cuts’

Addressing the ongoing coalition clash over the budget, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says at the start of the Likud weekly faction meeting that a two-year budget, as demanded by Blue and White — and as stipulated in the agreement between the two parties — “will lead to significant [economic] edicts and cuts. This is not the time for cuts, this is time to keep funds flowing to people.”

He adds, “The moment demands unity. Nobody wants elections and there’s no reason for elections.”

If the coalition fails to pass a budget by August 25 the government will automatically be dissolved and new elections will be called.

Blue and White believes Netanyahu has pivoted to demanding a one-year budget for the remainder of 2020 only in order to leave the window open for an election next year.

Defense Minister Gantz: Only a foolish enemy will dare to test Israel

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says “only a foolish enemy will dare to test Israel’s preparedness to respond” to attacks.

Hours after the Israeli army killed four armed men it said crossed the border from Syria to carry out an attack, Gantz says during a visit to the IDF Home Front Command’s new command center that will lead Israel’s contact tracing efforts: “Let there be no misunderstanding: Troops have all measures required to defend residents and hit anyone who attempts to infringe upon Israeli sovereignty.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the IDF Home Front Command’s new coronavirus contact tracing center (screenshot)

Netanyahu details limited lockdown tools under government consideration

Some more details from the coronavirus cabinet meeting earlier:

The prime minister said that beyond general social distancing guidelines, ministers are looking at four major closure tools to fight the latest coronavirus outbreak. Beyond the potential of a nationwide lockdown — which Netanyahu said he hoped to avoid — were the options of three more limited closures:

The first was “local lockdowns on ‘red’ cities. There are such cities and there will be discussions with mayors and assistance in any way possible, including for businesses” in such cities,” he said. The second was “nighttime lockdowns — limiting movement from a certain hour until the morning.”

The third was “weekend locksdowns,” though ministers are currently weighing whether to cancel restrictions on weekends, as suggested by coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu.

Netanyahu added: “This wave is hitting all countries anew. Countries that managed to [lower numbers] like us and began to reopen, have gotten more or less what is happening here.”

Netanyahu: Annexation not off the table, issue ‘is in Washington’

The prime minister tells his Likud faction that Israel’s planned annexation of West Bank land is not off the table, but rather is up to the US administration to decide on.

“The issue of applying sovereignty is in Washington. It’s not off the table, the option still exists,” Netanyahu says.

A view of the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on July 1, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Netanyahu had declared his intention to move forward with annexation, under the auspices of the US peace plan, on July 1, but that date came and went without any movement on the matter, and in recent weeks Netanyahu has been largely silent on the issue.

Reports in recent months have indicated that the White House had cooled on the Israeli proposal, amid the raging coronavirus pandemic, race protests, upcoming national elections and other considerations.

The Antonov, world’s largest plane, lands at Ben Gurion Airport

The world’s largest plane just landed at Ben Gurion International Airport.

The Antonov An-225 — built in the 1980s in Soviet Ukraine and the only one in existence — arrived from the US, carrying US army trucks that will be fitted with Iron Dome parts for use by the US military. They will later be flown back to America.

Hundreds of aviation enthusiasts gathered near the airport ahead of the legendary plan’s arrival to watch it land.

Attorney Boaz Ben Zur joins Netanyahu’s defense team

Attorney Boaz Ben Zur joins Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team.

Ben Zur previously represented Israel-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, one of the key figures in Case 1000 against Netanyahu.

Likud minister: If Gantz fails to back budget we’ll seek 61 MKs without him

Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis warns that if the Blue and White party does not back a single-year budget as his party desires, Likud will seek to form an alternative government of 61 MKs without Benny Gantz’s party.

Akunis tells Army Radio: “Everyone will know who led Israel to a fourth election. The blame will be all on Gantz.”

Likud is seeking to change the previously agreed-upon two-year budget, contrary to the agreement between the parties.

Police arrest blogger suspected of harassing a witness in Case 3000

Police have arrested a blogger suspected of harassing a witness in Case 3000, also known as the “submarine case.”

Police say the man, an “independent journalist,” was arrested this morning. Another woman was detained. They are suspected of breach of privacy, witness harassment, and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The plaintiff is a public servant who “served in the past in a senior position in a government ministry,” police say.

“According to her account, an anonymous man who arrived at her home…impersonated a worker in an intelligence body,” they say. He went on to show her what he claimed was an upcoming media report, “in order to get what he desired out of her.”

Authorities did not provide further details on the case.

Sea of Galilee’s water level at 27-year record high for August

After a winter of heavy rains, the water level at Sea of Galilee marks a 27-year-record for August, according to data from Israel’s Water Authority.

The current water level is at 209.39 meters below sea level, the highest since 1993, when the water level at the beginning of August was 209.01 below sea level.

The water level is currently 59 centimeters beloew the so-called upper red line, which is the fullest the lake can be before starting to flood the surrounding areas.

People enjoy the beaches of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, June 19, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Two children nearly drown at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon River

Two children nearly drown at the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv.

The two, aged 8 and 4, were pulled out of the water and treated by paramedics before being taken to hospital.

The 8-year-old girl, in moderate condition, is rushed to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, while the 4-year-old boy, lightly hurt, is treated at the scene.

West Bank checkpoints open tomorrow; workers will enter Israel for 3-week period

West Bank checkpoints will open tomorrow for one day only to allow Palestinian workers to enter Israel before closing again, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announces.

Palestinian workers who arrive will be asked to remain in Israel for three weeks. Any worker wishing to return to the West Bank during this period can do so, but they will not be able to return, COGAT says.

The restrictions aim to prevent the daily movement of tens of thousands of workers back and forth across the Green Line, which the Palestinian Authority has said is a primary vector for the coronavirus outbreak currently raging in the West Bank.

Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Meitar checkpoint near Hebron in the West Bank, May 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

According to a Supreme Court order, employers must provide adequate lodging for Palestinian workers staying inside Israel during the three-week period, although some reports have raised questions about whether businesses are fulfilling that obligation.

Approximately 100,000 West Bank Palestinians are legally employed in Israel or in West Bank settlements, according to the Kav LaOved worker’s rights group. They constitute a large part of the Palestinian economy — approximately 15-20 percent of employed Palestinians work in Israel.

— Aaron Boxerman

IDF finds gun, bag with bombs at scene of overnight security incident near Syria

The IDF says troops scanned the area and found a gun, as well as a bag with several more bombs ready for use, following the night’s security incident along the Syrian border that saw the army kill four armed men who crossed the border and planted bombs.

The army says military officers met with UN officials in the afternoon to show them the scene of the incident.

A bag with explosive devices inside it is seen near the scene where four Syrian suspects were killed Sunday night, after crossing the border and planting bombs, August 3, 2020. (IDF)

8 deaths today take national toll to 546; 1,518 cases found in past 24 hours

The Health Ministry reports 1,090 new coronavirus cases since midnight last night, bringing the total case count to 74,102, of which 26,005 are active cases.

The past 24 hours or so, since the ministry’s 7 p.m. report on Sunday, have seen 1,518 new cases.

Eight people have died since midnight, taking the death toll to 546.

Of those ill, 331 are in serious condition (99 on ventilators), 139 are in moderate condition, and the rest have mild symptoms or no symptoms.

So far 13,670 tests have been carried out today.

Police question 70-year-old man suspected of incitement against Netanyahu

Police earlier detained a 70-year-old man for questioning on suspicion of incitement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Police suspect the man posted calls for violence against the prime minister on social media.

He was questioned under caution and released home under certain restrictive conditions. The state prosecution will examine the case in the coming days.

Netanyahu says he’ll push bill to toughen punishment against abusers of toddlers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he intends to immediately advance legislation to toughen punishment against abusers of toddlers.

He makes the statement in response to public outrage over the latest case of abuse at a daycare. Police today arrested the owner of a Ramle daycare center where four assistants have been detained on suspicion of abusing children under their care.

“Abuse of helpless toddlers is an unforgivable crime,” he says. “We will not accept this… phenomenon and we’ll fight it with all tools at our disposal.”

Reports: Strikes on Iranian targets in Syria cause deaths, injuries

Syrian media and monitors are reporting airstrikes on Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias in the country’s Deir Ezzor region that took place earlier today.

The attacks caused deaths, injuries, and destruction, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Military vehicles affiliated with the targeted forces have transported dead and injured militiamen to Iraq, while the Iranian forces [in the area] are now on high alert amassing more troops,” sources tell the UK-based watchdog.

There is no indication as to who carried out the strikes.

Justice Ministry expected to fine Likud for massive data breach — report

The Privacy Protection Authority at the Justice Ministry is expected to fine the Likud party over a huge security breach that led to a leak of data on hundreds of thousands of voters, sources in the ministry tell the Haaretz newspaper.

The sources say the Israeli company that developed the Elector app at the center of the affair will also likely be fined.

The newspaper says that it will be the first time a party has been fined for leaks of voters’ data, though the fines on such matters are relatively low and are unlikely to go beyond several tens of thousands of shekels.

Deri: I’ve told Gantz, Netanyahu people won’t forgive us if we go to elections

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of Shas tells Channel 12 news that he has told Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz: “The people of Israel won’t forgive us if we go to elections [again].”

He adds: “The people don’t understand [coalition infighting] and want us to work together.”

On the current budget crisis that could lead the government to dissolve by month’s end if a budget is not passed, Deri says: “I’m talking to everyone and trying to reach various compromises. We must get past this.”

He refuses to say whether his party would support Likud’s position demanding a one-year budget or Blue and White’s insisting on a two-year budget.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri arrives at the Knesset for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
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Netanyahu: Israel’s morbidity rate one of world’s highest, but we’re on a plateau

At the beginning of a weekly meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers dealing with the pandemic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “the bad news” is that Israel’s morbidity rate per capita is one of the world’s highest.

“The good news is that over the past two weeks or so we’ve been on a plateau” as far as infection rates are concerned, he says.

But illness could yet rise “to numbers we won’t be able to handle,” he adds.

“Concurrently with building the ability to cut off transmission chains, we must lower the number of patients.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2020. (Tal Shahar/Pool/AFP)